The following blog post is taken from an ethics speech that Middle School social studies teacher-coach-mentor Sarah DeCamps delivered to students and faculty. She shares why she believes that meaningful connections with women can empower both sexes.
Recently, I heard a TED talk about the topic of masculinity. You should also listen to it. The speaker talks about how it's easy to want to be the kind of man that is presented in the media – strong, aggressive, tough, loud, a "stud."
These are the words you use, too. It's a lot harder to be the kind of man that the world needs in 2018: the one who is willing to be a little vulnerable. The speaker quotes a line from the Bahá'í writings, an ancient religion, which was part of his upbringing.
"The world of humanity is possessed of two wings, the male and the female. So long as these two wings are not equivalent in strength, the bird will not fly."
This is the idea I want to convey to you today. I need you – we need you – to define your manhood a little differently. To start, we need you to champion the women in your life. The very best way to do that is to get to know them and make them part of your story.
The idea for this speech actually came to me back in October on a drive over to Holton-Arms School for a meeting with some eighth graders.
One boy, who is sitting among you today, asked me, "Ms. DeCamps, would you rather work at Holton?" With perhaps a little hesitation in my voice, I quickly answered: "No, of course not." He didn't believe me. In fact, none of the boys on the bus did. But my bigger question was this...
Did they really think that just because I support girls that I don't support them, too? Does it have to be one or the other? Why do I have to choose? The world should not be that divided.
They explained to me, "Well, it seems like you love all the girls so much. You know what's going on in their lives."
Interesting, I thought. I know something about their lives because they tell me. Or I ask, and they talk to me. I want to know the same things about you. I even ask. You are men of few words.
As your teacher, I am here to set the record straight. I don't like the girls more. Yes, I am proud of them. Yes, they teach me things all the time. Yes, I am incredibly grateful to have them in my life. And, yes, I do think they're awesome. I hope they would tell you that. But, I can say the same about you. I don't know why I have to choose between you and them. Perhaps if you know more about them you will agree with me.
I have been teaching at Landon for eight years. There is a tight brotherhood here. You cheer each other on, you hug each other, you shout and yell, you write all over each other's hands, you express your love and admiration in many ways. But, when it comes to listening, sometimes you don't do that so well.
A lot of girls and women who you know well inspired me to give this speech. They have stories to tell. Being able to listen to the stories of others is a gift. Interestingly, it's a skill I learned, in part, from the men in my life. I grew up surrounded by boys. My brothers and my Dad were central figures in my life.
They are great storytellers. Even today, I count them as very important people in my life. We talk all the time. I have also spent every summer, since I was 14 years old, volunteering at a school for girls in Honduras. My first trip there was motivated by my Dad. He even went with me.
My Dad was a wonderful role model for me. Girls need male role models and similarly boys need that in women. So the question is – where do you find that? I am going to tell you one place. Here. Landon.
We are an institution whose very mission is to help you become caring men. That's why I love this place. But, one struggle for me is that these two forces, these two things I believe in – supporting girls and supporting boys – sometimes feels like a tug of war.
It sometimes feels like the messages the world is sending to boys and the messages the world is sending to girls are competing. You might not realize that every day. But, you see completely different messages than what many girls your age see.
Girls see and hear more motivating – almost poetic – tag lines, meant to affirm their bond with one another. Here is one example: "Empowered women empower women."
But, to be honest, there is something not right about this message either. What it should look like is this: "Empowered PEOPLE empower women."
For the world to progress, we all need to do a better job of affirming and supporting each other – girls supporting boys and boys supporting girls. Girls need support from all angles, not just from other women. And you need support from all angles – not just other men.
Unfortunately, in some ways, I think it's possible that it's easier to be a woman than a man in 2018. Think about it. The world is pretty hard on men these days. And the messages girls see are nothing short of inspiring.
