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PARENTING / Jul ‘2017

What about our boys?

Crying boy's face close up. Shallow depth of field. Selective soft focus
PARENTING / JUL ‘2017

What about our boys?

Today, it is all about girl power. Heroes like Malala Yousafzai and Wonder Woman leave us in awe at just how far we have come. But what about our boys?

Words Tanya Augustine

All around us, little girls are being empowered more and more – they are becoming more confident, more successful in school, and attaining more power and strength then ever before. But what about our boys?

Today, boys are dying earlier, performing worse in school, and committing more violence.

From birth, boys are emotionally short-changed. They are taught to suppress emotions such as fear, grief, and shame, as this would be a sign of weakness. They must always be tough and strong. ‘Real men’, after all don’t cry – they rage. As established author and sociologist Professor Thomas Scheff explained, boys learn from an early age to hide their vulnerability by acting out in anger or remaining silent. Despite our best efforts, these hyper-masculine messages are still being passed on to young boys, from friends, parents and the media.

Asian 5 months baby boy crying in mother arm.

And this of course has dire consequences. Today, boys are dying earlier, performing worse in school, and committing more violence. Studies have indeed shown that this toxic masculinity is a root cause of these problems. By teaching our boys, whether intentionally or not, to suppress their emotions, we are inadvertently setting them up for a tougher life.

And that all starts from the moment they are born.

Where does it start?

 

 According to best-selling author and family therapist Terry Real, boys are emotionally short-changed from birth. Studies have shown that “infant boys are spoken to less than girls, comforted less, nurtured less.” This is because parents, perhaps unintentionally, believe that boys are born with an innate ‘manliness’. Boys are supposedly born tougher, and do not need as much affection.

photo of little boy and girl with heart

In reality however, boys and girls start off equally emotional and expressive. In fact, infant boys are slightly more emotional than girls, says Real. Studies have shown that they “cry more easily, seem more easily frustrated, appear more upset when a caregiver leaves the room.”

As boys grow, however, their emotions are dealt with more negatively. Studies show that while girls are encouraged to talk and express their frustrations, emotive boys are more likely to be physically restrained or threatened. Their insecurities are more likely to be ignored. Boys, after all, need to be trained to become ‘real men’.

Studies have shown that “infant boys are spoken to less than girls, comforted less, nurtured less.” .... Boys are supposedly born tougher, and do not need as much affection.

Despite our best efforts, we still, perhaps subconsciously, believe that men must act a certain way in our society. According to anthropologist David Gilmore, who specialises in cross-cultural masculinity, gender roles are still seen as an important social organising tool. Men and women are given particular parts to play, so that society and life itself can go on smoothly. In essence, if ‘boys will be boys’, then everything will be all right.

But is this really healthy for our boys? By teaching boys to be ‘real men’, we are arguably setting them up for a harder future. Here then are three consequences of teaching boys not to cry:

Health

 

By suppressing their emotions, men are more likely to die first. According to Rutgers psychology professor Dr. Diana Sanchez, men are more likely to ignore their medical problems as “they have a cultural script that tells them they should be brave, self-reliant, and tough.” They are far more likely to avoid going to the doctors, or lie about their symptoms so as to not appear weak.

Men are reportedly three times more likely to commit suicide, even though depression is more prevalent among women. In 2015 alone, 2,292 men took their own lives in Australia, as opposed to 735 women.

This applies to depression as well. Men are reportedly three times more likely to commit suicide, even though depression is more prevalent among women. In 2015 alone, 2,292 men took their own lives in Australia, as opposed to 735 women. It is believed that this is due to men’s reluctance to seek help for their depression, as ‘real men’ must be self-reliant and strong. ‘Real men’, after all, cannot reveal their emot

portrait of a sad man in a urban street

School

 

 This idea of a ‘real men’ can make school much harder for boys. In the past few decades, boys have been performing worse than girls in school. In Australia itself, boys are five times more likely to be expelled. They average lower grades then girls, particularly with writing and reading. 60 percent of Australian university students today are also women.

schoolboy crying in the hallway of the school, negative emotion

According to Dr. Michael Kimmel, a renowned sociologist who is today considered one of the world’s leading experts on masculinity, boys perform poorer in school largely because of how they have been socialised as men. “Boys acknowledge academic disengagement as a sign of their masculinity,” says Kimmel. ‘Real men’, in this sense, must be stoic and disinterested in general.

“Boys acknowledge academic disengagement as a sign of their masculinity."

As Kimmel explains, “This isn’t natural to us humans – if you ever watched a two or three year old, we are naturally, unbelievably curious.” It is only when they get older, Kimmel says, that they are taught by their male role models – fathers, brothers and friends – that apathy is a true hallmark of a ‘real men’.

Violence

 

By suppressing their emotions, boys are inadvertently gearing for a more violent future.It is now a well-known fact that men commit more violent acts then women. In Australia, men are more than three times more likely to commit a violent crime. They are also more likely to be a victim of homicide or burglary, usually at the hands of other men. There are 12 times more men then women in jail right now. Simply put, you are more likely to experience violence from a man.

Man about to beat his wife

Indeed, violence is oftentimes the only language that does not bring them shame.

As psychology professor Dr. Arthur Markman explains, “people may become more aggressive after they have to control themselves.” Many men also feel that anger is the only emotion allowed to them – they may be in fear, or in pain, but repress this and act out in anger, for rage is strength, and strength is what makes a ‘real man’. Indeed, violence is oftentimes the only language that does not bring them shame.