Sunday, February 25, 2018

What about Boys?

The #Me, Too movement has done a great service in bringing issues - ugly, unpleasant issues - that many women and girls have faced since forever.  I think there is some gray to the topic - Harvey Weinstein is disgusting and likely a rapist but what about former Senator Franken and comic Aziz Ansari?  Their "crimes" are, to me, more in the "boy, he's a jerk that has the mentality of a 15-year old boy."

It's interesting because I was trying to explain that last one to my younger son (now a young adult) and I said in the case of Ansari, that the young woman should have gotten up and ended the date.  But my son thoughtfully pointed out that may have been what a woman in my generation would have done but in his generation, women don't want to put up with that behavior.  Point taken.  (But the woman only confronted him later in a text and then wrote a whole public essay on it.)

But the extreme side of this kind of aggression is in the mass shootings that we have seen.  The overwhelming majority of them have been by young males (certainly men under 40 and much younger) who seem to be very angry and most of the men are white.  (Before anyone jumps in, yes, there are probably -per capita - more shootings by black men but those tend to be one-on-one, not mass shootings.  I'll also note that many of the shootings at high schools are in rural and suburban areas, not urban schools.)

Why are these boys and men so angry?  I'm not even sure it's all about mental illness (although that's also possible - most people would say that anyone who would kill IS mentally ill).

What is it to be a man today? 

While women still have a tough time on many fronts, I will say that I wish I had been growing up in a time of "you go girl!"   I know that I might have felt more confident in expressing myself and working outside the "girl" box.   (But I also think the pressure on girls to focus on their looks and bodies is MUCH worse than when I was a girl. )

Boys are still pretty much supposed to be strong, athletic, and grow up to be the supporters of their families.   I think there is more room today for an empathetic man, a thoughtful person who doesn't have to show some kind of macho or physical strength but how many men feel confident in that role.

There was an excellent op-ed in the NY Times recently by actor Michael Ian Black.   He starkly says:

America’s boys are broken. And it’s killing us.
On girls:
The past 50 years have redefined what it means to be female in America. Girls today are told that they can do anything, be anyone. They’ve absorbed the message: They’re outperforming boys in school at every level. But it isn’t just about performance. To be a girl today is to be the beneficiary of decades of conversation about the complexities of womanhood, its many forms and expressions.
On boys:
Boys, though, have been left behind. No commensurate movement has emerged to help them navigate toward a full expression of their gender. It’s no longer enough to “be a man” — we no longer even know what that means.
 It's an strange thing - women and girls might laugh that men and boys are unsure of their roles in the world because, of course, like whiteness as a privilege, there is privilege in being a male. 
Too many boys are trapped in the same suffocating, outdated model of masculinity, where manhood is measured in strength, where there is no way to be vulnerable without being emasculated, where manliness is about having power over others. They are trapped, and they don’t even have the language to talk about how they feel about being trapped, because the language that exists to discuss the full range of human emotion is still viewed as sensitive and feminine.
And so the man who feels lost but wishes to preserve his fully masculine self has only two choices: withdrawal or rage. We’ve seen what withdrawal and rage have the potential to do. School shootings are only the most public of tragedies. Others, on a smaller scale, take place across the country daily; another commonality among shooters is a history of abuse toward women.
And he does have the understanding about most men that I know is true:
To be clear, most men will never turn violent. Most men will turn out fine. Most will learn to navigate the deep waters of their feelings without ever engaging in any form of destruction. Most will grow up to be kind. But many will not.

I would like men to use feminism as an inspiration, in the same way that feminists used the civil rights movement as theirs. I’m not advocating a quick fix. There isn’t one. But we have to start the conversation. Boys are broken, and I want to help.
Echoing a lot of that is an essay by Jack Myers that appeared in Time in 2016, Young Men Are Facing a Masculinity Crisis.
Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are tapping into what I’m calling a “Lean Out” generation of young, discouraged and angry men—men who are feeling abandoned by the thousands of years of history that defined what it meant to be a real man: to be strong; to be a provider; to be in authority; to be the ultimate decision maker; and to be economically, educationally, physically and politically dominant. A growing percentage of young men are being out-earned by young women, as women capture 60% of the higher education degrees required for success in today’s economy.
What needs to change?
As a society, we need to elevate the standards to which men are being held and no longer accept the outdated mantra that “men will be men, and boys will be boys.” We must have zero tolerance for the destructive brotherhood that occurs when men of all ages gather and depend on sexism and misogyny as their common bond.

