What Should #MeToo Mean for Teenage Boys?

What Should #MeToo Mean for Teenage Boys?

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In “The #MeToo Balancing Act in High School,” Andrew Reiner writes:

The #MeToo movement was a watershed moment, empowering girls and women to share their stories, and many boys and young men have told me in interviews that the greater awareness of and need to end sexual assault against females is “long overdue.”

But some boys and young men have also told me that they are worried about what the movement means for them.

Are you a teenage boy who has felt confused by what #MeToo means for you? Do you ask yourself questions like: When is it OK to make the first move? What does consent look like in the moment? How can you read girls’ nonverbal cues more accurately?

How comfortable are you having conversations about these kinds of topics in school, with friends, with family or with someone you’re in a relationship with?

Are you someone — of any gender — who wishes you could provide frank advice to boys confused by these issues? Do you feel frustrated by how many boys approach dating and intimacy? What do you think they could do better?

The article continues:

They feel their voices have been silenced in conversations around gender and they struggle to navigate damaging perceptions about masculinity, particularly in the realm of dating.

Many boys have told me of the “confusing messages” they are sent when it comes to expressing their romantic interest in a girl. On the one hand, boys are finally learning about the necessity of consent; on the other hand, they still face dated masculinity stereotypes that limit and confound them, including a culture that places pressure on men to initiate intimacy.

“I have friends, girls, who want the guy to be the sexual initiator, to be ‘the man,’ like in movies,” Jaden, a high school junior in Alexandria, Va., said. He said these are the same girls who, if a guy asks if he can kiss them, say: ‘That’s so lame. Why would you ask that?’”

Jaden said that he and his male friends want to be “absolutely respectful” of girls’ boundaries, but they also want to be “taken seriously” by the ones who expect them to behave in a stereotypically masculine way. In addition to deciphering this riddle, boys fear that one wrong move could ruin their present and future reputations in this age of swift, devastating social media justice, especially since many college admissions officers scan social media for black marks on candidates’ cyber-presence.

“Dating is just a huge scary maze,” Jaden said, adding that many of his friends have sworn off romantic entanglements for now.

One sexual assault accusation, even if a boy is absolved, is tagged to that person and hovers in cyberspace for life. “You’re guilty until proven innocent,” said Ben, a junior at Frostburg State University in Maryland.

Michael C. Reichert, head of the Center for the Study of Boys’ and Girls’ Lives at the University of Pennsylvania, said that “boys are behind #MeToo but feel overlooked and misunderstood” when it comes to their own needs.

“They feel nothing about their experience as males is being recognized or addressed,” says Dr. Reichert, the author of “How to Raise a Boy: The Power of Connection to Build Good Men.” Yet, he adds, “they are yoked with normative masculine expectations from both males and females.”

Students, read the entire article, then tell us:

  • What advice would you give to fellow teenagers who are uncertain how to navigate boundaries and desires in dating and sex? Would you give different advice to boys and girls?

  • Do you believe there are “rules” or expectations around dating and sex? How did you learn what you know — or think you know — about dating and romantic relationships? From school? Friends? Parents? Online? Do you talk about sex, consent and dating at home? At school?

  • If you have a question about sex, where do you first look for the answer? Do you feel comfortable asking questions about expectations and boundaries when it comes to dating and intimacy? Do you think consent, and communicating actively about touch and sex, is something that is easy for teenagers to practice?

  • The featured article focuses on teenage boys and heterosexual relationships. However, do you perceive differences in how transgender, gender-nonconforming and L.G.B.T.Q. teenagers talk about consent, dating and sex?

  • In the article, Mr. Reiner says that many of the boys he spoke with wanted to respect girls’ boundaries and needs, but felt shut down when asking girls for advice or feedback about their behavior. What do you think about this dynamic? Is it something that you have been a part of or witnessed? Why do you think girls might not want to explain their boundaries to boys? Can you imagine a solution for having a more productive conversation?

Students 13 and older are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public.