Misunderstanding, Didn't Understand: Transcript

ACTOR: Dear Paula, I am writing this because I am not comfortable being here right now. I feel like I am between a rock and a hard place, and I just wanna watch Star Wars. With love. No, it's too early to say love you stupid boy, I mean “man". Regards, Gus.

[Theme Music]

YVONNE: This is Mouthful and I am Yvonne Latty. Every week I will be having a complicated conversation with a young person about the things that matter to them, things they have written about and shared on stages across the city. And then we will go out into the community and talk to teens, adults, experts anyone who can broaden the conversation.

So let’s talk about masculinity, machismo, bravado, about locker room talk, boys who brag about “hitting it”, “tapping it” you know what I am talking about...

For me, a mother of two teenage girls, this is literally the stuff of nightmares.

And the big excuse is “boys will be boys.” That it is just their way to be popular, to fit in, to be cool. But what what is missing from the popular narrative about manhood is that some boys and young men have an inner voice that says …"Maybe I am not ready. Maybe I am not sure. I’m nervous…I’m scared”

That sometimes things are not always what they seem when it comes to boy and girls.

Alex: I’ve noticed that like a lot of how things people are portrayed in movies is very black and white based on these stereotypes. Females are strictly portrayed as sex objects or non-sexual objects, and men are mostly portrayed as sex hungry animals in some ways. And um, I felt like I kind of wanted to touch base with that because I don’t feel like I’m a sex hungry animal.

YVONNE: That’s Alex Papatolis. He’s a senior at the Arts Academy at Benjamin Rush in Philadelphia and a 17-year-old boy. He was inspired to write his monologue "Misunderstanding, Didn’t Understand" because of stereotypes and the pressure on boys to be players.

Alex: I feel like a lot of one of the conversations I probably hear the most in the environment and also in schools is like “oh” when people get in a relationship they’re like “o oh did you have sex with her yet” and “oh did you do anything yet” right? But I feel like the pressure is very strong for someone as soon as they get in a relationship to try to move things forward as fast as they can because a lot of guys will try to be like “oh hey yeah she’s hot tap that” or whatever but like um I definitely feel like the pressure is there especially from an early age if you have a girlfriend then you kind of feel that pressure.

YVONNE: Let’s listen to Alex’s monologue "Misunderstanding, Didn’t Understand" performed by hip-hop theater pioneer and Def Poetry Jam performer Dahlak  Braithwaite. 

ACTOR: Alright baby, you go do that! 

Oh Jesus Christ, what do I do? "Make yourself at home while I slip into something more comfy"? I've been on five dates with this girl, and we're already at this level? Oh god, this is a disaster. Okay, just relax, Gus. You don't know that she meant that for sure. I mean, a lot of people say get comfortable when you enter their house for the first time. I mean, su casa es mi casa, right? And she's probably slipping into sweatpants right now! Woah. Is this what I think it is? (picks it up) Oh my god it is! One of the limited edition Guitar Hero amp toys! 

Man this is the coolest! I remember when I had one of these when I was a kid... I would always pretend I was Eddie Van Halen... although, Eddie didn't play Smoke On The Water... ah whatever. And I would put on concerts for my parents, then they would tell me how great I did and then we would sit together and watch some movies together. Ah, those were the good ol’ days.

Man, I'm probably overreacting. I'm making a big deal over being in the house of some super hot girl who I've been with for a while... and have been making out with... And who probably wants to see me naked... oh god! What if she does want to .... to.... to do me? 

I'm not ready to have sex yet! I mean, what if I'm not good enough? 

She’s told me stories of how she used to be the popular girl in school. She’s probably had sex with all the guys! Well, not all of the guys, but I mean… she’s just more experienced than I am! She could tell all of her friends about how bad I am, then I would become the laughingstock of the world. I mean, I'm not quite "packing" down there! Not like those guys in the videos... And I don’t know how to “do” anything! I never even thought this moment would come! Oh, if only there was someone with all the answers!! 

Oh, our lord and savior, please, please, please give me some insight on how to get out of this situation! I mean, I've never had sex before! I know, unbelievable, right? You're probably thinking "How could a smoking hot stud like yourself be a virgin still?" Well, to be honest, I haven't always been this (motion towards body) smoking hot stud. In high school, I used to be a complete loser. What with being part of the chess team, the theatre department, the glee club, the mathletes, and the National Honor Society, the bullies had more than enough to bully me about. It was between "I'm gonna divide you into two!" and "I'm gonna make you like the kid in the wheelchair on Glee!" and "I'm gonna beat you up... but dramatically...” 

The bullies weren't really that clever. And on top of all that, I was a virgin, so I wasn’t quite the stud you see before you. As for “smoking hot”, I wasn't really a great looker either, and the girls didn't pay much attention to me. That was mostly because I had acne and glasses, and I was roughly 5'4" then. But, thanks to contacts, Proactive, and a few days in the stretcher, I'm now every girl's dream! So why wouldn't she wanna have sex with me? I'm a great guy, and any girl would be lucky to see my penis! I mean.... well.... it's a penis.... not much special about it.... whatever, I'm gonna have sex with this girl! Thank you Jesus, in your name I pray, amen! 

