[OPINION] #WomensDay The men we hate, are the boys we raise
Patriarchal culture will have you believe that power structures need to be idealised. That boys need be taught to embrace what are deemed to be more masculine qualities and to demean, criticise and patronise those that are more feminine. Our societal contributions to the perpetuation of these destructive beliefs are part of the problem. Parents are part of the problem. Brothers, uncles, grandfathers are part of the problem. And in a lot of cases, mothers are to blame as well.
For example: My wife and I were chatting to a friend the other day about adoption and she recommended we go to Durban and adopt a little Indian boy. Why Indian I enquired. “Well,” she said, “then you can break the mould”. “You can be the innovators in raising the non-conformative, balanced, woman-respecting, chore-doing, independent man that is now known as the Indian boy child”. I can’t argue with that.
As someone who has grown up in a fairly homogenous Indian community, this problem is far and wide and toxic. I see it in my own extended family. Many of them don’t know how to operate a broom, in fact, I’m not sure they have even seen one. The archaic gender roles are tolerated - even applauded - by their mothers who treat them like kings, and their daughters-in-law like the Cinderellas their boys deserve.
Training boys to conform to this kind of masculine toxicity, to obey and practice this boy code is the basis of the repercussions women face. The men we hate are the boys we raise. Fact.
Any boy who resists this kind of programming, research has shown, will suffer from several emotional, physical and mental repercussions – such as bullying.
On the other hand, research has also shown that those who oppose and resist the “root of the toxic masculinity problem” and have adequate support and education are also more like to develop closer and healthier friendships.
One of the ways that society can do better to support children (as a whole) is to resist the normative temptation of choosing one group over another. Whether they are girls, boys or non-binary kids, this is according to Niobe Way, a professor of developmental psychology at New York University and the author of Deep Secrets: Boys’ Friendships and the Crisis of Connection. Choosing a side has long proved to be detrimental to the development of young people and bears destructive consequences (especially to women) later in life. Yet, here we are.
And here are a few ways of how we can move from here, to there.
Interests do not a boy make:
“Tap into that boy energy” is the payoff line for generations worth of men and its meaning is far-reaching. To tap into a more masculine energy manifests in only having interests that society deems suitable, therefore “feminine” interests are discouraged. Limitations like these are the roots of evil that bear the fruit of unequal societies. The equitable society we’re desperate to achieve lies not only in the raising of our daughters to be more like our sons but also in raising our sons more like our daughters, in fact, more so in some cases.
Tony Porter, co-founder of A Call to Men (an education and advocacy group), says boys are given the message that anger is acceptable as early as the age of 5. And feelings of vulnerability are weak and intolerable.
Girls are taught to be emotional beings, to show compassion, express happiness, sadness and to feel, deeply. The stereotype that women are emotional beings comes with consequences of its own. However, when we don’t allow boys to be human beings, we tell them they need to be robots. Robots have no access to a full range of emotions, a limited EQ means they are less likely to admit they are sad, and so therefore they have to be angry. It means that they are less likely to ask for help, and so they act out. It means they are less likely to admit they are wrong, and so, their privilege allows them to think they are always right.
Girl’s stories are for boys
I was in a bookstore a while back when I came across a book in the kids' section called Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls by Francesca Cavallo, Elena Favilli. The book is a wonderful compendium that challenges the gender roles of women. They don’t have to be princesses, they can be astronauts. Step sisters don’t have to mean, they can be supportive. And kingdoms are not only run by kings, the queen is and can really be in charge. The book then goes on to introduce the child to 100 inspirational women, including Michelle Obama and Amelia Earheart, among others.
My heart jumped when it saw the book and mentioned to a friend that I should definitely purchase it for my one-day son. “But he’s a boy and it’s a book for girls” – all the more reason to purchase it, I answered. It doesn’t help to preach to the choir. I mean it does, our girls need strong women role models, but our boys need them too. So tell them. Tell them about the women in sports, the women you know, the women in politics, media, pop culture. Tell them because in telling them, you plant the seed of appreciation, respect and equality.
Pink can be for boys and blue can be for girls
Simple as. In fact, until the mid-20th century, pink was the first point of call for boys and blue was, in fact, the colour preference for girls and somewhere along the line pink being synonymous with boys became the anti-Christ.
Children have no colour preferences. No child is born with any partiality to any hue or any kind of toy for that matter, that’s just plain and simple neuroscience. Now if only societies could keep things as simple as science as well. But alas, instead, we’re so busy making kids aware of their gender and the behaviour that gender demands that by the time they reach the age of 2 to 4, societal demands override their interests.
My brother’s favourite toy for as long as I can remember was a plastic broom and iron. He wasn’t told to not like them and he wasn’t restricted to them either. He had a vast range of interests, which were never policed. Longitudinal studies show that when you segregate toys and gender them it has long-term effects on the gender gap – be that in academics, spatial skills and social skills – according to Campbell Leaper, chairman of the psychology department at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
Girls are allowed to thrive at soccer, and boys are allowed to thrive at ironing.
We pay much-needed attention to bashing the stereotypes we have for our girl-children. We don’t discourage them from becoming doctors, for example (you know that age old man-profession) but we’re still sending the same message about how femininity equals “weakness” and girls have a lower status when we tell boys, for example, that “ballet is for girls”.
Raise your son, don’t raise a boychild
Jawanza Kunjufu, an author and lecturer on raising black boys, says: Some mothers raise their daughters but love their sons.
Mothers make their daughters do chores, keep in touch with family, be sensitive towards others, watch their pleases and thank yous and the same is often not expected of their sons. Why is that? Then, of course, there’s the pay gap discrepancy that doesn’t only begin in the office but the household.
A University of Michigan study, for example, proved that American girls ages 10 to 17 spend two more hours on chores each week than boys do, and, and boys are 15% more likely to be paid for doing chores. Girls are expected. Boys are entitled.
“Boys will be boys”, is just not good enough
Poisoning the minds of young boys with this toxic notion that they are entitled to their male privilege, that the only way to survive and thrive is to exercise their hyper-masculine muscle has no place in a world where women continue in the fight for empowerment.
This will never be achieved if we disregard the behaviour of our boys with this silly notion of “boys will be boys” from a young age, because then we condone the fact that men will be men. Men rape, abuse, kill, harass. Men do all sorts of things to disempower women. Is “men will be men” good enough an excuse if you look at that way? No. It isn’t.
If we advertise, laugh at and encourage these kinds of beliefs, then we’re telling boys in not so many words that they are entitled. They’re entitled to women’s bodies, they are entitled to sex, when we raise these boys to be these men and then we decide to tell them that actually, they’re not entitled, this is when their poisoned minds go and seek solace in spaces they find a false sense of comfort in. Be it the boys club in the pub, the incel community online or the family braai, where being a misogynist is “safer”.
Seeking out misogynist communities are the result of inferiority complexes that men have to deal with in a very real world where they have to come to terms with the fact that the messaging they received their whole lives – the messaging that tells them they are superior – is in fact just not true. But that’s all they know and continue to believe because somewhere along the line, society missed an opportunity to let young boys know that their value in society extends far beyond their masculinity. In fact, it’s only when they extend beyond these toxic practices in masculinity that they have any value at all.
Haji Mohamed Dawjee is a South African columnist, disruptor of the peace and the author of 'Sorry, Not Sorry: Experiences of a brown woman in a white South Africa'. Follow her on Twitter.