I was just recovering from a year-long depression over endless dialogue around #MeToo and toxic masculinity at executive levels when I found myself at my desk, being turned inside-out, watching Christine Blasey Ford testify in the Brett Kavanaugh hearing. I listened intently as she began to turn her life into a circus for the greater good of humanity. I was concentrating on her tortured face when my 16-year-old son approached me, holding out his phone with some image on the screen, and asked me point-blank: “Why is this me?”
I could feel it and see it in his eyes — a cross between sadness and hurt and anger. What he was showing me was Shannon Downey’s cross-stitched rendition of “boys will be boys,” with the final “boys” stricken out and replaced by “held accountable for their fucking actions.” This craft has gone viral twice, once with Trump and again with Kavanaugh.
I had no answer for my son. No good answer, at least. Part of me was cheering on the inside, but my heart also felt like it was stopping and I lost my breath because I hurt so much. And I was scared.
I have a passion and a career advancing women and advocating for girls — and I have the deepest desire to help my boys navigate this world safely and respectfully, and to be good humans. I want them to be successful in their own right. I want them to be champions of women and considerate of their female friends, but I also want them to thrive in their masculinity.
But what does that mean? What is masculinity? My brain was on overload. I was trying to understand how suddenly my son felt like he is being held accountable for Kavanaugh’s actions.
How, as a society, have we created a narrative where boys are blamed for the actions of men?
Over the next few days, I researched online and listened harder to parents talking to their sons. I quickly realized just how often we use the word “boy” in a positive manner. We don’t. We call our boys “young men” and we call our baby sons “my little man.” In doing so, we bypass their childhood, their right to being boys, and make them adults long before their time. Not only do we strip them of their childhood titles, but we also use those same titles to demean and insult men, with light-hearted reprimands of “boys will be boys,” or the rightfully negative connotations of the “old boys’ club”.
We infantilize our men and adultize our boys. Men do it. Women do it. And we are teaching our children to do it. We are breeding a misunderstanding and distrust of the masculine. It is harmful for both boys and girls — and consequently, men and women.
So how do we support girls, advance women, and have healthy boys who will grow into men who are naturally empathetic, equitable and happy? How do we create sustainable change, with gender equality at every level?
Answering these questions was the origin of Captains & Poets in 2018. It’s about starting at the beginning. Teaching our children a new language and a new way of interacting. Creating new paths to understanding themselves and each other early.
My partner, Jennifer Johnson, and I are equally devoted to inclusion and equity and we have created an organization that builds inclusive, in-school curriculum to encourage young people to be authentic in their unique expression of personal identity.
We have created turn-key, foundational curriculum that bridges Social Emotional Learning with critical inclusion initiatives and easily aligns to the standard curriculum. It is rooted in a human agenda at a time when our world needs to ignite a renewed commitment to leadership, community and connection.
Although we began with a focus on masculinity, we recognize that everyone will benefit from this learning. 2020 showed us that the world needs Captains & Poets everywhere. We are focusing on providing youth with an intuitive tool that teaches them to value their whole authentic selves so that they can accept and celebrate others in the same spirit.
There is a Captain and a Poet in every one of us and our programs are designed to make these archetypes easily accessible and to open up new conversations about identity, inclusion and belonging.
With the right support, we believe the next generation will be in a unique position to move inclusion mandates from one that is focused on sharing information to a dialogue that creates transformation. When we transform as individuals, we will organically create equitable home, work and social environments.
By Jan Frolic