As Senior Vice President, Global Engagement for Women of Influence, Jan Frolic has the privilege of connecting with people who are doing the work to advance women and are looking to do more. Passionate about inclusion, she’s also the founder of boypro-ject, offering in-school curriculum to encourage youth to be authentic in their unique expression of personal identity.
by Jan Frolic
I was just recovering from a year-long depression over Trump becoming President when I found myself at my desk, being turned inside-out, watching Christine Blasey Ford testify in the Brett Kavanaugh hearing. I listened intently as she began to turn her life into a circus for the greater good of humanity. I was concentrating on her tortured face when my 16-year-old son approached me, holding out his phone with some image on the screen, and asked me point-blank: “Why is this me?”
I could feel it and see it in his eyes — a cross between sadness and hurt and anger. What he was showing me was Shannon Downey’s cross-stitched rendition of “boys will be boys,” with the final “boys” stricken out and replaced by “held accountable for their fucking actions.” This craft has gone viral twice, once with Trump and again with Kavanaugh.
I had no answer for my son. No good answer, at least. Part of me was cheering on the inside, but my heart also felt like it was stopping and I couldn’t breathe because I hurt so much. And I was scared.
I have a passion for advancing women, and advocating for girls — and the deepest desire to help my boys navigate this world safely and respectfully, and to be good humans. I want them to be successful in their own right. I want them to be champions of women and considerate of their female friends, but I want them to thrive in their masculinity as well.
But what does that mean? What is masculinity? I was still listening to Christine Blasey Ford’s stoic account of sexual assault in the background. My brain was on overload, empathetic tears streaming — and at the same time, I’m trying to understand how suddenly my son feels like he is being held accountable for Kavanaugh’s actions.
How, as a society, have we created a narrative where boys are blamed for men like Kavanaugh and Trump?
Over the next few days, I researched online and listened harder to parents talking to their sons. I quickly realized just how often we use the word “boy” in a positive manner. We don’t. We call our boys “young men” and we call our baby sons “my little man.” In doing so, we bypass their childhood, their right to being boys, and make them adults long before their time. Not only do we strip them of their childhood titles, but we also use those same titles to demean and insult men, with reprimands of “boys will be boys,” or the negative connotations of the “old boys’ club.”
We infantilize our men and adultize our boys. Men do it. Women do it. And we are teaching our children to do it. We are breeding a misunderstanding and distrust of the masculine. It is harmful for both boys and girls — and consequently, men and women.
So how do we support girls, advance women, and have healthy boys who will grow into men who are naturally empathetic, equitable and happy? How do we create sustainable change, with gender equality at every level?
Answering these questions was the origin of boypro-ject. It’s about starting at the beginning. Teaching our children a new language and a new way of interacting. Creating new paths to understanding each other early.
My partner, Jennifer Johnson, and I are equally devoted to inclusion and equity and we have created an organization that builds out an inclusive in-school curriculum to encourage young people to be authentic in their unique expression of personal identity. Our signature program is called Captains & Poets, which helps all genders understand modern masculinity. We are focusing on lifting the limitations we have all placed on masculinity. There is a Captain and a Poet in each of us as human beings, and our lessons are designed to recognize and access these archetypes in ourselves and to give permission for our peers to access both of these within themselves.
With the right support, we believe the next generation will be in a unique position to bring forward a new form of masculine identity — one that is authentic and inclusive, that will organically create equitable home, work and social environments.