Diversify Your Shelves--"Constructing a Healthier Masculinity"

diversify-logo

CONSTRUCTING A HEALTHIER MASCULINITY

by Randy Ribay

Growing up male in America, there were many damaging things I learned about being a man. Society taught me some of these things explicitly, while others were implicitly made clear through potential consequences that were a constant threatening undercurrent. The one I want to discuss here is the one I find myself thinking about a lot these days as a high school teacher and a writer of fiction for young adults: the lie that boys do not feel deeply, that we are simply hard- wired to be insensitive.

Society constantly bombarded me with this lie even as I knew it wasn’t true. As a kid, I cried easily. I enjoyed poetry and reading. I loved cuddling stuffed animals. I felt bonded to pretty much any living thing I came across (or even any inanimate object if given a name). But as I grew older, I received the message loud and clear that these were not aspects of myself I should embrace publicly, or I would be labeled as “gay” or a “pussy” and then suffer the social consequences. Of course, as a kid I didn’t have the ability to deconstruct the homophobia and misogyny inherent to this limiting view of masculinity and the wider damage caused by buying into it. I didn’t have the self-esteem to be my actual self. Instead, I downplayed all of those “softer” sides. I learned to stop crying, to hide my stuffed animals, to avoid emotions outside of humor and anger. I emphasized the sports I played and the girls I wanted to get with. So it was not that as a male I did not feel things deeply, but that I became an expert of suppression.

As a result, I never lacked for friends, which I suppose was the point of conforming. But, even so, I was always lonely. I never felt very close to any of the guys I hung out with in my middle school or high school years no matter the quantity of time we spent together. I believe they were also buying into the same lie as me—a lie even more strongly messaged to boys of color—so there was this collective unspoken agreement to never talk about anything too real, anything that would expose our softness. Instead, we played—sports, video games, music, etc.—because to play was to distract ourselves, to make us believe our friendship was deeper than it was. Yet I always wondered how many of us were secretly lonely, how many of us dealt with that loneliness in damaging ways.

I think this is why when I write YA fiction, I gravitate toward exploring friendship among boys, and particularly boys of color. This is why my characters are, at their core, lonely. After the Shot Drops begins with Bunny and Nasir each in isolation, struggling with the fallout of Bunny’s decision to transfer schools. Their issues are grounded in this loneliness, and it seems so obvious that they could resolve their problems if only they knew how to communicate honestly, to be vulnerable with each other. But the challenge here as a writer of realistic fiction is the challenge of real life: how do they overcome all of the societal programming that pressures them to do the exact opposite?

As many writers of children’s literature, I believe that fiction can serve as a roadmap. It can be countercultural, can be a form of resistance that shows readers another way to exist. A better way, a more freeing way. That is what I hoped I have done with Nasir and Bunny, and it’s what I hope to do with my other stories as well. I consider myself lucky to be writing at a time when so much of what I’ve struggled with in silence is now part of the national conversation, and I’m proud to be writing alongside so many other young adult authors who are trying to dismantle these toxic ideas. In The Fire Next Time, James Baldwin writes, “Love takes off the masks we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within.” I am hopeful that these stories will help our boys figure out how to remove their masks in order to construct a healthier masculinity. 

 

Randy Ribay is the author of An Infinite Number of Parallel Universes and After the Shot Drops. He was born in the Philippines and raised in the Midwest. A graduate of the University of Colorado and the Harvard Graduate School of Education, he is a high school English teacher in the San Francisco Bay Area where he lives with his wife and two dog-children.
 

 

*This post originally appeared at Diversity in YAand has been 

brought to you thanks to our partner, Cindy Pon!*

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Cindy Pon is the author of Silver Phoenix (Greenwillow, 2009), which was named one of the Top Ten Fantasy and Science Fiction Books for Youth by the American Library Association’s Booklist, and one of 2009′s best Fantasy, Science Fiction and Horror by VOYA. Her most recent novel, Serpentine (Month9Books, 2015), is a Junior Library Guild Selection and received starred reviews from School Library Journal and VOYA. The sequel, Sacrifice, releases this September. WANT, a near-future thriller set in Taipei, will be published by Simon Pulse in summer 2017. She is the co-founder of Diversity in YA with Malinda Lo and on the advisory board of We Need Diverse Books. Cindy is also a Chinese brush painting student of over a decade. Learn more about her books and art http://cindypon.com.

 

What's New In YA ~ July 10th, 2018
Featured Review: The Year Of Living Awkwardly (Emm...

