Then he asked something I’ve heard many times in my research: “How are we supposed to understand if no one will answer our questions?”
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. 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.