Friday, February 6, 2009

Can Boys REALLY be Boys?

How have we defined the male in society? Is it fair? Is it just as full of loopholes and stereotypes and judgment as those definitions are for the feminine?

In a recent class with my seniors, we were discussing traditional gender roles verses the modern variations. In writing out their feelings, one of my amazing male students wrote the following:

"Guys in the media are portrayed as screwups. These days I feel like men are victimized by the media . It's frustrating because while there's a level of sexism on either side, it seems that generalizations of men are taken a lot more lightly."

I have to agree with this. How many of us women get angered or spat back quick and sharp (and in some cases witty) retorts when any type of stereotypical comment is made. BUT, I can find myself resorting to trite and blanket statements like, "Men!" (as I shake my fist in anger) and many other colorful variations along that train of thought. And I receive no repercussions because no man would dare to tell me NOT to subject him to a traditional gender role-esque angered comment (really, they wouldn't dare, I can get scary).

And yet, how many of my friends, when figuring out if they can go out for a night sans children have to ask their husbands to "babysit". Um, what? Explain that one to me. Why are YOU raising them and your HUSBAND babysitting them?

How many times does the mother worry leaving *her* baby with the husband for more than a few hours at a time. Like he isn't as capable of loving or nurturing his own child as much as she is??!! I find this completely insulting. If you don't think your husband is smart enough and capable enough to watch your child, then why did you reproduce with him?

The following is a list of topics worthy of discussion (taken from this post). I think that these ingrained mindsets are just as hard for us to break down in society as the fact that all women were meant to be stay at home wives and mothers.

The Myth of Male Weakness, where they are taught that they can not control their baser urges, are seen as untrustworthy (a man with my children? scary), somehow defective, and punished far more severely than a woman for the same offenses (statistically true).

The Myth(s) of Masculinity, where they are taught that real boys and true men only feel anger and desire, not love nor fear nor tenderness nor embarrassment nor giddiness. For shame.

The Superiority of Maleness, where they are taught that girly things are embarrassing and inferior, pink and tutus and dolls and feelings are to be held in the lowest of contempt.

The Culture of Cruelty, where boys are tortured and physically abused and emotionally isolated both by their peers and by adults unless/until they conform to expectations of masculinity.

Doesn’t sound like a barrel full of happy fun to me.

In my world of feminism, I've discovered that I also care (almost equally) about masculism. While I will always fight for equal treatment of women, I think that this should not overshadow the fact that more of my male students are failing, more of them are lost, and more of them feel pretty hopeless or apathetic about life.


Laura said...

Sigh, "more of my male students are failing, more of them are lost, and more of them feel pretty hopeless or apathetic about life." That echoes my experience. And even when the girls fails, they generally are able to turn themselves around much more rapidly. Could it be, as my male co-teacher says, that schools are not the right environment for many kids, especially boys, to learn? And they are mostly learning from us, the "inspired" female teachers who (guilty guilty) do not hesitate in discussing bias against women, but not stereotypes against men in our literature and society. You bring up some important points.

We might expect men to be strong, but really, we want a man to be tender with us and to talk to us of his feelings and about ours.

My brother was a boy babysitter. Boys loved him. And his wife did, on occasion, let him babysit their kids.

D'Arcy said...

I am sure that is a large part of it. As teaching attracts more and more women than men (usually)--I think we tend to teach the classes in the manner in which we learn. Thus, it is getting harder and harder for boys to be successful.

And I am SO guilty of discussing the bias against women. That's why I am trying to turn it around and bring other discussions to the table...even just teaching them the world masculism seems to be more than many boys have ever heard, and yet, EVERY kid has heard of feminism.

It's hard. And the consequences are awful, I know I need to be much more wary of this.

Thanks for your comment.

Alisa said...

Yes, there are totally male stereotypes. I've noticed since my teenage years a huge influx of "screwup" frat-boy movies. The only thing I would have to say is who purchases the frat boy media? Mostly males. (Sorry, I do think it's a bad stereotype and those movies are dumb).

Hmmm. Maybe I should also observe that women are often the customers/consumers for unrealistic fashion magazines. Maybe sometimes the responsibility lies with us.

smiles4u said...

I could not agree more. I have thought about this a lot in raising my two sons to adulthood. The messages that are given to them can be very confusing. It is so easy to generalize with sterotypes, when it comes to men and women.

I have known a lot of shithead men, that fit these ugly sterotypes(almost perfectly) but I have known some really great men, that are just wonderful people. My best friend...(other then my husband, who is my most favorite friend BUT personally I think it's important to have these good friends outside of marriage.)is my brother. He is an amazing man that definetly doesn't fit into the sterotypes that the media or us women can put them into. Many of my other very good friends are also men and they don't either. I am thankful that my sons had these role models in their lives.

Because I was married to a shithead and have been in some really bad relationships with men that were similar, I became very tainted and it became a habit for me to make these remarks or much so that I didn't even realize how much I was doing it.

