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2.Kimmel_LittleBoys - Western Folklore ethological study 9f...

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Unformatted text preview: Western Folklore ethological study 9f emance in a group of meat 47: 972M791. tary and conflicting an interracial school.” ,, The Development of New York: Cambridge 53.. m , Harmony and Tension, Playground. London: l viewpoint in studies Reth in Id 11 g Childhood, y and games.” In R. E. "id’s Play, pp. 298687. on of sex and gender." 1975. “Intensive and al and cross-sectional e, C. Kramarae, .3: N. o'cieiy. Rowley, Mass: in strap: A new .-uty in Native ttehcad, eds, Sexual _ ambridge University READING T0 hear some tell it, there’s a virtual war against boys in America. Best~sellers’ subtitles counsel us to “pros fect” boys, to “rescue” them. Inside, we hear how boys are failing at school, where their behavior is increas- ingly seen as a problem. Therapists advise anguished parents about boys’ fragility, their hidden despair and despondence. Boys, we read, are depressed, suicidal, emotionally shut down. And why? it depends on whom you ask. The back- lash chorus—the cultural right as well as the authors of some of these books—chant "feminism." Because of feminism, they say, America has been so focused on girls that we’ve forgotten about the boys. Other writers blame patterns of male development, while still others find in feminism not the problem but its solution. There’s no question that there’s a boy crisis; Virtu- ally all the books cite the same statistics: boys are four to five times more likely to kill themselves than girls, four times more likely to be diagnosed as emotionally disturbed, three times more likely to be diagnosed with attention deficit disorder, and 15 times more likely to be victims of violent crime. The debate concerns the nature of the crisis, its causes, and, of course, its reme- dies. The startling number of advice manuals that have appeared in the past coupie of years—almost all. by male morapistswalternate betwoen psychological diagnoses and practical advice about how to raise boys. One group, epitomized by therapist Michael Gurian (A Fine Young Man, The Wonder of Boys), suggests that boys are both doing worse than ever and doing worse than girls thanks to feminists’ efforts. Gurian argues that as feminists have changed the rules, they’ve made boys the problem. By minimizing the importance of basic biological differences, and establishing girls’ standards as the ones all. children must follow, femi- nists have wrecked boyhood. Along with Australian men’s movement guru Steve Bidduiph (Raising Boys), Gurian argues that our educational system forces natu- Michoel Kimmel What Are Little Boys Made Of? rally rambunctious boys to conform to a regime of obe~ dience. With testosterone surging through their little iimbs, boys are commanded to sit still, raise their hands, and take naps. To hear these critics tell it, we’re no longer allowing boys to be boys. We’ve misunderstood boy biology, and cultural meddlingmespecially by misinformed womenmwon’t change a- thing. It’s nature, not nur» ture, that propels boys toward obnoxious behavior, violence, and sadistic experiments on insects. What makes boys boys is, in a. word, testosterone, that magi: cal, catch-all hormone that drives them toward aggres- sion and risk—taking, and challenging this fact gives them the message, Gurian says, that "boyhood is defective.” This facile biological determinism mars otherwise insightful observations. Gnrian adroitly points out the nearly unbearable pressure on young boys to conform, to resort to violence to soive problems, to disrupt classroom decorum. But he thinks it’s entirely due to biology—not peer culture, media violence, or parental influence. And Biddulph agrees: "Testosterone equals vitality,” he writes. All We have to do is “honor it and steer it into healthy directions.” This over-reliance on biology leads both writers to overstate the differences between the sexes and ignore the differences among boys and among girls. To argue that boys have a harder time in school ignores all reliable evidence from sources such as Myra and David Sadker’s Failing at Fairness: How America’s Schools Cheat Girls. These misdiagnoses lead to some rather bizarre excuses for boys’ behavior, and to the celebration of all things masculine as the simple product of that puben tal chemical elixir. In The Wonder of Boys, .Gurian cities bewilderineg incongruous rites of passage, such as "military boot camp, fraternity hazings, graduation day, and bar mitzvah,” as essential parts of every boy’s life. Hazing and bar mitzvahs? Have you read any reports of boys dying at the hands of other boys at bar l8? [38 SECl|0N4 mitzvahs? Biddulph explains boys’ refusal to listen. to adult authority by reference to the “fact” that their ear canals develop in irregular spurts,.”leading to a period of hearing loss.” And did you know that baritone singers in. Welsh choruses have more testosterone than tenorsm and