Monday, March 25, 2013

What about my boys?


Last week I devoted this blog space to dealing with the Disney Princess aspect of cultural influence.  This week I want to turn my focus to the way our culture communicates masculinity to our boys and men.  If I want to speak from and live an egalitarian lifestyle, then I feel strongly about raising my awareness about the flip side of the feminine dynamic...the male perspective.  It is much more difficult for me to understand a male perspective because simply said, I have never been a male in this culture.  My only understanding comes through my relationships with men...starting with my father and then my relationships with my husband, my two sons, my brother, male professional relationships, and my male friends and family.  Most of my current thinking about this issue is also being informed by the book The Macho Paradox written by Jackson Katz.  I am still reading this book, as it is dense and difficult for me to read because I am often triggered; yet I am quickly finding this book to be one of the most important books of our time.

What made me reach for the book was an interview he gave in the documentary Miss Representation aired on OWN last year, and he was specifically talking about the depiction of men in the media and the effect that is have on young male behavior nation wide.  I saw the documentary before Aurora, Portland, or Sandy Hook, but I was already connecting the dots that the violent acts from Columbine, Jonesboro, Virginia Tech, etc., were being committed by young white men.  When it is the violence of minorities our culture relegates the violence to gang thugs, or terrorism; yes my friends racism is still alive and powerful in our world.  Violent acts of young men are crossing socioeconomic brackets, faith systems, educational levels, and race.  Period.  Our boys are becoming men who are angry.  My momma heart screams why?  This book explores the whys.  Here is where I am on what some of the issue is right now, though I am bound to evolve in my thinking:

1.  Our family structure has been floundering in the ambiguity of clear gender roles for quite a bit now and no one is feeling as free has we thought equality would bring.  In actuality I think anxiety is the predominate feeling around gender roles in the home and in the workplace.  Women might be too afraid to be used and abused or they might be afraid to be targeted as a male-basher who is too high maintenance.  Men might feel a ton of pressure to be strong and unemotional while continuing to be a "nice guy” who would never hurt a woman.  All the while there seem to be new expectations to be in touch with their emotions.  Everyone is receiving mixed messages so guilt and shame take a front row seat.  Our boys are caught in the crossfire of all the mixed messages...so they are angry.  I’d be angry too.  I AM angry too, but I have the language to articulate my anger.  We aren’t effectively giving boys a voice or teaching them the skills to articulate their rage.  We are failing them.

2.  Our school system does not honor boys minds, bodies, and development in a way that works for them.  Boys are more kinetic when they enter school, and so it takes a bit more time for the bodies and their brains to be able to develop the self-control necessary for classroom behavior.  My experience in the classroom is that classroom standards are arranged to match a girl’s development and that is not fair.  My boys have been so lucky in their educational journey, as all of their teachers have raised their own sons, so they were not shamed publicly for the gender gap in development.  This is not always the case.  Boys who tend to be developmentally young tend to struggle more to conform to classroom standards.  If a system sets the bar too high above these boys, they live in a perpetual state of frustration.  Frustration does not magically go away...it festers.

3.  The MEDIA.  Our culture glorifies violence and themes of dominance and submission.  Everywhere I turn I find subtle messages telling my boys that to be a man they have a responsibility to be tough and in charge.  My home has no overtly violent video games, but even Super Mario Bros. revolves around the idea that there is a damsel in distress and the men must beat a monster to rescue her.   I won’t even touch television and movies in this post, but of course there is a huge problem there too.

I have so much more to say about this flip side of the issue of gender equality, so I’m glad I’m devoting a whole week to this dynamic.  What do you think about this dynamic?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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