Just prior to going to work, I jumped online, fully intending to check my email and get ready for an eight hour shift turning large pieces of metal into useable goods when I noticed this article on the Firefox tab. Being a curious and loving father of four myself, I decided to read the article and see what it said. I mean- I don’t want to raise an asshole. I hope that my son grows to be a contientious man who looks after others and remains honorable in every way possible. So I wanted to see what the author of this piece from the New York Times had to say. Because- you know- he asked “experts.”
Needless to say there are some things that I disagree with, and some things I agree with. So, I decided that this piece warranted a good old fashioned in-line debate. From here on out, my comments will be in italics and the authors will be in the font of the piece (or a reasonable approximation thereof). The original article can be found here, with all of it's associated links.
In the #MeToo Era, Raising Boys to Be Good Guys
The thought of my sons harassing another person is enough to keep me up at night, so I asked experts for advice.
I’m kind of curious how many kids those experts have…
Parenting, as I have come to understand it, is an endless series of life hacks.
My wife and I have to think creatively to stay ahead of our two sons. I’ve hidden vitamins beneath pools of ketchup, made cough-syrup ice pops, learned the hard way that toothpaste will clean marker off wood furniture while hair spray will get it out of upholstery.
I’ve found no real “hacks” per se, just ways of ensuring my will as father is respected. Sometimes, that means putting the one year old in the Pack-n-Play. That doesn’t make it a hack. But I do agree staying ahead of youngsters can be a real challenge. I can only imagine how much more difficult it would be if my kids had unlimited access to cellular technology and the internet…
But there are no shortcuts for the core mission of parenting: Raising a child to be a good person.
Agreed- carry on.
The thought of either of my two sons harassing or assaulting another person, or being victims themselves, is enough to keep me up at night. Any parent is likely to share my worry.
I can see that. There is the chance that my kids could grow up to become nefarious people, but I think the odds are rather slim. More than likely, even in spite of bad influences, they’ll turn out to be good upstanding people just like yours will.
My boys are only 11 and 13, but the University of Kentucky psychologist Christia Brown says that sexual harassment isn’t a problem confined to the adult world. It begins, in fact, much earlier. “By the time girls leave middle school, the majority of them have been sexually harassed,” she told me by email.
That was a really hard turn for the worst. From “I’m worried my kids will be victims or victimizers” to “pretty much all girls are sexually harassed” in less than a full paragraph. I’m with you on the idea that sexual harassment is a bad thing, because it is. It just seems a massive movement from the start to where you began. I’m beginning to think there is more to this article than merely concerns over your kids being bullies… Continue.
Nor are sexual bullying and harassment confined to girls. Teenage boys are under tremendous pressure to “act like a guy,” which often means fitting into narrow (and often toxic) conventions of manhood. Dr. Brown said, “It’s common for boys to be called homophobic slurs in middle and high school, especially if they deviate from the very narrow stereotype of what it means to be a typical adolescent boy.” Some boys, in fact, might sexually harass girls simply to keep themselves from being harassed.
Very astute observation. Young boys, still forming their ideals of how to interact with the opposite sex during the age of raging hormones, could be pressured by their peers into doing something nasty to fit in. Welcome to “How Gangs Work” 101.
I agree that kids can be mean, but have you ever witnessed the stuff the girls do to one another? Sure, young boys may call each other “gay” for doing something that doesn’t jive with the rest of the guys, but girls are no less mean spirited when pressed. And the argument could be made that girls are actually worse. Whereas a young boy will directly attack or mock another, girls seem to go for the long slow kill by demoralizing and shaming those they don’t like. I’d rather get called a name than have to wonder if all the people think I’m a slut or a whore because Li’l Suzy Q doesn’t like me and likes the idea of destroying me wholesale.
This isn’t to say that boys should be excused for being lewd little shits to young girls. Quite the opposite. There needs to be swift consequences with the ability to move forward. Young kids are still learning what it means to be moral and just, and we can’t just assign them to the annex because they make a mistake. That’s where parents come in.
To me, all this falls on a couple things you’ll touch on shortly, so I’ll let you build a bit. Suffice to say, the first point you’ll offer is, in my estimation as a relatively well formed adult male, to be total crap.