These are the tools of the patriarchy; they are the rituals of hazing that signify a boy’s entry into manhood. They can be discarded if we create a new narrative that welcomes young men into a truly gender-equal society. We should beware of falling into the trap of believing that the future of men is an “either, or” confrontation with the women’s movement.

The challenge is that there is no foundation on which to build a movement of support, guidance and respect for men who are confronting outdated notions of masculinity. A hopeful and positive future for men and women living in a gender-equal world requires that we also acknowledge the crisis that many young men are facing, and that we invest in solutions. 
I note that phrase "gender-equal", not "neutral."  By that I don't mean that people should not question gender norms but that ALL people are humans.  We need to treat every child - boy or girl - as a person with feelings.  I think sometimes because boys tend to brush off hurts that we don't believe they absorbed any blow.  That is not true.  Many boys are told "Suck it up" "Put some dirt on it" and move on. 

He has some great suggestions:
  • As a society we need to be more supportive of paternity leave, stay-at-home dads, and men entering traditionally “feminine” careers, such as nursing or teaching. Just as we encourage girls to be strong and confident, to enter STEM careers, and to be anything they want to be, we need to similarly encourage our sons to embrace female-dominated HEAL careers (health, education, administrative, literacy)
  • We need media messages, commercials and TV shows that portray men as responsible, competent and caring husbands, sons and fathers, instead of idiots and/or misogynists. We need feminist leaders to call attention to destructive media messages that negatively portray men, just as they call attention to messages that are destructive to women’s self-image and self-esteem.
  • We must invest in an educational redesign that better serves both boys and girls. Overwhelmingly, researchers point to classroom environments and curriculums that are designed for girls to succeed and boys to fail. We should be introducing gaming and online learning into the classroom and expanding recess and co-educational physical education.
  • We need to enhance relationships and family life by inviting young men into women’s support programs to equally educate and support both men and women, fostering open and honest conversations.
I'll add this; we need to get rid of male stomping terms like "pussy" or "gay" or "douchebag."  It's demeaning and wrong all the way around.

But I'm not a parent of an under-18 child anymore so parents, what are your thoughts on raising a son today? 


Anonymous said...

Drive by shootings are by definition "mass shootings" and are predominantly carried out by blacks and Hispanics. The total number of fatalities in the past decade by drive by shooters is estimated to be over 10,000 where as the fatalities from school shootings for the same period is less than 200.

Facts matter

Melissa Westbrook said...

Facts Matter, do show us where drive-by shootings are classified as mass shootings. I have never seen that documented.

Again, apples and oranges.

Anonymous said...

"Facts matter" --- Plz choose another moniker. That one is already taken by me. (See thread about Salmon Bay film series.)
--facts matter

Anonymous said...

On a more superficial level, boys' clothes and toys are a pain to navigate. With the notable exception of Daniel Tiger (boy I love PBS), most TV and movies marketed to boys are so aggressive, and even the clothes have "tough" animals: sharks, dinosaurs, lions, bears. Not much of the cuddly variety, so to speak. While a girl who likes sports or dinosaurs might be referred to as a tomboy, a boy who likes anything soft or sparkly immediately has their sexuality or gender identity called into question.

I'm around preschoolers quite a bit, and everyone likes a bit of magic or glitz, but only the girls' toys and clothes actually cater to this. And as a parent, it annoys me that I have to worry about this - not just finding what my kid likes, but balancing their innocent joy against cynical societal expectations, even my own (do I probably triple-check that he reeeeally wants that toy? Yup, I'm not perfect).

And for my daughter, I'm equally horrified at her options, but for different reasons. :D

-Pragmatic Xennial