On raising boys *UPDATED*

Boys playing cops and robbersOn my Facebook page today, two of my friends put up links with advice for parents raising sons.  One link came from an ultra liberal friend and the other link came from a solidly conservative friend.  There is a vast chasm between the two sites when it comes the types of men each post is trying to create.  I therefore thought it would be interesting to offer the two sets of advice side by side.  Please note that I’ve only included the headings.  You should visit both sites to see the specifics behind each heading.  (My comments, which I hope clarify the more cryptic headlines, are in parentheses.)

First, from “Raising Boys,” a subset of “The Good Men Project”, comes a post entitled Seven Memes That Will Change The Way You Think About Raising Boys:

1. We Need To Teach Boys That Being “A Girl” Is Not An Insult.
2. All Boys Are “All Boy” (e.g., it’s not just rambunctious, athletic boys who are “all boy”).
3. But They Should Not Get Away With Bad Behavior Just Because They Are Boys.
4. We Believe In Men, Their Maturity And Compassion
5. Teach Your Son to Respect Women
6. We Need to Showcase More Multi-Dimensional Boys and Men in the Media (e.g., not just vampires)
7. And One Day Soon, We Will Be Using the Expression “Boys Will Be Boys” To Describe This: (followed by a picture of a trio of boys sitting quietly on the floor pretending to give bottles of milk to dolls)

Second, from “Belief Net,” comes a post entitled Ten Things Every Dad Should Tell His Son:

1. Do Courageous Things
2. Work Harder Than Anyone Else
3. Hang with the Wise
4. Stay Away From Porn
5. Reflect True American Character (i.e, fulfill the Founder’s vision)
6. Assume a Gift Is Hidden (i.e., you have to work to get the good things out of life)
7. Remember that Everything Counts (i.e., don’t live your life making careless choices because you assume something isn’t important)
8. Know that Marriage is a Covenant
9. After You Screw Up, Step Up
10. Focus on Stewardship

I’ve often said that the Left wants to feminize boys, while conservatives should have as their goal taking boy’s behaviors (their energy, their loyalty, their drive to leadership) and channeling them into virtuous values and conduct. These two lists seem to exemplify those different ways of thinking about transitioning boys to men.

This is not to say that I reflexively disagree with the first list. Indeed, I strongly believe in several of the items on that list. It’s just that the list’s purpose doesn’t seem to have as its primary purpose taking ordinary, generic boys and turning them into ordinary, generic, and good men. Instead, its primary purpose seems to be to validate those boys who don’t have an excess of what I call “boy energy” (and I live surrounded by lots of very boy energy) and to insinuate that the best boys are the ones who, rather than channeling their boy energy to a more noble way of being, simply sublimate it altogether.

I probably would endorse the first list if it were merged into the second.  If one successfully raised a boy with all of those principles, what would emerge would be a fully-rounded man perfect for romance novels:  tough, but sensitive….  Back in the real world, however, which is where I live, if I were parenting a completely generic boy (which I actually am) and could pick only one list to use to raise my child, I’d pick the BeliefNet list.  I like that list because it recognizes the reality of boys, rather than trying to force boys to conform to a theory.

I’d also pick the BeliefNet list because the good parts of the “Raising Boys” list can be incorporated as subsets of the ideas in the BeliefNet list.  For example, items 4 and 8 from the BeliefNet list (“stay away from porn” and “marriage is a covenant”) incorporate within them the notion that “girl” is not an insult, that men should be compassionate, and that men must respect women.  Likewise, items 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 9, and 10 readily encompass “believing in men, their maturity and compassion,” because guys who step up to the requirements in the BeliefNet list will be mature, reliable, honorable and, one hopes, compassionate.

In sum, for me the BeliefNet list looks at boys as they actually are, and prepares them to become the men that they should be.  Meanwhile, the “Raising Boys” list looks at boys as girls are, and prepares them to become the men that, without being homosexual, nevertheless most closely resemble girls.

UPDATE:  With perfect timing, one of my “real me” Facebook friends posted this on his wall today:

Gentleman

UPDATE II: You may also want to read Kay Hymovitz on the damage single motherhood does to boys.

How public schools’ war on boys has led to an increase in gun crimes

The school year has started again and, with it, the insanity that is Zero Tolerance in America’s public schools.  The Washington Post, which originally reported the story, helpfully explains that our nation’s schools have been busy little bees for the past year when it comes to criminalizing child’s play.  I wonder if we’re looking at this anti-gun fascism a little bit backwards.  We’re seeing it as an attack on guns.  But in the context of public schools, isn’t it just a subset of the school’s over-arching hostility to boys?