Recognizing that this issue can’t be summed up in a list of quick tips, I still wanted some advice. So I reached out to Peter Glick, a friend and colleague at Lawrence University, the college where I teach. He is a psychologist and an expert on sex stereotyping.
<Facepalm> You mean, “Abandon acting like a gentleman.” The “Chivalric Code” deals more with how a Christian Knight is to conduct themselves in combat and war and not with the soft skills of etiquette and manners. Here:
To fear God and maintain His Church
To serve the liege lord in valour and faith
To protect the weak and defenceless
To give succour to widows and orphans
To refrain from the wanton giving of offence
To live by honour and for glory
To despise pecuniary reward
To fight for the welfare of all
To obey those placed in authority
To guard the honour of fellow knights
To eschew unfairness, meanness and deceit
To keep faith
At all times to speak the truth
To persevere to the end in any enterprise begun
To respect the honour of women
Never to refuse a challenge from an equal
Never to turn the back upon a foe
But go on…
Peter told me that challenging the prevailing norms of masculinity was more important than giving my sons a list of all the things they shouldn’t do. Some of his suggestions, like refraining from telling boys to “man up” when they showed emotion or valorizing physical dominance, seemed intuitive. But I was genuinely surprised by what he said next.
“One thing you want to be careful of,” he said, “is teaching boys to be chivalrous. We need to stop socializing boys to see women as needing protection.”
I strongly disagree. Now, this may seem like me trying to push “toxic masculine ideals” upon you, but give me at least a few sentences to explain why “manning up” and “being physical” are important.
Life is harsh. There are people out there who want you to fail. Some of those people may want you dead, or worse. Nature isn’t kind, and people don’t grow up with the same abilities or situations or even the same moral foundations. There will be times in everyone’s life where the need to dig in and get shit done will present itself. More than likely, the situation will be challenging, and will require fortitude and endurance to see it through. At times, an individual must weather a storm of anguish to get to the fields of success beyond, and it’s this idea that “manning up” entails. When I tell my son to “suck it up and stop crying,” I’m not telling him he’s weak, I’m showing him what strong means.
Setting aside emotions in the heat of the moment, and getting stuck in with the task is part of being an adult. Your boss gives you a solid ass chewing because you screwed up a ton of paperwork that is slowing production or costing money- he/she is ticked, and needs that situation fixed NOW and for that problem NEVER to happen again. Rather than cry and whine about the situation, you put that desire down, acknowledge your mistake, and move forward learning from the incident. Normally, the need to cry dies when you do this and a new sense of self respect is born. You know, in the deepest portion of your being that you CAN do whatever it is. That is the essence of “manning up.”
“Physical dominance” is a means to emotional stability (I know- it sounds toxically masculine- but give me a moment, please?). Name a task you do during that day (not thinking) that doesn’t require a physical presence. Aside from inactive tasks (thinking, sleeping, watching TV/YouTube, etc.) most things you do in any given day require a functioning body. Making dinner, carrying groceries in from the car, walking to the mail box, hugging your kids- all of it is PHYSICAL. Physical prowess doesn’t stop or start on the field, but begins in the body, and the ability of the body to do or not to do directly affects your outlook on life and your emotional well being. Strong bodied people- male and female- are more confident and capable in daily life. They have it EASIER. Praising your kids on feats of physical ability is a means of positively reinforcing their continued physical and mental health. We should all do so more regularly, for both boys and girls.
I want my kids to be physically fit and emotionally stable. Both influence the other.
“Wait a minute,” I said, remembering my mother’s lessons about holding open doors and giving up my seat on crowded buses. I’d long taught my sons to show respect, especially to women. “Isn’t chivalry a good thing?”
Yes… being a Gentleman (or Gentleperson if you want to include the ladies) is a good thing… Your gut’s right here…
“Holding doors and giving up seats are prime examples of courtesy,” Peter said. “Of course those are good things. But the idea that women should be cherished and put on pedestals fosters what’s known as benevolent sexism, which subtly demeans women as fragile and less competent. It reinforces a sexual script in which a man takes charge while a woman remains passive.”
