Queer Eye’s Karamo Brown on fatherhood and defying masculine gender norms.

By Craig Kielburger

 

My son is nearly two years old. I’ll celebrate my second Father’s Day as a dad this month, so I’ve been thinking a lot about the need to redefine old-school ideas about manhood.

Seventy-nine percent of new dads reported feeling pressure to be “the rock” of their family, and 47 per cent felt anxiety from that stress. One study found that men who cling to outdated concepts of masculinity—aggression, dominance and heterosexuality—are less likely to seek mental health services.

Perpetuating tough-guy ideals sets up the next generation of men to struggle with their identities, or even neglect their mental health. Dads have a responsibility to deconstruct old tropes and do better for our kids.

I sought perspective from a more seasoned dad, from the hit Netflix show Queer Eye, culture expert Karamo Brown. A father to two older boys, LGBTQ advocate and former social worker, Brown breaks down gender stereotypes on screen and at home.


There’s a cultural reckoning right now surrounding gender norms. Does this affect your parenting?

Karamo Brown: Completely. If we don’t acknowledge the pressures society puts on young men, and don’t help them to navigate their choices better, then we will see history repeat itself.

That stunted [idea about manhood] causes you to feel limited and boxed in. When you feel isolated it causes fear and anxiety, which turns into negative behavior.

 

What do you want to teach your sons about what it means to be a “man”?

KB: “That makes you a man,” is something I stopped saying in my house, because I think it’s limiting. What I do say is, “That makes you a great human being.” I use that as the quantification of how they can treat others well.

I tell them there is a privilege they have with being a man in our society. It’s up to them in any space to fight against whatever toxic behaviour is going on by using their voice and acknowledging that privilege.

 

You were once a social worker. Does that make it easier or harder to parent?

KB: When I first got out of social work, I noticed that I would parent unfairly. [At work], I would see kids who had so little, and then I wouldn’t allow my own children’s problems to be acknowledged. Come on, they have nothing and you’re complaining about your Xbox? I don’t want to hear it. I had to take a moment to realize that their experience is different.

It has helped the most in that we have real, transparent conversations about our emotions all the time. They don’t shut down. I hear them speak to their girlfriends. They’re like, “I noticed that we’re both acting out of a space of ego, can we talk about it?”

 

You’re the culture expert on Queer Eye. What does it mean to be cultured?

KB: Be open to learning about different people and experiences. Don’t put the responsibility on someone else to teach you. Do the leg work. Google different cultures, different gender identities, different sexual orientations, the different experiences that women have. Being curious and open helps you to realize that you can be more cultured.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

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