have more sex! Where do they get this stuff? More chilling, though, are their strategies for inter— vention. Gurian suggests reviving corporal punish- ment both at home and at schoolebut only when administered privately with cool indifference and. never in the heat of adult anger. {He calls it "spanking responsibly”) Biddulph, somewhat more moderately, proposes that boys start school a year later than girls, so they’ll be on a par intellectually. The problem is, there’s plenty of evidence that boys are not “just boys” everywhere and in the same ways. if it’s all biological, why is the slightest deviation from expected manly behavior so cruelly punished? Why aren’t Norwegian or French or Swiss boys as violent, homophobic, and misogynist as many are in the US? Boys are not doomed to be victims of what Alan Alda once ta cetiously called "testosterone poisoning.” On the contrary, they can become men who express their emo— tions and treat their partners respectfully, who listen as well as act, and who love and nurture their children. But how do we get there? Another group of therapists, including Dan Kindlon and Michael Thompson, and William Pollack, eschew testosterone-tinged testimoni— als and treat masculinity as an ideology to be chal- lenged. For them, we need to understand the patterns of boys’ development to more effectively intervene and set boys on the path to a manhood of integrity. To do that, Kindlon and Thompson write in Raising Cain, we must contend. with the "culture of cruelty” that forces a boy to deny emotional neediness, "routinely disguise his feelings,” and end up emotionally isolated. in Real Boys, Pollack calls it the “Boy Code” and the "mask of masculinity”—ma kind of swaggering attitude that boys embrace to hide their fears, suppress depenw dency and vulnerability, and present a stoic front. These two books are the biggest sellers and their authors the most visible experts on boyhood. Pollack’s book is far better. The most influenced by feminism, his observations provide an important parallel to psychol- ogist Carol Gilligan’s work on how assertive, confident, and proud girls "lose their voices” when they hit ado— lescence. At the same moment, Pollack says, boys find the inauthentic voice of bravado, of constant posturing, of foolish risk-taking and gratuitous violence. The Boy EQUALIZATION Code teaches them that they are suppOSed to be”: power and thus to act like it. They "ruffle in a man; pose,” as Yeats once put it, “for all their timid heart '11 Unfortunately, these therapists’ explanations (pm always track. hot one thing they all use exam drawn from their clinical practices but then genera; casually from their clients to all boys. And, a138, "Em is limited almost entirely to middle-class, subuflj white boys. Cute blond boys stare at us from " books’ covers, while inside the authOrs ignore la; numbers of boys whose pain and low self-esteem me have to do with insecurities and anxieties that more economically and politically rooted. Gurian' books disingenuously show one boy of color on ea cover, but there’s nary a mention of them inside. K lon and Thompson generalize from their work at a elite prep school. If all the boys are white and middle class, art-least, they’re not all straight. Most therapists treat homese uality casually, dropping in a. brief reference, "explain ing” it as biological, and urging compassion ' understanding before returning to the more “imp-Q tan ” stuff. Only Pollack devotes a sensitive and care fully thought—out chapter to homosexuality and it actually uses the term “homophobia.” The cause of all this posturing and posing is not te tosterone, of course, but privilege. In adolescence both boys and girls get their first real close of grand inequality, and that is what explains their difteien accepting a high level of activity; speaking their lan guage,‘ treating them. with respect; using disciplinet guide and build; modeling manhood as emotionall attached (all of which are good suggestions and app'l cable to girls, alsol—don’t address male entitlement Indeed, of the male therapists, only Pollack and lam Gilligan (Violence) even seem to notice it. For the oth ers, boys’ troubles are all about fears suppressed, pa' swallowed. Kindlon and Thompson write that ill "culture of cruelty imposes a code of silence on 50:3: requiring them to suffer without speaking of it anti-l be silent witnesses to acts of cruelty to others." The books that are written with an understanding? male privileges—and the need to challenge it——are.lh ones that offer the most useful tools to improve bD}_l5 lives. Books by Myriam Miedzian and by Olga SW3“ stein and Beth Rashbaum, published several yea offer critiques of traditional boyhood and well (‘3 o :5 "3 9i é I plans for support and change. lischewing biological determinism, these books see in feminism a blueprint for transforming both boyhood and manhood. Fernh nism encourages menmand. their sons—to be more emotionally open and expressive, to develop empathic skills, and to channel emotional outbursts