The role models women have in the media are people doing incredible work in the world. Not figures from another generation – but women dong awesome things in 2018. People like Oprah, Maya Angelou, Melinda Gates, Sheryl Sandberg, Malala. Women are learning to speak up for themselves and hold positions of power. For the first time in history, the causes of women are drawing international attention.
I went to [the Women's March] two years ago. No pushing, no shoving, no yelling, no violence. There were women everywhere. But far fewer men. Where were the men? For you, the world is just simply not sending you those same kinds of positive and inspiring messages that motivated millions of women to band together on a cold January day. Instead, you see this...
Advertisements that put you in a box. These kinds of messages are not good for you. They are telling you that you have one role in this world, while women have many. They say that women are the ones who have the strength, the power, the influence. Your gift to this world is to be physically strong. To make money. To wear expensive things.
These messages belittle your real potential. They tell you that you aren't worthy unless you are strong enough or rich enough or powerful enough. Instead of internalizing these messages, consider the alternative. Look for the people around you who can combat these stereotypes and remind you that you don't need to be these things.
In addition to the 218 boys you go to school with each day, there are 45 Middle School teachers. Of those teachers, 15 are women with who you interact with regularly throughout your school day.
What this means is that you have to work a little harder to build your circle of female influencers. And you need to do that. So let's think about who the people are who influence you. I can think of one: your coaches. At Landon, you are privileged to have some amazing coaches – men and women. But, I bet you don't often think about this part: just how awesome it is for some of you to have female coaches at all. The world doesn't honor girls' sports quite the same as boys' sports. If you have female coaches around you, consider yourself lucky – they persevered in their sports. Here are three you may know.
First, Ms. (Franchesca) Panarelli. She told me what it was like growing up as a hockey player. She had to work extra hard to prove herself. At 13, she joined an all-boys team and she was the only girl on the ice, with boys who were bigger and stronger, playing a rough game. She had made the team over another boy who was a friend of many of her teammates. With a ponytail sticking out of her helmet, she was a target. But her team accepted her, not as their girl teammate, but as their equal. They treated her as they would any player. She learned that there are boys out there who stand up for what was right, no matter what's at stake. She could not have learned that from women – she needed the boys to teach her that lesson.
Then there is Mrs. (Katie) Lamade. She started playing lacrosse in seventh grade. She made her high school team as a ninth grader, when the team was ranked top 10 in the nation. She was an All-American and All-Met player. She went to Duke University on a lacrosse scholarship, where she was also a captain. She might not be a professional lacrosse player now, but the skills she attained as a collegiate athlete have given her the confidence and ability to juggle teaching, coaching, administration, motherhood, and a million other things.
And Ms. (Lindsay) Horbatuck. She is a third grade teacher. She also coaches our varsity basketball team. She played basketball at Bucknell University and went on to play professional basketball in Australia. There are only a handful of varsity boys' teams with female coaches in the country. Recently, Landon won a tournament again St. Andrew's under her coaching. They also won their first two home games this year.
These are just three women. There are many other talented people around you who believe in the importance of the women in their lives.
Here are some more who surround you: Mr. Anderson, Mr. Norman, Mr. Reilly, Mr. Rose, Mr. Sorge. Ask Mr. Eusse about his aunt in Colombia who fights for the rights of marginalized women. Or Mr. Bordley, who says his sister is the smartest and best athlete in the family.
And even still, you've probably noticed there is one group of people I have not mentioned. Arguably, they influence your lives more than anyone: your moms.
Mothers Visiting Day is one of the few days I get to see them all in one place. They are interacting with you in your element. But don't be fooled, this is not their element.
I feel nothing short of privileged to know many of them. I asked some of them to share ideas with me for this speech. They trusted me and held nothing back. Emails flooded in. I copied their responses into a word document so I could organize the information. I have more than 15 pages filled with their words. As I sat at my computer last week, combing through the responses, I had tears in my eyes. They shared with me things they're proud of, personal accomplishments, and reasons they love you and support you that go way beyond your academic achievements or athletic feats. I simply asked: tell me something you're proud of. I compiled the words your moms used most often in their messages to me into an image. Just seeing this should inspire you. And while I can't retell all their inspiring stories, I can try to summarize.