Related Posts

 

Comments

Already Registered? Login Here
No comments made yet. Be the first to submit a comment

FEATURED GIVEAWAYS

Latest Book Listings Added

Wings of Ebony (Wings of Ebony, #1)
 
4.7
 
0.0 (0)
In this riveting, keenly emotional debut fantasy, a Black teen...
You Say It First
 
3.3
 
0.0 (0)
One conversation can change everything. Meg has her entire...
My High School Royal Boyfriend
 
4.0
 
0.0 (0)
ALEX A tragedy at Langley Estate puts my family...
The Forgotten World (The World Apart Series Book 3)
 
5.0 (2)
 
0.0 (0)
Clark thought he knew what grief was. Addie thought...
Tales from the Hinterland
 
5.0
 
0.0 (0)
A gorgeously illustrated collection of twelve “lush and deliciously...
Sisters of Shadow and Light
 
3.7
 
0.0 (0)
From the acclaimed author of Defy, Sara B. Larson,...
In the Penalty Box
 
4.0
 
0.0 (0)
Willow Figure skating was supposed to be my whole...
Unchosen
 
5.0
 
0.0 (0)
Katharyn Blair crafts a fiercely feminist fantasy with a horrifying...
Miracle Girl
 
0.0
 
0.0 (0)
Leanne Strong hates June eighth even though it's supposed to...
The Memory Thief  (Thirteen Witches #1)
 
5.0
 
0.0 (0)
Twelve-year-old Rosie Singer’s mom is missing whatever it is that...
Singled Out: The True Story of Glenn Burke
 
4.5
 
0.0 (0)
On October 2nd, 1977, Glenn Burke, outfielder for the Los...
The Elephant in the Room
 
5.0
 
0.0 (0)
It's been almost a year since Sila's mother traveled halfway...
Alone in the Woods
 
5.0
 
0.0 (0)
Jocelyn and Alex have always been best friends...until they aren't....
Disaster Days
 
5.0
 
0.0 (0)
Hannah Steele loves living on Pelling, a tiny island near...
Wild River
 
5.0
 
0.0 (0)
Daniel Redmayne is fast asleep on the first night of...
The Last Hurrah
 
0.0
 
0.0 (0)
3 nights, 2 days, and 1 massive music fest ....

Latest Member Reviews

The Night Circus
 
4.3
"I couldn’t begin to express how much I adore this book. This book, magically, soothed my temper and let me..."
Wings of Ebony (Wings of Ebony, #1)
 
4.7
"WINGS OF EBONY is a beautifully crafted YA fantasy. A year has passed since Rue's life was irrevocably changed. Her..."
The Forgotten World (The World Apart Series Book 3)
 
5.0
"I don't know how this series keeps getting better, but it does. This third book is just... so much happens..."
The Tempest Sea
 
5.0
"This book... oof. It hurt. But if you know me at all, you know my favorite books are the kind..."
The Fractured Empire
 
5.0
"This book grabbed me from the very beginning, throwing me into this beautifully-crafted, intriguing new world. The plot is fast-paced..."
The Gilded Ones (Deathless #1)
 
4.3
"THE GILDED ONES by Namina Forna is a YA fantasy novel and the first book in the Deathless series. The..."
Unchosen
 
5.0
"UNCHOSEN is a fantastic and completely captivating YA apocalyptic fantasy, filled with feminism, friendship, sisterhood, and romance. Charlotte is the..."
The Memory Thief  (Thirteen Witches #1)
 
5.0
"Rosie has always taken care of herself and her mother in their house overlooking the coast of Maine. Her mother..."
Singled Out: The True Story of Glenn Burke
 
4.5
"Maraniss, whose Strong Inside covered Black basketball player Perry Wallace, turns his incredible research skills the the story of Glenn..."
The Elephant in the Room
 
5.0
"Sila's family has been happy in Oregon, even though her father, who is a mechanical engineer, has to work as..."
Alone in the Woods
 
5.0
"Jocelyn always looks forward to the vacation in a cabin that she and her friend Alex's family take every year...."
Disaster Days
 
5.0
"Hannah doesn't understand why her parents are SO overprotective, even though she occasionally has a hard time dealing with her..."
We Dream of Space
 
4.0
"Bird, her twin brother Fitch, and their older brother Chase are all doing the best they can in 1986 Park,..."
Wild River
 
5.0
"Daniel isn't all that sure why he was chosen to go on an outdoor experience trip with four other students..."
In the Penalty Box
 
4.0
"IN THE PENALTY BOX is a cute YA contemporary hockey romance. Willow is a figure skater heading for the Olympics,..."
The Afterlife of the Party (Afterlife, #1)
 
4.7
"THE AFTERLIFE OF THE PARTY is a YA vampire book for anyone who doesn't want to make out with the..."
The Alcazar (The Cerulean, #2)
 
3.0
"THE ALCAZAR wraps up an intriguing YA fantasy duology. The book continues to follow four main characters in alternating points-of-view,..."
Super Fake Love Song
 
4.0
"Super Fake Love Song is about Sunny Dae, a Korean American teenager who is a mega-nerd trying to survive at..."
Hot British Boyfriend
 
4.3
"Ellie lives in Washington D.C. and attends an elite school, even though the tuition is a stretch for her single..."
Charlie Thorne and the Lost City (Charlie Thorne #2)
 
5.0
"After her adventures in Charlie Thorne and the Last Equation, Charlie is hiding out in the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador,..."