“Boys, our new myths tell us, are inherently flawed creatures.” – Michael Gurian, Ph.D., The Wonder of Boys.
Shortly after he turned three, older grandson, playing on the floor, looked up at me with his brown eyes sparkling and proclaimed: “I’m going to be a MAN when I grow up and I’ll go to WORK!” That got me to thinking about what he would have to deal with along the road to maturity. Now he’s 23, just graduated from college, and now I think of his eight-year-old cousin and the even greater plight of today’s boys in our culture with much more fear and trepidation than I did his cousin. I also lament the many detrimental changes in our culture since those boys’ parents were young.
Yes, there are boys who seem to have it all together and make it through school and on through adulthood relatively intact and unscathed psychologically or physically. But there are many young men who aren’t really sure how they fit into the scheme of things in today’s culture and there are many more who struggle and fall by the wayside because no one has appreciated their needs and helped them find their productive purpose in our schizophrenic society. And now even their physical maleness is threatened, as I’ll explain later.
Kathleen Parker, syndicated columnist and author of the book, “Save the Males”, must have been thinking about this when she lamented in one of her columns that President Obama appointed a White House Council on Women and Girls but did not do the same for men and boys. And yet, as she wrote, …“boys in this country are in far graver danger than girls in nearly every measurable way…Boys won’t be equal to girls if we don’t focus our resources on their needs and stop advancing the notion that girls are a special class deserving special treatment.”
Consider that “male mystique” that most boys in our culture have always emulated and it’s easy to see how so many boys become troubled. Men and boys are expected to be strong, independent, competitive, aggressive, stoic and invulnerable. Despite some gains in awareness of the problem, this cultural expectation continues to prevail and, in one way or another, influences our boys every day. Their penchant for aggression and competition is regularly exploited by the media. Just by watching television, a boy will see men portrayed as bumbling idiots, crude Neanderthals, lecherous predators, rigid automatons obsessed with power and violence, narcissistic and arrogant athletes and entertainers, or maybe just mindless airheads who have no clue. For many boys, this is all they have to look to for role models.
So how does this all add up? Today’s boys need thoughtful nurturing and support more than ever, but a great many are lacking in this regard. Too many children are born to people who don’t have their own lives together enough to provide for them physically and/or psychologically. As a result, a deep-seated rage often develops. Such boys will be considered successful if its ramifications are generally considered socially acceptable – such as participation in violent sports, exploiting others for the compulsive accumulation of wealth and power, defiantly blocking the progress of legislation in Congress or producing gory and sadistic movies. But when the rage breaks through in street shootings and murderous rampages, we are horrified.
We must face the fact that, in general, young boys do not mature as rapidly as young girls, do not develop speech as early, are not as ready to sit still, pay attention and tackle academics in school. As Michael Gurian wrote in The Minds of Boys, “…many are not cut out for the educational establishment’s idea of the school experience.” Boys suffer more from lack of bonding and family dysfunction, are much more likely to drop out of school, abuse drugs, commit suicide and become involved in criminal activity.
For instance, the football coach who pays his players to inflict concussions on the opposing team, gang members who gun down their adversaries, and men who abuse their wives and kids – all stem from boys whose purpose was distorted by seriously inadequate caretakers and an exploitative culture. As Gurian wrote in his new book, The Purpose of Boys: “Whether isolated or becoming physically dangerous, even the most hardened young man began his adolescence as a young boy who yearned, because of his own internal nature, for his family, community and society to provide him with safe risks, important challenges and deeply felt rites of passage to purposeful manhood.”
We must appreciate boys for their own unique characteristics as we help them grow into well-functioning men by providing good role models at home, in the community and in the media. Boys who are not academically inclined should not be allowed to fall by the wayside. They must be provided education related to their interests and abilities – like vocational schools. We must face up to the fact that in many ways our culture demeans and exploits boys. Boys must feel appreciated, must have someone to help them develop a positive purpose so that they can grow up to become well-functioning people, productive citizens and successful parents. “We desperately need new heroes for our boys – heroes whose sense of adventure, courage and strength, are linked with caring, empathy and altruism.” – Miriam Miedzian, Boys Will Be Boys
We haven’t been paying enough attention to the plight of boys in more ways than one. Those of us who have seen how males’ qualities have so often been denigrated and demeaned by our culture which has been heeding the pleas of female equality but in many ways failing to take seriously the cries (some obvious, some not) for respect and appreciation that emanate from boys, might realize the seriousness of the situation when they are reminded of an article that appeared in the San Mateo Daily Journal on Aug. 7, 2010.
In part: “A fascinating yet shocking development has been transpiring over the past few decades. The world is slowly started to lose its boys though declining male births. This recent phenomena has a lot to do with the steady infiltration of hormone-disrupting chemicals in our daily lives – chemicals such as bisphenol-A and phthalates…Not only are we seeing fewer boys being born around the world but we’re also seeing an increase in physical feminization of boys whose mothers were exposed to high levels of these chemicals.”
The health and well-being of its children is the barometer of any culture’s viability. How long are we going to look the other way when repeated significant indicators point to the despair, loneliness and alienation of so many of our boys? When are more of us going to face the fact that we all have a stake in this and do something about it?