Often times, my guy friends and I would "joke" back and forth...saying jabs to one another using various stereotypes against each other...even though they didn't really think of me as the stereotypical woman and I didn't think of them as the stereotypical was all in fun, except after a while my good guy friends started confronting me about the way I talked...that it started to seem like I really did lump them in with "those" kinds of guys just because they were guys...and they let me know, one by one, that it hurt their feelings. They said they endured it for a time, because they felt like I had a right in a sense to feel the way I did because of how I had been treated but after awhile it got old for them.

I felt bad for hurting their feelings and it woke me up to my insensitive behavior...made me realize I had some unfinished business.

The thing is I do know women that fit into the stereotypical women category but know many women that don't.

I really do believe that we have unfairly confused men...leaving them to not really know what we women want from them. Sometimes we go along with certain things because it's always been done that way in our family of origin. I know I was raised under many of the stereotypes and it was easy for me to just play along without realizing it. Sometimes we accept what society or the media decides is the norm when really it's not. And the thing is that changes all the time too. How confusing for men.

When my husband is in charge of caring for the little people, in no way has he ever refered to it as babysitting. My ex-husband rarely watched our children but if he did, he called it babysitting...and let me tell you, when he did, in it's rarity, "babysit" he didn't do much caring for them...he did do a lot of "sitting" though so I guess you could have called him a "sitter"!

Caring for the children and anything with the home was considered my job even though I ran a quite large daycare out of my home and if he ever lifted a finger(like carry a dish to the sink), he was doing an act of God for me. He really did fit the stereotypes that people talk about. My present husband does not in the least.

Thank you for this great thought provoking post! Have a good weekend my friend! Hugs, Lori

Maithri said...


This speaks to me on so many levels...

I completely agree... I think you have touched eloquently upon a silent crisis in our society...

We have a generation of men who have been brought up believing that they need to be more sensitive, more open hearted, less rigid, less the 'old male' and more the 'new male'...

And yet we have a society which supports and propogates old stereotypes in overt and subtle ways...

A new awareness, a new understanding is called for...

By creating equality for both sexes... by challenging, and breaking down old stereotypes... we make things better for all our children... whatever their gender may be.

Peace and light to you my friend,


Marja said...

Hi Thanks for visiting me. Love your post. I love men in the sense that they are my best friends. My daughter is the same. These days she brings home more friend boys than girls and they are nice logic and have less prejudice. We don't have troubles anymore. Girls use more aggressiveness like excluding each other etc. and no I haven't seen any basic urges, anger or anything.
I think both sides have their strength Man and woman can complement each other perfectly. Why expect them to be the same

arbee said...

This really made me think... I work in a department of 7 women and 1 man and we're always "hmph - MEN!" This poor guy! I guess I'll have to be a little more sensitive...especialy, since I get all bent out of shape when I hear something similar about women.

Kristan said...

Not that it's a good excuse, but I think history has a lot to do with it. Women had to fight so much harder to get where they are in terms of "equality" so we feel more justified in being righteous.

That said, I think male stereotypes (when taken seriously) are probably pretty detrimental to men, just as female stereotypes can be to women.

Ruahines said...

Kia ora D'Arcy,
It really blows me away sometimes reading the synchronicity between the places I visit, the people I value in this way. Many of the concerns you bring up have been at the front of my thoughts as well, particularly when dealing with two sons.
I can honestly write that Tara discovering her own journey, her own empowerment as a woman, has bettered both my boys lives, and mine as well. As Bob wrote on his post, perhaps there is something to a mixing of traditional "institutional" values and also that of a less rigid, more flexible and exploring way of viewing the world. Especially with boys, whom I do find like to have boundaries, but also know exactly where the limits of those boundaries are at.
I find myself getting confused at times D'Arcy, so can understand why boys and teen agers find it difficult. To be honest my own experience as a teen sucked for the most part, a blend of what I was supposed to do, and then what I really wanted to do. And I had no skills or guidance in expressing that frustration even anger, and I suspect many boys still feel that way.
It is also all around boys, and girls, at all times, on tv, music videos, all the media driven "expectations" of what women are supposed to look like and act. Yet there seems to be very little about how men should be except stereotypical crap.
At one time I thought having more male teachers might be he answer, but I am not so sure of that now, particularly having connected with a few male teachers via this medium who seem equally as frustrated as I can be.
It will continue to be a tough issue, but opening it up here could prove to be very useful, and it is simply fantastic for us men that you are there and you care. Kia kaha!

Rowena said...

I loved teaching gender and the media. It made for such great discussion, and helped the kids break these things down. All my students were minority, at that time, and it was actually easier to see the male stereotypes for the minority men than it was for the white men.

I think we've spent so much time figuring out what it means to be a woman, in the aftermath of feminism, that we have forgotten to study also what it means to be a man, so there is less self knowledge and men often get lumped into the buffoon category. Of course, men are also heroes, presidents, artists, financial wizards, geniuses, etc etc etc and also the standard for humanity still.

All in all, I think feminism still has a long way to go, and part of that is allowing and encouraging the discussion of what role men play in this new world.

I also think that discussions like yours are how we will help empower both boys and girls to become the best women and men.