Your moms were once sitting in your seat at school somewhere, imagining their future lives, setting goals, wondering what life had in store for them. Before you came along, they studied, they took tests, got accepted to grad schools, took on fellowships and residencies, and started families. Some traveled, some worked, some started businesses, some took you on overnight business trips. They all established routines to support you.
Today, you know these women as resilient, smart, tough, and, of course, busy. They are your moms. They organize events for cancer, raise money for your school, volunteer with hospitals. They stock bookshelves in your library. They serve on Landon's Board of Trustees. They pick you up and drive you everywhere – sports practices, parties, doctor's appointments, and volunteer events. They run investment funds, work in accounting offices, manage insurance companies, and grace the hallways of government firms and major tech companies. They raise millions of dollars for medical research. They plan book groups, order groceries online, add their names to online sign-ups, help plan your social events. When they drop you off at Landon, they're sometimes on the phone with important people as far away as Europe or Asia. They defend clients in high-powered courts of law and write important legal opinions. They lobby on Capitol Hill, develop STEM software, run sustainable tourism companies, sell beautiful pieces of real estate. They are on and off airplanes, from faraway places like Afghanistan or the Democratic Republic of Congo. They save lives as psychiatrists, surgeons, and physicians. When they pick you up from school, sometimes they have just had a difficult conversations and you have no idea. They might have had to tell someone that a member of their family has died on an operating table.
One Upper School mom told me she is "proud to stand tall with many other women whom she looks up to so that she can say maybe she has finally earned a place next to them." You probably know her.
And if you do, these words should give you goosebumps. She is a giver. She credits Landon (and her own kids) with empowering her as a woman. In addition to all the good she does for so many boys, including her own, she also works hard to support The Children's Foundation in Pakistan, which builds schools for children in need. She is an inspiration to us all. Her son is a model student and athlete and her work at Landon helps us all be better humans. She is someone I feel proud to stand next to.
Another mom told me story about the moment her sons learned about the reality of the working world and their place in it. She runs a consulting company that employs a number of college interns each year. Her interns are ambitious college women. Her Landon sons sometimes had trouble understanding why these college students would hang on their mom's every word. But, then, the boys began to notice these girls were getting impressive jobs on Wall Street and in other cities. One summer, when her son was a senior at Landon, he came home and asked her, "Mom, do you take male interns?" She called it a Seinfeld moment.
Her son finally realizing women are out there kicking butt, and he better line up if he wants his turn. So, yes, to you, it sometimes it feels to you like we live in a divided world.
It shouldn't be that way.
Another dad emailed me and told me that he didn't think his wife would want to talk about herself but he wanted me to know how proud he is of her accomplishments. I don't need to list her incredible accomplishments but I will you this, she's amazing. He suggested that his sons might not understand how amazing their mom is.
She's a "big deal," he said.
Perhaps that is a lesson to leave you with – women around you have stories to tell. This father recognizes that. Clearly, your lives are filled with modern women who are not only proud of their own accomplishments but also of you and the men you are becoming. They want you to be proud of them, too. They want you to know all that they represent. We spend a lot of time talking to you about being accomplished, responsible and caring men. The media talks to you about being man enough. I am here to tell you that you only need to be one thing: a good human. That is what the women around you strive to be. For them and for you, life is not about accumulating wealth, or winning, or conquest. It's about forming connections. It's about sharing this world together.
To do that, I urge you to find ways to get to know the girls and women around you. Many of them are really good at listening to you, but they also have things to say.
Remember, the world of humanity has two wings and you are one but you need the other one to fly. So, get out there, find these women, lift them up, love them, and support them. Listen to them. Make them part of your story.