I read an article by Rex Stoessiger and I must admit it caused me to think deeply about the quality of my parenting to my children and to my sons in particular. As a parent, I have been concerned about the increasing media representation of men as dopes and as violent, self-obsessed brutes.
What have I been doing to model appropriate patterns for my own sons? Likely not enough. Here is an excerpt from Stoessiger’s article:
An important issue for most men and a crucial one for boys’ education is the lack of fathering in current society. This is something that Steve Biddulph talks about in Manhood where he draws on the work of Robert Bly to illustrate the importance of father-son relationships in male development.
He points to the effects of the industrial revolution which meant that fathers and sons, who used to work together in the fields, were now together for only small amounts of time, usually after a hard working day when both were tired. This means that boys see only very limited aspects of masculinity, not the full range of male behaviour.
Today the separation is possibly even more rigid. Men are off in factories or offices and boys are at school for longer and longer periods. In primary schools about 80 percent of the staff are women. Many boys, and girls, go through eight years of primary education without a male teacher. In such a world, how do boys learn to be male?
Construction of Masculinity
With fathers physically and emotionally separated from sons it’s harder to learn what it means to be male. But in our society all boys have to grow up to be men. There isn’t a choice. Boys will learn their masculinity one way or another.
In present day society there are three obvious ways for boys to learn masculinity. And all three are dangerous.
First, boys commonly learn about masculinity from the media. Boys typically see much, much more television than they see of their fathers. But the models of masculinity displayed on television are either ultra-competitive sportsmen, violent men or dopes; not much to choose from.
The second source of models of masculinity comes from the peer group. Young men spend much more time with males of similar ages than with adult men. In peer groups it’s the most aggressive and violent male who calls the shots and ends up providing the example of “successful” masculinity.
The third way young men currently learn their masculinity is by reaction. Bad as the other two methods are, this is potentially worse. If you can’t learn about masculinity from men because at home and school you are largely surrounded by women then it becomes straightforward to interpret masculine as “not-female”. The particular dangers of constructing masculinity in this way are the very limited range of behaviours that come to be accepted as male and the anti-female attitudes that are likely to develop.