No, Mr. Expert- that’s not the reason for it at all. When someone holds the door open for The Don (known as President Trump) is that saying that he is incapable of holding it open himself? If an Englishman holds the door for the Queen- is that saying she’s too weak to hold it her damned self?
No. It’s a sign of deference and respect. Sure, I could let my wife open her own door to the car when we’re out and about, but I open her door as a signal of SUBMISSION to her. I am putting her safety and comfort before my own. I am treating her as special, just like The Don and The Queen are treated as special. By doing little acts like this, men aren’t saying to the woman, “You are too fragile to open that heavy car door,” we’re instead saying, “you are important to me, and your safety and comfort are more important to me than my own. You rate way more than I could ever possibly give, yet you are with me.”
It’s kind of a subtle “thank you.”
Being a gentleman is vital to preventing those other things you are worried about, namely treating women like trash or objects of desire. A gentleman doesn’t see women as inferior to him. On the contrary. He sees women as his superiors and treats them accordingly. They are more important to society than he is, therefore he does what he can to ensure their continued survival and comfort whenever possible, and treats them like a queen every time. The Gentleman doesn’t reduce the status of the woman to raise his own. He raises the status of the woman, and in so doing shows his sophistication and compassion toward the opposite sex.
My wife does a lot in our home- from educating our children to managing the finances to dealing with my crap. The very LEAST I can do for her is hold the door open for her, and sacrifice my own safety for hers. She’s exceedingly valuable, and by extension, women in general are exceedingly valuable. But I also hold doors open for men- so maybe I’m just a nice guy. Who knows…
Even if well-intentioned, he said, benevolent sexism has been shown to correlate with hostile sexism, with threats to women “who don’t fit the idealized mold of women as pure, faithful and compliant. It’s important to promote a masculinity that’s not all about ‘protecting women,’ but rather about standing up for whoever is vulnerable.”
Ok. So, we (as men) should stand up for people who are vulnerable, right? That takes a certain amount of physical prowess, right? I mean, sticking in some guys face and demanding they show another respect is putting yourself in a world of hurt if you’re a skinny jeans wearing 125 pound sack of soft stuff. First, you want us not to demand of our sons that they be strong- now you want us to put them in the trenches defending the rights of others against potentially strong ruffians? Are you mad?
If we don’t teach our sons to protect girls (who on average are smaller, physically slower, and weaker than boys) then how do you propose that we convince those boys to protect other boys? And if boys are so damned bad to girls, doesn’t it make sense to teach our boys to protect girls from those other boys? I’m really lost here. I can agree with the ideal of protecting others- it’s kind of a big deal in my life as a Marine (of eight years, not currently active), civilian Sheepdog, and volunteer EMT. But to believe that girls aren’t any more valuable than boys because “progressive ideology” is messed up. Societies that don’t put women and children first don’t live long- and don’t deserve to.
Agreed… Oh, there’s more… Ok.
Sexual harassment and assault are often rooted in male entitlement, specifically in men viewing women as objects. Such a view has been bolstered by the media for decades, whether in the form of scantily clad women being used to advertise everything from cars to Carl’s Jr. to Calvin Klein underwear, or Megan Fox’s bare legs and cleavage on constant display in the “Transformers” movies, a franchise heavily marketed to young boys.
So you’re tacitly admitting that Hollywood is a sexist machine designed to degrade and reduce women to objects, and that most actresses get their roles based on the merits of their complexion and good looks rather than on the merits of their ability to act, and further admitting that there is a very deeply ingrained programming in the male psyche that is drawn to the feminine on a large enough scale to entice Hollywood to sexualize women in order to make copious amounts of money, which in turn results in actresses being hired and fired based on the aforementioned criteria? Interesting… I couldn’t have said it better myself.
Odd that Hollywood and the media are foisted as the models of progressive enlightenment and held as examples of how to act when they are such shit shows of the human condition.
But even though sexualized images may be pervasive, parents aren’t powerless. Campbell Leaper, a psychologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz, says parents can start a discussion by asking their kids to count up the number of women in a movie relative to the number of men. “If male characters greatly outnumber women, or if the men are dominant, a parent can encourage a son to consider how a woman in such a situation might feel,” Dr. Leaper said.