Public schools like boys in the abstract, but they really hate the reality of boys:  boys are physical beings who live in a hierarchical world that reveals itself when they are as little as two or three years old.  For a nice discussion about the spectacular differences between boy and girl social interactions, if you haven’t already read Deborah Tannen’s You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation, you should.

Boys’ physical, hierarchical world means that they have a terrible time sitting still, even when they’re in their teens or 20s.  (Heck, I know much older men who are still kinetic, whether it’s a jiggling leg or a tapping finger.)  They engage in physical or verbal play that is intended allocate them to their place in the day’s (or the minute’s) hierarchy.  They practice male roles of warfare and command.

All of this is antithetical to the hyper-feminine, hyper-feminist atmosphere that pervades America’s schools, especially her elementary/primary schools.  I don’t know what it’s like outside of Marin County, but here, almost without exception, elementary school teachers are female, with a handful of gay men thrown in for good measure.  Schools want students to sit still, which girls do naturally and boys don’t.  Schools want students to talk about their feelings, which girls do naturally and boys don’t.  Schools want to destroy physical competition, which is a hard sell to girls, and an even harder sell to boys.

What schools should be doing is to allow boys maximum physical activity, such as full physical breaks every hour.  Rather than prohibiting physical and competitive play, they should encourage it, while enforcing concepts such as honor, fairness, generosity, and loyalty, as well as the difference between play and cruelty.  Boys should learn to be good winners and good losers.

The schools’ anti-bullying programs also persecute boys.  Often, bullies are testing out their competitive and pack instincts.  Schools could address this by giving boys meaningful competitive and pack opportunities, with strong expectations about honorable behavior, or they should work to teach other students how not to become victims.  (This would be akin to teaching home owners how to lock doors.  There are bad people out there, but you certainly lessen your exposure if you take responsibility for protecting and defending yourself.)

Instead, schools out-bully the bullies by bringing the full weight of the school to bear on a kid who is, as likely as not, just testing boy boundaries.  The victim learns that people should never defend themselves because, if they do, they’ll get in trouble, and if they don’t, they’ll be celebrated for calling in the heavy-hitters.  The “bullies” learn that the best way to win is to be the biggest bully of them all.

When boys do not respond to this constant hammering away at them in an effort to wipe out their biological imperatives, they get labeled as “problem” students, or ADHD kids.  The schools then start pressuring the parents to put the boys on psychotropic drugs.  It seems appropriate to mention here that, in every one of the school shootings in the last twenty-years, the shooter has been on psychotropic drugs.  The “turn boys into peaceful girl” drugs and the fact that the boys’ families have Democrat political identities are the ties that bind these youthful mass murderers.

I understand that there are boys who are violent and angry, and that bad things happen.  I’m not blaming everything on the schools.  I am saying, however, that in their efforts to feminize boys, including taking away the pretend war games in which boys engage to test what they can do, the schools are creating boys who do not know how to harness their boy energy in a healthy way, and who too often become dependent on psychotropic drugs that have strong links to murder and suicide.

In this context, the anti-gun policy, while it is definitely related to the Progressive push to wipe out the Second Amendment, is also just another front in the Leftist war against men.  The stakes are high in this war, by the way, because manly men — men who are self-reliant and responsible — don’t like a big government that tries to infantilize or feminize them.

(For more information on the schools war on boys, check out Christina Hoff Sommers’ The War Against Boys: How Misguided Policies are Harming Our Young Men.  I haven’t read it myself yet, because it’s expensive, but I’m keeping an eye out for it on our public library shelves.)

Real men — and the babyish guys in Hollywood movies

As you all know, over the years I’ve been fascinated by male and female roles in America.  As the mother of a very manly little 10 year old, I take male role models in this culture very seriously.  I’ve therefore noticed (and commented upon) the way in which our society consigns boys to perpetual adolescence.  Just walk down the streets, and you’ll see teen girls dressed like hookers (tight, skimpy clothes) and teen boys dressed like babies (backwards hats, falling down pants, unlaced shoes).

Hollywood is an important part of the way in which American man are infantilized.  I’ve written about this subject twice at American ThinkerIn one article, I looked at two movies with two very different messages about men:  Brokeback Mountain and The Lion, The Witch and the WardrobeIn the other, written during the primaries, I looked at manliness in pop culture generally and in the primaries specifically.