away from violence. And feminism demands the kinds of societal changes that make this growth possible. The t’s all the more necessary, because there really is a boy crisis in Americaemnot the crisis of inverted propor- tions that claims boys are the new victims of a. feminist- inspired agenda run amok. The real boy crisis usually goes by another name. We call it “teen violence,” "youth violence,” "gang violence,” “violence in the schools." Let’s face facts: men and boys are responsible for 85 percent of all violent crimes in this country, and their victims are overwhelmingly male as well. From an early age, boys learn that violence is not only an acceptable form of conflict resolution, but one that is admired. Four times more teenage boys than teenage girls think fighting is appropriate when someone cuts into the front of a line. Half of all teenage boys get into a physical fight each year. \ "Rescuing" or “protecting” isn’t the answer, say British high school teachers Jonathan Salisbury and David Jackson. As their title, Challenging Macho Values, shouts, they want to take issue with traditional mascu- linity, to disrupt the facile “boys will be boys” model, and to erode boys’ sense of entitlement. And for Paul Kivel (Boys Will Be Men}, raising boys to manhood means confronting racism, sexism, and homophobia—- both in our communities and in ourselves. These books are loaded with handson practical advice to halt? adolescents raise issues, confront fears, and over- come anxieties, and to help teachers dispel myths, Encourage cooperation, and discourage violent solu~ lions to perceived problems. Salisbury and Jackson’s bOOk will be most vaiu able to teachers seeking to trans- lOTm disruptive behavior; Kivel’s is geared more to Perents, to initiate and continue those sensitive and difficult conversations. The most valuable material helps parents and teachers deconstruct sexuality myths and Challenge sexual harassment and violence. “We _ bBlleve that masculine violence is intentional, deliber— . are! and purposeful,” write Salisbury and Jackson. “It Comes) from. an attempt by men and boys to create and . Sustain a System of masculine power and control that _ 06“?le lil’lern every minute of the day. ” Forget testosten hi8, it s sexism! Even if these two books are less grace- . - ll? Written and more relentlessly critical of traditional llltli‘lEL 1' WHAT ARE llllli BOYS MADE OF? l8? boyhood, they are the only ones to recognize that not all boys are the same, and that one key to enabling boys to express a wider range of emotions is to chalw lenge the power and privilege that is part of their cul- tural heritage. Gilligan and Miedzian, along with James Garbarino (Lost Boys), understand that the real. boy crisis is a crisis of violence—mspecifically the Cultural prescriptions that equate masculinity with the capacity for violence. Garbarino’s fortuitously timed study of youthful offenders locates the origins of men’s violence in the way boys swallow anger and hurt. Among the boys he studied, "deadly petulance usually hides some deep emotional wounds, a way of compensating through an exaggerated Sense of grandeur for an inner sense of violation, victimiza tion, and injustice.” In other words, as one prison inmate put it, “l’d rather be wanted for murder than not wanted at all.” Gilligan is even more specific. In his insightful study of violence, he places its origins in "the fear of shame and ridicule, and the overbearing need to prevent oth— ers from laughing at oneself by making them weep instead." The belief that violence is manly is not car- ried on any chromosome, not soldered into the wiring of the right or left hemisphere, not juiced by testosten one. (Half of all boys don’t fight, most don’t carry weapons, and. almost all don’t kill: are they not boys?) Boys learn it. Violence, Gilligan writes, “has far more to do with the cultural construction of manhood than it does with the hormonal substrates of biology.” That’s where feminism comes in. Who, after all, has offered the most trenchant critique of that cultural con- struction but feminists? That’s why the books written by women and men that use a feminist perspective (Gilligan, Kivel, Miedzian, Pollack, Salisbury and lackson, and Silverstein and Rashbaum} are far more convincing than. those that either repudiate it (Gurian, Biddulph) or ignore it (Kindlon and ihompson). Frankly, i think the antiferninists such as Gurian and Biddulph {and the right wing in general) are the real male bashers. When they say boys will be boys, they mean boys will be uncivilized animals. In their view, males are biologically propelled to be savage, predatory, sexually omnivorous creatures, hard—wired for violence. As a man, 1 find this view insulting. Feminists imagine, and demand, that men (and boys) can do better. Feminism offers the possibility of a new boyhood and a new masculinity based on a pas sion for justice, a love of equality, and the expression of a full range of feelings. ...
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