10 Role models for boys that break through gender stereotypes

Nov 6, 2015 at 9:00 a.m. ET
Image: Hero Images/Getty Images

Let's play fill in the blank: "You swing like a g---"; "Boys don't c--"; "Be a m--." If you think it's easy to guess the answers, imagine how boys feel. From chisel-chested action stars to scorched-earth video game heroes to tough-talking TV guys, the media's images, characters and messages are loud and clear: to be a man, you must be intimidating, stoic and domineering.

These cultural stereotypes are not only dated, they're not true. They can limit boys from developing their full potential as sensitive, nurturing and authentic human beings.

New role models are emerging, in both traditional and new media. Alternative forms of entertainment that don't stick to the same old script, such as indie games, podcasts and YouTube shows, present characters with depth, feelings and flaws. Fathers are being shown in more nurturing domestic roles. Even boys themselves are getting an opportunity to voice their beliefs, and they're rejecting the old stereotypes.

Here are 10 truly-inspiring male role models

  • Ash KetchumPokémon. By watching Ash's personal journey from stubborn and brash amateur to patient Pokémon trainer, loyal friend and wise strategist, kids can learn the value of perseverance.
  • Manny DelgadoModern Family. Played by Rico Rodriguez, Manny is the poster child for giving 110 percent to anything in which you believe. When he falls off the horse (for example, gets rejected by a love interest), he climbs right back on, demonstrating an enviable level of determination and resilience.
  • Ansel ElgortInsurgentThe Fault in Our Stars. This born-and-bred New Yorker defies the tough city-kid stereotype. He's a model of sensitivity and support, both in his movies and in real life, where he never fails to give props to his costar, Shailene Woodley — nor is he afraid to tap dance with Jimmy Fallon.
  • Rhett and LinkGood Mythical Morning. These talented and creative comedy partners find ways to riff off each other without insults, put-downs or boundary pushing. In an age when lots of kids are eager to practice their video skills, Rhett and Link demonstrate how to do respectable online entertainment.
  • Neil deGrasse Tyson,Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey. Not many astrophysicists have the charm, telegenic looks or gift of explaining complex concepts in easy-to-understand terms. But Neil deGrasse Tyson — who famously championed the downgrading of Pluto to a dwarf planet against very heavy opposition — has made a personal and professional career of going against the grain.
  • Dr. Leonard Hofstadter,The Big Bang Theory. Played by Johnny Galecki, Leonard is the glue that holds a group of ragtag misfits together. He's a brilliant scientist, but he doesn't act like he's better than other people the way his infamous nerdy roommate Sheldon does. He looks for qualities that unite people rather than divide them.
  • Michael SamDancing with the Stars. The first openly gay football player to be drafted into the NFL, Sam has achieved a lot through hard work, defying expectations and being true to himself.
  • John and Hank GreenThe Fault in Our StarsPaper Towns, the VlogBrothers. Through John's books, the brothers' vlogs and their joint personal appearances throughout the country, these two have connected to — and provided meaning for — the trickiest of groups: tween and teens. They send the message that living fully means facing uncomfortable issues, giving teens permission to express their messy, complicated selves.
  • Terry CrewsBrooklyn Nine-Nine. This former NFL player looks tough, but he's far from a stereotypical macho man. In his book, Manhoodhe reveals that he's a feminist and criticizes the idea of the "man code," which justifies treating women as trophies.