That sounds great until we remember the above statement regarding Hollywood and their crap. You really want to use movies to illustrate gender norms? Especially movies made by a group of people that are alleged to have an underground pedophilia ring? Seriously? You want to give up raising Gentlemen and discuss the numbers of women in movies?
What about war movies? Last I checked, women didn’t storm the beaches of Normandy or Iwo Jima. Last I checked, women didn’t rush into combat during the events of Blackhawk Down. The First Suicide Division wasn’t comprised of a majority women (and the reporter who rode with them didn’t write “Generation Kill” from a woman’s perspective- because he was a dude). That is not a means of creating the desired result you seek- unless you want your kids to think in terms of color and sex all the time. Why not just enjoy movies as what they are- entertainment. There are plenty of movies that come from a female’s perspective wherein the protagonist and main character are female.
People, by and large, are ok with female leads. No one- and I mean NO ONE- I ever talk to thinks Ripley is a dumb character. No one hates Princess Leia. Princess Buttercup? Awesome character. The sisters from “Frozen,” or the princess in “Brave,” or “Maleficent.” Good characters. Laura Croft? There are plenty of examples of female leads even in movies dominated by males. “Battle L.A.” springs to mind, and that has TWO good female characters (Michelle Rodriguez is an amazing actress).
I’m sorry, but that just seems silly to me. Count the characters. How about, “Hold that door open for that woman over there, son.” “Respect and cherish women- we owe them much and they are wonderful.” “If I catch you hitting a girl, or demeaning her- I will end your privileges for a solid year.” How about we educate our sons on what being a GENTLEMAN means, and forego the SJW claptrap of counting lead characters by sex. That ok?
Wait… You mean you don’t already?
Emily Kane, a sociologist and author of “The Gender Trap: Parents and the Pitfalls of Raising Boys and Girls,” argues that parents need to rethink the gendered divisions that have traditionally separated boys from girls, and have long excluded kids who don’t fit neatly into either gender. “Though many parents encourage their daughters to aspire to traditionally male occupations, few encourage their sons to consider traditionally female ones, like nursing, elementary education or social work,” Dr. Kane said.
I haven’t told my son what to be. His first real toy was a doll (yes, a doll) so he could learn how to be good with babies. He didn’t get his first toy gun until he was six, and toy soldiers only came around a year prior. He naturally gravitated toward trucks, shovels, toy soldiers, and guns. My first daughter only had that ONE doll we bought our son for the first two years of her life, and was pretty much forced to play with trucks and shovels. Yet- she carried around that dollie and treated it like her kid very early on. Without being told anything. She just did it. Boys and girls just think differently (I’m a baby carrier of sorts. I like babies..). Boys and girls are just different at a root level. Some guys take up nursing, or teaching, or social work. Most don’t. Some girls jump headlong into the military, or police work, and construction. Most don’t.
Dr. Kane stresses the importance of breaking gender stereotypes in small, everyday practices. For example, she recommends assigning boys the kinds of household chores typically given to girls, like mending clothes (Who the hell still mends clothes? My guess is parents that believe in those “gender roles.”) and dusting furniture and nurturing younger siblings. Likewise, promoting emotional expression — the freedom to be vulnerable and sad, rather than just angry and strong — as well as celebrating creativity and quiet introspection are also key to countering patterns of gender inequality.
How is creativity intrinsically female? I write. I build and scratch build models. I’m a creative guy. My eldest daughter is as well. So is my son. My wife is Catholic, and she is raising our children Catholic, and if there is one thing that Catholics do well, it’s quiet introspection. I’m not Catholic, but I think about how I interact with the world, where and why I get my beliefs, how I conduct myself and why, etc. almost daily. Quiet introspection is healthy- so agreed. Just wondering how that is inherently female.
And with regards to “strong and angry,” it’s almost like you see regular guys as mini-Hulks ripping off their shirts and beating their chests whenever things don’t go their way. Men (and women) can be strong and happy, and it is possible to be in touch with your emotions and not a weak willed cry-a-holic. Yes, even the strong have low moments, and feel sadness. Some people just express that sadness differently. Some would say that there is a great diversity in how emotions are expressed. Some might opine that there is really no “right” way to express them. Strong and silent is still a thing, and in some situations, it is the best option (can’t cry and lose your shit when someone is trying to kill you… Just saying…).
