by Dorothy Dimitre
“Shame occurs in many men who feel they have failed to live up to the heroic ideal. Shame is what we feel when we experience ourselves somehow being wrong. It’s immobilizing and destroys self-esteem. Much pathology, including a lot of male violence, arises in an attempt to assuage or repress this feeling.” – Aaron R. Kipnis, Knights Without Armor
If we as individuals or as a culture want to raise boys so we do not create rigid, insecure men out of sensitive boys; if we want boys to feel good enough about themselves so they do not become obsessed with power, control, invulnerability, dominance, violence, etc., we must provide constructive role models from involved, caring, accepting fathers to sports and entertainment figures who model integrity, decency, and empathy. We need to change the general attitude toward boys that, unfortunately, continues to permeate this culture in many ways and often starts from day one in a boy’s life.
For instance, many boys get the message that if you act like a baby, even though you are a baby, you will be punished for it. If you do not want to compete and you are not good at athletics, something is wrong with you. If you do not do well in school (and many schools aren’t set up to accommodate and enhance boys’ characteristics) we’ll put the pressure on you so we won’t look like failures. If you freely express your feelings, we’ll condemn you for it. And don’t ever let on that you can’t handle something or we’ll be very disappointed in you. In other words, you must please us according to our expectations.
As Myriam Miedzian wrote in Boys Will Be Boys, “Research reveals that fathers, especially, tend to become deeply disturbed by any behavior in their sons that is not typically ‘masculine.’ This kind of father provides a role model that fits the masculine mystique even though he may not be violent, at least not uncontrollably violent -- he may use physical violence to punish his son. He does not express much emotion. He doesn’t cry. He is very concerned with dominance, power, being tough…He may feel that a high level of involvement in childcare is unmanly. This kind of father is probably typical of a large number of basically decent American men who reinforce in their sons just those qualities that serve to desensitize them and make them more prone to commit violent acts or condone them.”
If, by chance, the boy knuckles under or is naturally competitive, athletic and aggressive he will be highly rewarded. More than likely he will be exploited and become a hero (though maybe a complete flop as a human being) and put on a pedestal. If he is unable or unwilling to fall victim to the masculine mystique, he will very likely be ridiculed, shamed, bullied, and/or ignored. He will be considered by many to be a geek, wimp, nerd, loser, fag, etc..
We, as a culture, will warn you about the dangers of venereal disease, AIDS, and the risk of impregnating some girl, but idolize athletes and entertainers who act as if chalking up conquests is a natural and expected behavior of the big man. We may warn you about unwanted sexual advances but bombard you with sexual titillation at every turn. We will lament the number of babies born to unwed, unattached mothers, but we will not insist that you take responsibility for the new life that you have created. After all, boys will be boys.
We’ll show you such TV shows as “The Simpsons” and “Two-and-a- half Men” and wonder why so many of you do not take parenthood seriously. We will deplore violence in the streets but do nothing about the despicable violent TV fare, movies, computer games, etc. that glorify the worst aspects of human beings. “American boys must be protected from a culture of violence that exploits their worst tendencies by reinforcing and amplifying the atavistic values of the masculine mystique.” – Miedzian.
We live by the motto, “You are what you have” and let you worry about how you look and who you can impress, and allow corporate interests to brainwash you with their enticing commercials and wonder why so many of you grow up with such distorted values. We will tell you not to drink or do drugs but carry on our love affair with them and see your involvement with them as a high school and college student as some kind of male initiation rite. We become irate if we catch you lying, but often idolize those who are greedy, narcissistic, unethical, immoral and/or exploitive. If you react to all of this by becoming insecure, confused, closed, hardened, you can’t blame us. We tried!
Shouldn’t we do what we can to prevent the natural tendencies of boys for action, challenge, competition and conquest from turning into life-destroying violence and aggression and, whether illegal and/or sanctioned, in arrogant authoritarianism that can result everything from deadlocks in Congress to arbitrary wars? What more important contribution to our legacy as human beings than the development of the positive qualities of any child’s natural inclinations to help make this world a better place for all? What better than to teach them (by example) that, as Leonard Sax writes in Boys Adrift, “Being a man means using your strengths in the service of others.”
Since 1984 Dimitre has written over 600 columns for various local newspapers.
She graduated from UCLA with a degree in education in 1951. She taught first grade for a while before having two sons and a daughter. Dimitre was presented with her first great-grandchild on March 30, 2012. The new baby’s mother is the oldest of Dimitre’s 7 grandchildren, who range in age from 27 to 3. Dimitre has always been interested in children’s issues.