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Boys to Men

06/12/2010

Beautiful Readers,

You know who I am concerned about? (and I don’t mean this facetiously at all). Men. And the boys who will someday become men.

Ok–I can already feel my stress level rising as I write this, just waiting for the criticism to start pouring in, but seriously, there is an elephant just walking all over the room if you are willing to see it.  Just a couple of generations ago- men were overall, happily running things in public life, not because they were bossy and mean, but because it had always been that way. They got paid more than women, and women liked that about them. They felt important. They felt rewarded. They felt acknowledged and proud.

Enter feminism, and “feminists” and Womyn (for those who don’t know–this is a spelling used by women who resent that the word wo-MEN is a derivative of the word men), who then gave their daughters a world of Girl Power. Dad’s jumped on the Girl Power bandwagon too–intending to support their daughters–but sometimes the sons in those families were left behind in all the fanfare.

Men’s clubs, boy’s schools and men’s colleges were quickly dismantled, and all kinds of women’s groups and networks and business alliances started cropping up. Suddenly any group of men, who preferred to hang out together without women, were treated by society as if they represented some kind of conspiratorial nuisance, designed to undermine the opposite sex.

Meanwhile,despite obvious inequality in public life, as the feminist movement began, there is not a shred of evidence to suggest that girls needed more support emotionally than boys did, or that women needed more social support than men. And after years of correcting for what I agree was a public world unbalanced in favor of masculine success–I believe that now it  may be time for males to have their equal share of social admiration, and the fact that that statement feels inflammatory is absurd. 

But if men are undersupported then where is the opposing movement of Boy Power or ‘masculinism’? My guess is that after years of hearing about the miseries of being female–the smarter, kinder men and boys, the one’s who could change history, may after so much public show of the pain of feminine oppression, be afraid to hurt girl’s feelings by just demanding equality of public praise. And you know how much men like hurting women’s feelings, right? Or how men feel about   making women angry? Think about it.

Also,  to add to the mix that men are taught to be stoic, and perhaps would be more ashamed than women to admit that the lack of public interest in nurturing a healthy masculine ego had fallen by the wayside in favor of all those powerfully supported women. Plus helpful role models for boys are in short supply. We all know that there are way more good mothers than good fathers out there–so the odds of a boy finding an older man to offer them consistent support and comfort is very small overall.

 Of course there are some exceptions, and we are all familiar with a handful of awesome dads, but really–there’s a reason we all know them– it is because they are an extraordinary group. Just in terms of numbers, women are  doing a far better job of caring for kids than their male counterparts. And while I believe that some of this is evolutionary it is hard not to believe also that it may be easier for women to parent because they have had better personal support for their sex from mothers and from society, which allows them to  endure the ego-squelching rigors of caring completely for another person. A catch 22 for men if there ever was one.

I started thinking about this recently because all of a sudden, like a bolt of lightening, it came to my attention that I really don’t understand men much at all, and I want to.  I have been given tomes to read about women, their experience, and how they are different than men, what makes them tick, and how to make their lives better, but I only realized recently that I have never once read anything about the masculine experience. And frankly, as far as I can recall, growing up, this absense of knowledge seemed utterly normal to me. 

What’s weirder still is that I strongly suspect that if I were to have suggested that I was interested in understanding the workings of men as a child, someone would have laughed at me. Or thought I was trying to suck up to the male half of the species in some unflattering way. Damn. And what is even more shocking to me is that not even one of my male professors or teachers ever seemed to think that learning about them was a good idea either–or at least never said it out loud.

So for the last week I have been reading voraciously about men– and the male experience. I have been absorbing everything I can find from online forums and  journal articles.  It is fascinating to me–and excruciating all at the same time, for my lack of understanding of how men see the world has been profound. It is also not my fault. The inner workings of men was consciously hidden from me and the young women I grew up with. As I read about the masculine world I find myself fascinated by all the things I did not know, and disappointed by the well meaning intellectuals who kept this stuff from me and my female (and male) friends. I regret that the older women who all along knew about how men are different than women– how men particularly like to be admired and hate to be told they’ve made a mistake,  never told these secrets to their daughters and sons because they had come to believe that making men feel good was in some way pandering to the enemy.  

So now what? Well, I’ll start with my son.  He is getting older. He’s 12 now, and I know that sometimes he feel insecure because he is being raised in a world that tells him that women come first.  First, I may apologize for my ignorance about him and how he works. Second I’ll tell him that it’s ok to feel like sometimes girls are getting over these days, and that it isn’t fair for anyone to get over, and that there is nothing wrong with him if he feels annoyed by it. Third, together we will plan out what to do, like revolutionaries, together in partnership. And if my maternal instinct serves me correctly– through this planning and honesty, he will better navigate the ‘girl power’  world he is being raised in, ready to tackle this new kind of inequality with unapologetic assertiveness and confidence, and then after that– the rest is up to him. After all, he is the young man, whereas I am a woman, and what changes he would like to see in the world to support his sex should, respectfully, be left to him and his buddies, all of whom I admire enormously.

Thanks for reading,

Alix Florio

President —Beautiful Fitness