Updated: Apr 26, 2021
Be a Man
A portrait project redefining masculinity for today and tomorrow.
One week ago I introduced my portrait project entitled "Be a Man." My goal is to tell the stories of the men who are redefining what it means to be a man. I want to share the stories and the legacy of men, young and old, who know that true men are empathetic, compassionate, and understanding, who give to others more than take for themselves, who know that love, humility, kindness, and selflessness are the true mark of a man. Several sessions are already scheduled. I hope that you or someone you know will be one of them, too.
One part of the typical, narrow definition of manhood involves the concept of brotherhood. Groups of men join together for a common cause and for each other. When the traditional definition of manhood (dominance, aggression, conquest) is tested in a group setting, all too often the consequences are negative, especially during adolescence and young adulthood.
When I think about all of this, I think back to the spring of 1998. I was a freshman in high school trying to make my way on the lacrosse team. Our district only had varsity at the time, so we were all mixed together, freshmen to seniors. I had heard that some kind of initiation day was coming up, a day that when the coaches left, we'd be hazed by the seniors.
I never understood hazing. Why would you want to belong to a group that only accepted you after they've humiliated you? What place does dominance, violence, and shame have on a team?
The hazing began as they duct-taped the freshman goalie to a tree. (His older brother, a senior, lead the way.) In the frenzy of that first act, I ran. I sprinted to the front of the school and waited for my ride. I'm sure that I was thought of as weak for not being made a victim in this twisted tradition. I'm sure someone questioned whether I was man enough to be a part of the team. Nothing ever happened in retribution for my running, but the fear, frustration, and disappointment stuck with me.
I just couldn't understand the thinking behind it all. Those seniors were hazed, and now it was their turn to do the hazing. And presumably, when I was a senior, I would be expected to do the same. I would probably have felt like I earned the right to haze. We did it before, so we do it now. We'd all agreed that dominance and aggression as ritual was entry to join. What is wrong with us?
(I also recall the time that season when we played the "traditional" boys-versus-girls game. It was played late in the spring after practice. I guess it was a way for the boys to show off to the girls. At the end, the boys raised their lacrosse sticks in our huddle and chanted, "Men are better, back to the kitchen.")
I also think of the tragic case of Collin Wiant at Ohio University. Collin Wiant was an 18-year-old freshman when he decided to pledge the Sigma Pi fraternity. He never made it to the end of the pledge process. Sheridan Hendrix of the Columbus Dispatch narrates an outstanding podcast detailing the reporting she and other staff members conducted. Please click on this link to read more and to listen to the podcast series.
I know that there are groups of men--brotherhoods--that bring light rather than darkness, inclusiveness rather than division, love and care rather than pride and separation. I hope that this project shines a light on the work of those brotherhoods, those groups of men who do more for others than for themselves, who care more for the individual members than the identity of the group itself, who use their strength to help rather than hurt.
I invite you to send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and share with me the story of someone who would be perfect for this project.
Each participant will have their portraits and their story featured on my blog, on social media, and in a printed collection.
It's time that we shine a light on the men in your life--young and old--who are redefining masculinity for today and tomorrow, for it should be these men we think of when we say, "Be a man."