I was sitting at my computer by 5:40 this morning, putting together my regular Thursday morning post for Parentables, when I made an interesting discovery. There are multiple articles about the importance of role models, but all of them revolve around daughters. Everyone seems to agree that girls need strong role models while growing up, but boys are barely mentioned. Titles such as “Princess Schmincess,” “Girl Power,” and “How to Be a Good Role Model for Your Daughter” caught my attention for being so female-centric. Not to take anything away from girls’ very real need for healthy role models, I’m simply suggesting that boys be given the same kind of attention because they need solid role models as badly as girls do.
This is not so much the fault of Parentables, my wonderful employer, as it is a widespread and serious societal problem. I think many people turn a blind eye to boys, brushing them off with comments like “Boys will be boys” and expecting them to be macho, tough, unemotional, and masculine from a young age. As a result, boys are never taught to be comfortable with emotions – their own and those of the women around them. They don’t learn how to communicate clearly about how they feel because they don’t understand how they feel. The result is an uncommunicative, unemotional guy that’s exactly the kind of guy that girls are warned about getting into relationships with. I think that our society creates the very problems in men that girls are taught to view as red flags.
According to Michael Kimmel, who wrote the popular yet controversial book Guyland, North American men face three ‘cultures’ in their gender identity development: 1) Culture of Entitlement, where men believe they can’t show empathy or compassion. They’re taught from a young age that crying is bad, but stoicism is good. Is it surprising that men commit violent acts? 2) Culture of Silence, where men think they shouldn’t talk about their feelings. 3) Culture of Protection, where men don’t speak out against other men’s actions because of “man law.” Men put each other before anyone else. (You can read more at this blog post.)
As a mother to two young boys, I’ve become hyper-aware of how little conversation there is about healthy male role models, the effect of the media on male self-esteem, and the suffocating pressure of societal expectations to be masculine. I’m thankful that my sons have a good role model in their father, but even he had to put in years of hard work to become “emotionally intelligent” after a childhood in which emotions were never discussed. I want my sons to know what integrity and compassion look like. I want them to see the wonderful benefits of committed love and fidelity and to respect women. I want them to have strong opinions, to be knowledgeable about the greater world, and to fight for justice whenever possible. I want them to have good mentors. I want them to be men, not gendered automatons, because god knows the world needs more of those.