Wow, she's taking quite some time, I wonder what she's doing. 

HOOOOOH! Jeez, that smells bad. Maybe I should just put the clothes back on. That way she won't have to smell those... chemical weapons. 

Good thing I thought of that now, or else I would have completely grossed out the girl that I'm dating! Although, she might want to “do stuff” regardless of how I smell... then again, she might not...

Oh god. What am I doing? I don't want to be here! I would much rather enjoy being at home watching Star Wars! Okay, maybe if I just write her a note, then I'll be able to run out and and get home in time to watch episodes 4 and 5 before I get tired. Okay, (picks up notepad and pen, talks as he writes) Dear Paula, I am writing this because I am not comfortable being here right now. I feel like I am between a rock and a hard place, and I just wanna watch Star Wars. With love. (erases) No, it's too early to say love you stupid boy, I mean “man". (writes again) Regards, Gus. (puts the note down, then looks at the Guitar Hero Amp, then picks the notepad back up) 

P.S. I took your Guitar Hero Amp, and if you ever want to see it again, then you must pay-(looks up suddenly.) Oh, uh, hi Paula! Nice... uh.... sweatpants... (looks down in embarrassment, then realizes he has only a wifebeater and underwear on) 

Oh, uh, I was just, uh,... It was getting a little bit hot in here, hehe.... Uh... (takes Guitar Hero amp and runs off.)

YVONNE: Alex joined us in the very busy Philadelphia Young Playwrights office to talk about his work.

Yvonne: Where'd you get the idea?

Alex: Um, I had been thinking a lot because I have a lot of friends who are both girls and also older than me so this kind of topic and also in movies this pops up a lot where the girl is kind of being pressured into doing stuff that she doesn’t want to do in a relationship like you know like sexual things but also emotional things as well and I was kind of thinking what if the tables were turned, because you don’t often see that. What if the guy was being pressured into doing things he didn’t want to do. And it both took a comedic approach and it also kind of did it through a more serious lens.

YVONNE: When Alex first walked into the room, I had no idea from looking at him how old he was. He's tall and has a full beard. His appearance is very masculine. But his sense of himself is something very far from the stereotype.

Alex: I don’t really consider myself to be a man’s man or a masculine guy in any way because I do a lot of things that people wouldn’t consider masculine in any way like in middies school I would always do theater around my community and a lot of people would be like “oh why are you doing theater? That’s for women” and I’d go “well you know I really like doing it” so I was never really the textbook masculine guy so… I guess my masculinity comes from my belief that I can do whatever I want and still be masculine in a sense it’s not about what they think of you it’s about what you think of you, really.

YVONNE: We live in a time when our president has bragged about grabbing women and their private parts…something he calls “locker room talk." It’s not what many girls and women want to hear. It’s uncomfortable.  It makes us feel vulnerable and uneasy. It literally gave me flashbacks to my life of non-stop catcalls and harassment as a teen and young woman in New York City.

Alex didn’t like it either. He wrote this monologue at 16, and he knows the pressure on boys is complicated…

Alex: I think that locker room talk is not a great judgment of character in a sense because when you’re around guys there’s a lot more pressure to say these kinds of things, and I’m not dismissing what he said in any way, it was terrible. But when you’re around other guys you’re pressured to say these things in a way that if it was just you know you and someone else in an intimate setting. I’ve definitely been hanging around with guys, and I’ve said some things that I wouldn’t say to my friend Grace or anybody else that I talk to. You know? It’s definitely the testosterone in the air shall we say that definitely brings these things out, but it’s definitely not the best conversation to have and the best thing to say.

 

YVONNE: I wanted to know around how old boys are when they start to feel the pressure to “hook up” with girls.

Alex: Uhhh… For me it was around 15, 16 but for other people it could start way later, like late teens early twenties, it could also start way earlier you know  11 12 13 it varies by boys but for me it was around 15 16 um… that I started to feel the pressure that my peers would put on me for that stuff.

YVONNE: When Alex first walked into the room, I had no idea from looking at him how old he was. He's tall and has full beard. His appearance is very masculine, but his sense of himself is something very far from the stereotype.

Alex: I don’t really consider myself to be a man’s man or a masculine guy in any way because I do a lot of things that people wouldn’t consider masculine in any way like in middies school I would always do theater around my community and a lot of people would be like “oh why are you doing theater? That’s for women” and I’d go “well you know I really like doing it” so I was never really the textbook masculine guy so… I guess my masculinity comes from my belief that I can do whatever I want and still be masculine in a sense it’s not about what they think of you it’s about what you think of you, really.

 

YVONNE: Alex’s dad had a big part in teaching him how to be a man and how to treat women.

