Last year was certainly one where a very bright spotlight was cast upon men throughout the planet and male behaviour in general. Men were called out for unacceptable behaviour towards girls and women and trending hashtags drew ongoing attention to the issue. As a boys’ school, we are in a great position to deal with these issues because we can have open and honest discussions and say what we feel in a relatively safe space. Today, in this the first day of our new boys being at assembly, I want to focus on this topic – not from a negative point of view at all by telling you what you cannot or should not do, but from a positive perspective as we work together to try to define what it means to be a man and what it means to be a good man. And so I share with you a few thoughts on maleness…
- It is OK to show affection. It is OK to hug and kiss your Mother and indeed your Father if that is what you both want. The old-fashioned way of boys not showing emotion in public caused me to miss out on years of hugging my own father which I regret greatly. It’s also OK to hug each other as friends without fear of being labelled.
- It is OK to cry. This goes along with the first point. Crying or your voice catching is not a sign of weakness but of strength and someone who is comfortable with their emotions – knowing how to express both happiness and sadness and not afraid of doing so. The old days of boys requiring stoical silence and a stiff upper lip while dying inside are gone.
- It is OK to like activities traditionally seen as female such as cooking and arranging flowers. It is OK to like classical music and to get excited about the beauty of a painting, a sculpture or a poem. When I was a boy, only sports were celebrated as manly activities. Thank heavens those days have gone.
- It is OK to be kind. It is indeed a strength to show kindness towards someone else and to make them feel better. It takes a greater courage to be kind in public to someone than it does to ignore their suffering or belittle them further.
- It is OK to take care about what we look like – to dress well and to groom our hair and our skin. Indeed, that is one thing we need to look after well. As a young boy I remember many time where my face peeled as a result of sunburn. These days sunscreen is very much part of my routine!
- It is OK to joke and laugh. It is OK to have fun and occasionally do silly things. Just not at the expense of someone else or humiliating them.
- It is OK to call out people who make sexist and racist jokes.
- It is OK to like sports and vigorous activities, getting dirty and tired. It is good to exercise, to sweat and not be embarrassed about it.
I hate the phrase “the good old days”. These are the good new days – days when men do not have to hide who they are and can be who they are without fear of ridicule. And so on this the first day of our full school I encourage you to be new men, to be good men. To embrace your male-ness and not to be ashamed of being a man but to remember what that means.