To Be a Man

By Eric McGriff and Anthony McGriff

When they were 16 and co-chairs of their high school’s White Ribbon antiviolence campaign, twin brothers Eric and Anthony McGriff began volunteering at Vera House, a domestic and sexual violence prevention and intervention agency in Syracuse, N.Y., and say they have been working to end sexual and relationship violence ever since. They are now 23.

I am a ride or die type of guy,
This means that my loyalty is unwavering and I will never hesitate to throw that first punch.
So if you ask me…
“What does it really mean to be a man?”
For me, it means being strong
Even when I am weak.
It means holding it down,
Even when no one is there to hold me up.
And when it becomes too much, I’ve learned to just suck it up,
Even when I can barely hold it in.

I remember being 5 years old, falling down, and my coach told me to brush it off…
I was on the verge of tears
I remember being 10 and learning that it was an insult to be called gay.
I remember being 15 years old and knowing that if I had to fight someone to prove that I am not a pussy, then that is exactly what I was going to do.
But now, I think of my mother and all of the strong women that made me the man I am today
The women who taught me how to love and nurture, but also gave me my work ethic and values…
And if they are strong, then so am I
So I have some confessions to make, about some things that don’t necessarily align with the dominant story.

I can cook
I love to play the violin,
And my hidden obsession is Dancing with the Stars.

I’m tired of acting like I don’t care.
I’m tired of shrinking myself down to fit this idea of what a “real man” is.
I’m tired of loyalty meaning “Bros before hoes” and worrying about whether or not I’m being a cock block.
I’m tired of performing.

It’s been happening to me for as long as I can remember.
It happened to my father, and it’s happening to my brothers.
Masculinity can be an uncompromising force that suffocates me, and with every breath I sweat, until there is nothing left, but a puppet waiting to take the stage…
A puppet, whose hard exterior protects him from feeling anything warm,
Like love, joy, and happiness…for too long

But tonight I will take my final bow
Because I’m done, I quit.
I will no longer let your narrative be my reality.
I will no longer be society’s puppet,
Because I now know that the dominant story, your story, is not the only story.
And with every step I take away from you, I learn that I no longer have to take your cues,
To tell me how to walk, how to talk, how to dress or think.

We think that because we are strong, we cannot be wrong,
And that because we are alike, we must be right.
But this is what makes us puppets.
Masculinity cannot afford introspection,
It’s a form of self-reflection that requires us to question
Everything
So I ask again…

What does it really mean to be a man,
When we tell our boys
To man up
Stop being a bitch
Don’t cry,
And we excuse their violence by saying
Boys will be boys
He hit you because he likes you
…It was just locker room talk

Each is an excuse for abuse, so let’s not get confused,
This is a men’s issue
And as soon as we decide to be a part of the solution,
We can clean up this pollution that gives rise to toxic masculinity

My masculinity cannot fit in a box
My masculinity will not conform
My masculinity is diverse
But most importantly
My masculinity is my own.

 

Funding to underwrite production of the “To Be a Man” video was provided by a Consolidated Youth, Engaging Men and Boys grant from the Office on Violence Against Women at the U.S. Department of Justice.