If you’ll pardon me quoting myself, in my article from the primaries, I looked back on movie males during Hollywood’s golden era and compared them to our current crop of stars:

Any analysis of American pop culture has to start in Hollywood.  If we enter the Wayback Machine, we can see that, before and during World War II, Hollywood’s male stars were grown-ups (at least on the screen).  There was nothing immature or adolescent in the screen presence of such great stars as Clark Gable, John Wayne, Humphrey Bogart, Joseph Cotten, Joel McCrea, or Walter Pidgeon, to name but a few.  These were men’s men, with strong faces and deep voices.

When the war started, the most boyish of Hollywood’s hot stars, Jimmy Stewart, ditched Hollywood entirely to serve in the war himself, which he did with extraordinary distinctionMickey Rooney, another boyish actor, also did his bit.  Nor were these two alone in abandoning the world of pretend war on the silver screen in order actually to participate in the real war.  Clark Gable, Henry Fonda, William Holden, Gene Autry, Robert Montgomery, David Niven, and a host of others enlisted.  (Ronald Reagan did too, but a hearing problem, combined with the military’s pressing need for morale boosting films, kept him on the home front, something that dogged him politically in later years.)

Today’s Hollywood stars, even when they take on testosterone packed action roles, never seem to rise above boyishness.  Go ahead – take a look at modern such screen luminaries as Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio, Orlando Bloom, or Ben Affleck.  All of them are distinguished by their chipmunk cheeks and teen heartthrob attractiveness.  The same holds true for the older, post-adolescent actors.  Whether you’re watching an increasingly wrinkled, although still quite charming, Hugh Grant; Tom Cruise with his shark-like grin;  or a goofy Adam Sandler, they all get by playing men who, for the bulk of any given movie, can barely seem to grow up.  Even George Clooney, who boasts old-fashioned silver hair and a gravely voice, shies away from emotionally adult roles, both on and off the screen.  With this type of competition, it’s small surprise that Daniel Craig has proven to be such a popular James Bond.  While his physical attractions elude me, there’s no doubt that he’s the first craggy-cheeked man to play James Bond since Sean Connery made the role.

I’m not the only one paying attention to this trend.  At Pajamas Media, Andrew Klavan has also noticed the perpetual state of immaturity that characterizes guys in way too many movies:

The guys are all children whose manhood consists exclusively in hell-raising.  The women are either fun-loving party girls or grim, death-of-pleasure wife/mommies who seem ever ready to take their little menchildren by the ears and force them to wash the dishes while they stand by wagging their fingers.  These dames remind me of  a wonderful line in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night about “the American woman, aroused”  whose “clean-sweeping irrational temper… had broken the moral back of a race and made a nursery out of a continent.”

A lot of critics get all huffy about this depiction of the sexes – read the silly little fellow who wrote the review in the New York Times by way of example.  The standard line seems to be to blame it all on childish filmmakers pandering to adolescent audiences.  But you know what?  I suspect a lot of it is simple realism.  More and more often I meet young guys just like this:  overgrown kids who are their grim wives’ poodles.  They sheepishly talk about getting a “pink pass,” or a “kitchen pass,” before they can leave the house.  They can’t do this or that because their wives don’t like it.  They “share” household and child-rearing tasks equally – which isn’t really equal at all because they don’t care about a clean house or a well-reared child anywhere near as much as their wives do.  In short, each one seems set to spend his life taking orders from a perpetually dissatisfied Mrs. who sounds to me – forgive me but just speaking in all honesty – like a bloody shrike.  Who can blame these poor shnooks if they go out and get drunk or laid or just plain divorced?

It’s easy just to pass this off as meaningless pop culture, but there’s something deeper going on.  Our culture is becoming feminized.  Women now make up the majority of college graduates, and one could easily call this recession the “men’s recession,” since they’re the ones who have been hardest hit.  That hit will resonate in the home.  While Mom is still going out and earning a living, Dad sits there, unemployed and unemployable.

I’m not sure what can be done about this problem.  I’m certainly not advocating a return to some troglodyte time of brutal cave men and repressed women.  We don’t need to live as they do in Saudi Arabia.  But the pendulum has swung to far and it would be good for American society if it stopped swinging so wildly in the feminine directing and started trending back to a happy-ish medium.