BEHIND DOMESTIC LINES

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RAISING BOYS IN THE ERA OF TRUMP

By Jami Ingledue

There has been much written lately about how to raise boys in this era of Trump and #metoo and now yet another school shooting. But I find most only scratches the surface. Yes, we should talk about consent and equality and respecting women. But it goes deeper than that. We need to talk about how to protect them from the patriarchy.

It feels like we’re only starting to wrestle with how much the patriarchy hurts BOYS, not just girls. How damaging it is to expect boys to dominate, that the way to become a man is to always be powerful, to never be vulnerable, to suppress all emotion except competitiveness and rage, to be tough, to objectify girls, to “man up,” to win at all costs. And then we are surprised when they turn out exactly like we’ve taught them to be.

And it breaks my heart to see that my sweet six-year-old boy is already ashamed to cry. That being “macho” and domineering is already a thing. That he will gleefully dress up as Black Panther, but never as Wonder Woman. And of course some of this is normal kid stuff, but a lot of it is not. It is the world beginning to strip away his softness and sweetness. It is our culture beginning to make him into a “man,” at all costs.

I will fight it like hell, but dads really need to step up and do this work, because kids do what we do, not what we say. But men are victims of the same culture, and they don’t always have the awareness or the tools, even when they want to do better. All of the things patriarchy teaches men leads to disconnection: from family, from community, from themselves. Women have the advantage of being allowed to connect and be vulnerable and emotionally whole. Women need to lead the way.

There’s so much that still goes unseen, so much that we do subconsciously that supports male dominance and misogyny. I don’t pretend to know how to fix it all; but the very least we can do is try to be more aware of it, and raise our boys to be more aware of it too. This is twofold: they need to be aware of their male privilege and all the subtle ways it manifests; and conversely they need to be aware of how they are hurt and stunted simply because they are male in our culture.

Male privilege is easier to spot, but there are lots of subtle ways it creeps in, and these are opportunities for discussion, for dragging it into the light. Help raise your boys better by making sure you:

  • Notice if they talk over or interrupt girls more than boys.
  • Point out how they carry their body and notice others in the space around them; teach them to make room for others on the sidewalk, to avoid “manspreading.”
  • Notice if they use feminine words to describe weakness, and talk about this. Are women really weaker? Why is it such a bad thing to be compared to a girl?
  • Talk about how it’s their job to process their emotions, and teach the skills to do it. It’s not ok to dump your emotions on someone else, or to take your emotions out on them. Model healthy ways of expressing and processing your own emotions: not attacking or blaming or defensiveness, but “I feel” statements.
  • Teach them better ways to deal with their anger. We have an angry male problem and we must do better. Learn calming techniques together: deep breaths, noticing how your body feels, etc. Most importantly, don’t make anger taboo; it’s ok to be angry. It’s not ok to take that anger out on others.
  • Teach boys to listen to others.  Model this by giving everyone equal turns and equal time to speak. Point out mansplainers and interrupters. Practice active listening by asking them what they heard and how the speaker might have been feeling.
  • Point out, as they get older, how often sexual expressions are used to describe power. This feels so unhealthy to me. Using sexual terms to describe domination or defeat contributes to rape culture, and it’s all around us.

On the flipside, seeing the ways our patriarchal culture damages boys can be more difficult, and here are things we can watch out for:

  • Being pressured into suppressing emotions is crippling our boys. We must teach them emotional intelligence, but first that means we must teach them that it’s ok to have emotions at all. We have to model this at home by talking in a healthy way about our feelings, especially dads. And when kids express their emotions, we must respect them.  Don’t brush off their feelings or tell them to get over it. Make them feel heard, which is the first step toward healing.
  • Telling boys they can’t cry starts SO young. We must radically change this message: strong men are strong enough to cry. I told my son that it’s good for your body to cry when you need to. Sneeze when you need to sneeze, poop when you need to poop, and cry when you need to cry.
  • We are teaching our boys to care more about domination than empathy. But we can teach empathy so that it becomes like a well-used muscle. Point out or ask how others might be feeling, and talk about the unseen hard things they might be going through. Do this until it becomes the automatic first reaction. It’s good for us too.
  • We are teaching our boys they always have to prove their worth through competition and domination, that this is the way to be a man. Competition can be perfectly healthy, but not when we make so much of boys’ identities dependent on it. We must show with our actions and our words that they are enough, they are worthy, just as they are.
  • We are cutting boys off from platonic, loving touch. Humans are pack animals, evolved to be close to each other. We cut them off from part of their own humanity when we teach them that touch can only be sexual, or even worse, violent. It’s really NOT OK that boys can’t touch each other for fear of being seen as weak or homosexual.
  • We are creating boys who are unable to connect deeply to others, because that is not how to be a man. Connecting means showing vulnerability and expressing love and care, and those things are to be avoided at all costs in order to be masculine. This especially kicks in as boys approach adolescence. Disconnection is the root of so many of our problems.

I still struggle with this every day, and we are all just muddling through, after all. But I’ve made it clear to my son that the thing that makes me most proud of him is not when he wins, not when he dominates or achieves: I am most proud of him when he is kind. And every day when I stand with him as the bus pulls up, after a kiss and a hug, I say, “Make me proud today.”

Jami worked as a librarian for over a decade before choosing to stay home when her son, now 4, was born. She also has a 17-year-old daughter. She makes all-natural soap and body products and sells them through her company, Dancing Bee Farms (dancingbeefarms.net). She lives with her husband, daughter, and son on an acre of land in rural Ohio, where they keep bees, garden, and brew beer.

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