D'Arcy said...

Alisa, I agree that many times we are our own worst enemy. The only thing I can think of is that at least there are other women out there teaching and telling young girls (and old girls!) not to buy into the magazine/cultural obsession of the media.

And yet, rarely do I see parents addressing the fact that their sons are watching "Dumb and Dumber" again, or going to see Superbad, Role Models, and that new Mall cop movie.

I think this is because those films just seem like "harmless fun" when in reality, they might be having more of an affect than anyone cares to acknowledge.

D'Arcy said...


I just love all that you had to say.

First of all, I'm sorry for the shitheads in your life.

Second of all, your husband is amazing and I can't wait to meet you both. Seriously. Wow.

I think you hit upon something important, when you said that your male friends had their feelings hurt by your generalizations. Even that is out of the norm. Many men don't think they can have hurt feelings. That being sensitive to that kind of thing is feminine and devalues them.

We do ahve a long way to go in understanding each other, but it certainly helps when we know who we are and we don't have to play a gender role. I think that's the difference between your husband now and your shitheads of the past...your husband KNOWS who he is and has created his own definition for living life!

D'Arcy said...


Thank you so much for your comments. They are clear and concise and full of wisdom. It encourages me so much when I surround myself with men of your caliber to know that it really IS possible to start making a difference in the overt and subtle ways both.

D'Arcy said...


I've often wondered if girls were forced to resort to words (and gossip and a certain type of agressiveness) because they were the only weapons seen fit for us to use. Boys could just fight things out and be done with it, but it was never ok for a girl to fight and feel anger (which is a totally natural feeling) thus, girls have to resort to other means of defense.

I'm not justifying it, just pointing it out.

Sounds like you have great men in your life!

D'Arcy said...

arbee, it's true isn't it? I think women get away with much more comments of that nature than men.

However, I still feel that a lot of men are just thinking the comments in their heads, but know not to say them outloud.

I'll be happy when comments like that just don't register in our brains anymore.

It's something to hope for!

D'Arcy said...


We have a long way to go on both sides, and we shouldn't sacrifice one side for the sake of the other. There can be a balance somewhere, I really believe that.

D'Arcy said...


I agree! Somehow these waves of thought are carried all over our small mother earth and connect us.

I actually thought about you and Taylor and Charlie as I wrote this entry. I knew that you just had to be thinking these thoughts and feeling these things. It must be a hard battle.

I want to know more about your ideas of becoming a teacher. If I may say something, I think you would be amazing at it. I think you could do so much good and right. I think you could impart both wisdom and knowledge, and I think you would be a rare influence of good in the world.

I love seeing how our lives change over the course of our interaction! Keep us all posted!

D'Arcy said...

Rowena, I agree about the minorities in film (and lack thereof). I went to see "He's Just Not that Into You" last night and the movie poster alone was like an old advertisement for an All White Hollywood.

I just keep wondering when we are going to start getting things right. But then again, I don't discount the fact that we are getting many things right. Yet, we have a long way to go.

Men and women form humanity, so it makes sense to me that you can't work on defining and developing one without defining and developing the other. We just need to start finding the right definitions and developments!

HappyWifeHappyLife said...

Raising one son and one daughter (who are a mere 18 mos apart and have been raised like twins), I am ALWAYS astounded at how incredibly different they are. WIRED differently from conception.... I truly, truly believe.

My daughter: VERY strong willed, wildly independent, and very conniving (and yes, I know that has negative connations, but it's still the best word I could come up with...)

My son: much more sensitive, much 'sweeter' (definitely less likely to hurt someone's feelings), and MUCH more prone to be bruised by criticism.

So YES, I agree with you that 'male bashing' is something that is laughed at and not taken seriously in our country. Men do still, by and large, run the world. However men are still painted with a large stereotypical brush which is NOT correct in many instances.

And - looking at my own husband - he's ALWAYS been very nurturing wtih our kids. I've never even considered using the word "babysitting" when talking about him being with the kids while I'm out. He is just as much of an active, involved parent as I am.

Candidly, I can't imagine it any other way!

Steve and Jenn Fletcher said...

Very nice, D'Arcy.

I have to admit that I am frequently guilty of asking Steve to "babysit".

"It's not babysitting," he always says, as he rolls his eyes. "It's parenting."

Oh yeah. Duh.

Marta said...

Having been raised by a single dad, I know plenty of those stereotypes--people shocked that my dad could get me dressed, fed, and to school on time every day. As if this takes heroic effort from a man. "Your poor father," some people would say.

Now that I have a son, I worry even more.

Equality for all!

G said...

brava, d'arcy.
as the parent of a young boy this stuff is so much on my mind.
I go out of my way to occasionally give him the pink cup/plate to use (it's just anther color) and to encourage a variety of toys and games (dress-ups remains his fav)... but sometimes I wonder if I am doing him any favors. setting him up for ridicule or cruelty. will he hate me for not teaching him that pink is a sissy color? (most of his friends already get that concept).

I don't know.
but thanks for a great post on the subject.