On the latest installment of “Modern Ruhles” Stephanie Ruhle gets real with former NFL star and actor Terry Crews, child sex abuse survivor and advocate Shaun Dougherty and musician Quest Love. The topic? Masculinity. While all three guests offer varying perspectives on manhood, they do agree on one thing: their earliest experiences related to the topic — whether it was observing a male role model, or suffering a childhood trauma — deeply influenced how they saw masculinity for years to follow.
Ruhle herself, as the mother of two sons and a daughter, has her own perspective on what the word means. The podcast host says raising boys in today’s world, where “toxic masculinity” has become a household term, has both challenged and broadened her idea of what a man should — and can — be. I sat down with her to learn more.
SR: My oldest, Harrison, was in the second grade. He was having a hard time in school — specifically with his reading. His brother, Reese, was in kindergarten and was already finishing the books his brother was bringing home. Prior to this, they were equals who got along well, never comparing themselves to one another. It wasn’t until Harrison felt his younger brother might surpass him that his “alpha male” emerged. He became combative toward his brother and committed to his sport in a way he hadn’t before, because that’s where he felt most powerful. I even saw Reese withdraw from his relationship with his brother a little bit, too. It was the first clear example of my son feeling threatened and not turning to me to cry or ask for help, but actually flexing his own muscles to ward off what he saw as a threat to his power and masculinity.
SR: I do parent each of my sons differently, and I definitely parent them differently from my daughter, Drew. I know that I give Drew extra support: I push her harder when it comes to confidence and believing in herself, because I’m overcompensating for the current status quo. I don’t do it in the same way for my boys because I assume they’re already set up for success. But that’s not true — and it’s also not fair to them. They don’t know anything about the gender pay gap. They just see a bunch of t-shirts that say “the future is female” and hear a whole lot of talk about girl power. They haven’t yet been affected by society or expectations related to their gender, and so they shouldn’t be treated as such. I try to remind myself of this often, and parent them with the same love and encouragement, but with the knowledge they’ll all use it in different ways.
SR: Harrison, my oldest, is more laid back and easy going. He’s very athletic. He’s not so into school, but is totally obsessed with sailing. It is his passion. Reese is three years younger. His interests run more of a range: he plays sports, participates in theater and dance, and loves school and science. I knew they were different when Reese explained why he didn’t love the competition of participating in sports: he feels sad for the losing team when he wins, and feels sad when he, himself, loses. How cute is that?
I remember visiting a bunch of co-ed schools for Reese when he was entering kindergarten. We’d walk the gorgeous campuses, admiring the perfectly groomed fields and collegiate-looking libraries. I’ll never forget when the tour guides approached the athletic facilities and said “that’s where the boys play lacrosse,” and paused in front of the auditorium and identified the stage where the girls sing in the chorus. I knew that would not work for my son, who loved all of those activities — and did not yet assign them to any specific or traditional gender role. The irony of it all is that he is thriving at an all-boys school, where his fellow male students take art and phys ed. Masculinity doesn’t have a singular definition, and I think it’s made all the difference for him.