Alex: He has been married to my mom for probably something, 20 something years now? He’s definitely a big influence on how I treat women. He’s taught me that even though him and my mom bicker sometimes it’s only bickering they still go to bed or go to sleep in the same bed as each other. So he’s taught me that like love is a real thing basically. He’s definitely been an influence on how I treat women. I hope I have the relationship that he has with my mother some day, you know?

YVONNE: What Alex said about his dad got me thinking about role models. Who do young men learn from? Who do they look up to. For hundreds of young boys in Philadelphia, that person has been Steve Bandura. Steve's a coach and a local hero for his work with kids, which stretches far beyond sports. In addition to being a father of a teenage son, Steve has coached hundreds and hundreds of inner city kids at the Marian Anderson Recreation Center in South Philadelphia. My producer Mitchell and I went there on the first beautiful day of spring to talk to Steve. He says he understands why boys brag about girls, he has done it, and heard others doing it in his childhood.

Steve: Well I mean I grew up in Northeast Philadelphia, which is a working class Irish Catholic neighborhood and uh I remember being like that I mean when you’re a teenager it’s you know “did you get any did you get some?” and it’s like you know and you always lied and uh and you lied about it. But what I found when I got here to South Philly when you’re looking at inner-city African American boys that I deal with and girls are a whole other side of the story, but with the boys they start so much younger here with the boys. When we were doing that at 16, 17, 18 the kids here are 12, 13, 14 and they’re already feeling that pressure, and I hate it when I see the way they treat the girls. And I know where it comes from, it comes from that false sense of you know manhood, what a man is, and it’s reinforced in the music, in the videos, you know I hate to sound like one of those old people but it is.

Yvonne: Why do you think boys feel the pressure to brag about their sexual prowess their ability to attract females...

Steve: I mean yeah you know you want to fit in you want people to look at you and think wow look at him he’s this and he’s that. And you know like our president does now you just make stuff up to make people feel that way about you. But you look in the mirror you know the truth. Um it’s just something that’s always been there. Guys are generally dumb, especially teenagers, you know they don’t think things through they don’t analyze what they’re doing. 

Yvonne: So how do you as a father and a coach deal with these boys? What do you tell your son?

Steve: Well the first thing I do is make sure he’s around the right kids. And that’s really easy because he’s been in my program since he could walk. And he’s been with the same kids since then too. And they don’t act that way around each other at all. There’s none of that false bravado and you know trying to act manly in front of these guys. They’re all like brothers and they still hang out with each other. It’s just hammered into them from day one that academics is so important and you show them why and you expose them to so many things you give them an identity and show them where they fit in in the world.

Yvonne: Steve believes boys are just as vulnerable as girls. They may put on a façade, but deep down they are insecure.

Steve: They have the same emotions they go through the same insecurities. I mean a lot of it, most of it I would say, stems from insecurity. Like especially in the monologue, you know. You’re very insecure you want to believe that you’re this but you know down deep that you don’t know what you’re doing.

Yvonne: Do you have any advice for parents of boys who are seeing their boys you know starting a little swagger and I’m gonna hit that… you know hearing them talk to their friends in a way that might make them cringe, do you have any advice for parents and how to deal with making their boys more empathetic?

Steve: Well first I don’t think a little bit of that is just natural for that. You have to know that teenagers are different. You can’t let it get out of hand. You you need to teach them respect for women. It has to be taught. It has to be reinforced. You have to model that behavior at home as parents. It can’t be do as I say not as I do.  

YVONNE: Being a coach puts Steve in a position where he can help boys grow into men by modeling empathy and respect, even in stereotypical hyper-masculine spaces. Like a locker room. In fact, he teaches empathy right along with how to swing a bat or nail a basket.

Steve: First of all, in our sports here, we teach empathy from day one. And empathy people always confuse empathy with sympathy. You know empathy is valuable in sports to know what is that base runner thinking. I said one time, when we’re talking about empathy, we’re always trying to figure out what is your opponent thinking right now. Get inside his head, because if we know what he’s thinking we can kind of take advantage of that and make it work for us. So when a coach yells at a kid say “get a better lead off that base” my kids automatically know “well that kid really wants to impress his coach he’s gonna take a really aggressive lead, and we’re gonna pick him off.” So we’re gonna empathize with him and pick him off. Alright? And then we can sympathize with him as he’s going back to the bench with his head down.

When you realize that that opponent is just like you, you don’t have to smash his head in to win or to be seen as the better player or anything like that. I mean, it’s hard to describe. Um. But I see it in our guys all the time. They never get too high they never get too low. They have everything in perspective. You have to teach it from day one. If it's not taught, very few kids are going to get that on their own.

And’s that’s our show.

[Theme Music]

Thanks to Alex Papatolis of Northeast Philly for a fun, powerful, and important  monologue.  Thanks for your insight and wisdom Alex.

And Steve Bandura of Marian Anderson Recreation Center in South Philly.

"Misunderstanding, Didn’t Understand" was performed by Dahlak Brathwaite.

See ya next time