In short, there is no “gender inequality” that is intrinsic to the species. We just forget that men and women (girls and boys) are two sides of the same coin with different attributes that are mutually supporting in nature. Men and women, boys and girls, are wired a little different. That’s ok. Learning how to do chores- I’m on board. But stop the social engineering. Totalitarians socially engineer societies.
Fathers are often the guardians of gender boundaries, especially for boys. Anxiety concerning the harsh social judgments a son will receive for straying from the traditional gender norms can lead some heterosexual fathers to unconsciously reinforce limiting and even harmful views of what it means to be a man. It’s therefore doubly important, Dr. Kane said, for dads not only to strive to loosen the restrictions on the kinds of men their sons can be, but also to make a point of calling out gender stereotypes.
So, when my son grabs his toy gun, straps on his helmet and fake body armor, and moves off to go protect his sisters from pretend badguys- I should politely remind him that doing that is a gendered expression of his inward feelings or some such? Boys play with sticks. Girls play with dolls. It happens. Why are we attacking being a boy so damned much? What’s wrong with being a boy?
I’m not gonna sit around a police what my son enjoys just because it’s the socially acceptable thing to do. If he likes to paint toy soldiers, and play wargames- cool. If he avoids dolls because he doesn’t like them- cool. If he likes pink- cool. He wants to hit his sister- not cool. We have loads of corners for that.
All of this sounds fine, except for one problem. My heart-to-hearts with my boys rarely go the way I’d like. They are only at the start of adolescence, and already every cell in their bodies wants to resist me. On most days I’m the last person they want to talk to about sex. Given the pressures from their peer groups, the pervasiveness of cultural messages and their raging hormones, how much of an influence can I really have?
Dr. Brown insists that parents remain important, and regular conversations — in the car, at the dinner table, while washing dishes — are a critical part of raising moral, empathetic children.
Finally, something I really agree with. Yes, Dads are important. We help shape our children into upstanding adults. But in time, our kids must leave the nest and make their own way. This means that even when we’ve done our best, they’ll stumble and fall. Being Dad means we have to see their faults and forgive them and still love them even when they really mess up. It’s those little chats that I had with my dad that helped form me into who I am today. My Dad, as imperfect as he is, gave me a lot to work with. He’s part of the reason- through his talks of admiring former girl friends and his moral beliefs- I came out as good as I did. I owe him a lot. Hell, I owe both my parents a lot. They each gave me something that has helped me along the way. Intangible soft skills that can only be taught through showing- both good and bad.
Dr. Leaper directed me to a study published by the Society for Personality and Social Psychology suggesting that, if parental values are imparted in a loving way, most kids will eventually adopt their parents’ beliefs, even if they appear to reject them while trying to carve out their own identities.
Which means parents need to take the long view and keep at it. When it comes to doing the right thing, there isn’t — and never has been — a hack.
Agreed. No hacks to the important stuff. School can’t do it, and you can’t trust their friends when they’re young to do it. You can’t slough it onto other parents. It’s our responsibility, one way or the other, to ensure our kids turn out alright- then when they leave it’s on them. I’ve heard it said many a time that when you start sounding like your parents, or thinking like your parents, your parents succeeded. There are times when I find myself sounding a lot like my dad, and I’m sure there are times when you notice the same thing.
I get the worry about your kids turning into asshats- I worry too at times. But then I think of the things that I avoided because of the example of my father, and my aversion to the things that many of my peers did like drinking or going to clubs. All the chances for me to do the exact wrong thing, and all the choices I made that put me where I’m at. Those choices are a result of my upbringing. I’m no angel by any stretch, and I’ve stumbled along the way, and dealt with my own issues over the years. But I’m here, and I’m moderately successful. I’m not a convict or a sadist. I do my best to be a good man every day.
And I’m sure your sons and mine will be much the same. The odds are in their favor. They have a loving father in the home, and a stable home life. Those two things alone improve their chances. Stop worrying, start loving. Play games and be involved (not in the creepy, “I’ll Love You Forever” way though…). Everything will work out just fine.
What are your thoughts on the matter? Do we need to embrace what these experts said, or will average parenting do fine to bring up solid young men (and women)? Let me know below.