Gentlemen Aren’t Putting Somebody Else Down
Barack Obama might be on the political sidelines, but he’s making his voice heard on the topic of men and masculinity. At a conference for the former president’s My Brother’s Keeper, an initiative that aims to assist boys and young men of color, Obama told the audience that guys in 2019 need to update how they define themselves.
“Being a man is first and foremost being a good human. That means being responsible, being reliable, working hard, being kind, being respectful, being compassionate. And the notion that somehow defining yourself as a man is dependent on are you able to put somebody else down instead of lifting them up, are you able to dominate as opposed to support … that is an old view, and a view that thankfully I see a lot of young people rejecting,” Obama said during the conference in Oakland, Calif., on February 19. “A lot of the violence and pain that we suffer in our communities arises out of young men who nobody’s said to them what it means to be respected. So they’re looking around, ‘Well I guess being respected means I might shoot you!’ or ‘I can make you back down,’ or ‘I can disrespect you and there’s nothing you can do about it.’ … That is a self-defeating model for being a man.”
“If you’re confident about your strength, you don’t need to show me by you putting somebody else down. Show me how strong you are that you can lift somebody else up and treat somebody well and be respectful and lead in that fashion.”
NBA star Steph Curry, who Obama had jokingly introduced as “Ayesha’s husband” at the start of the conference, responded, “I’ve just been mentored right there.”
The men also discussed how it’s not easy for guys to be “open about their feelings.” The former president gave himself and his wife, Michelle, as an example. He noted that when he and the Golden State Warriors point guard hang out, he rarely learns much about what may be happening with his pal because they “were watching the game.”
Whereas when the former first lady and her friends get together, Obama explained animatedly, “They’ll show up at noon, and they’ll be sitting there and they’re talking. I’ll leave, come back three hours later. They are still talking! All they’ve been doing is talking the entire time about every piece of business they got! Right? And they’ve cried, you know, ‘Oh, child you should’ve seen!’ They’ve broken down every terrible thing that I’ve did, ‘but he’s worth keeping anyway!’ … They’ve broken it all down! That’s the difference. It has to do with socialization. But what that does mean is … there is the ability to talk about vulnerabilities, challenges, doubts, lack of confidence, etc. in settings for women and girls that sometimes aren’t available for men.”
This conference, now in its fifth year, came as the topic of toxic masculinity and harassment have permeated the global conversation in the wake of the #MeToo movement. Actress Alyssa Milano popularized the 2006 phrase in 2017 with a tweet urging other women who had experienced sexual assault or harassment to share their stories.