For a number of years now, I’ve been reading and learning about the struggles that young people face and I’ve been particularly interested in the struggles of boys and young men. For a long time now, our modern version of school has not been a good fit for boys, with its model of sitting quietly for extended periods of time, with the declining use of recess in school, with the fact that most teachers in the early grades are female, there are a whole host of reasons why school loses its relevance early on for many boys.
In our culture, there is a “correct” way to be a boy and later a man. You must hide your weaknesses and hide any feelings you may be feeling except maybe for anger. Anything perceived to be weak or feminine is to be avoided at all costs.
Recently I’ve been watching a fascinating video documentary called The Mask You Live In. It is all about the narrative that we tell boys and young men on the “right way” to be a man. The documentary is very engaging and does a lot to explain the problems that boys and men are currently experiencing. It illustrates the very narrow ways in which we expect boys to develop and behave.
I think men need to push back against this narrative that all males need to be one certain way. While I think there is a place for using social mores to control undesired behaviors–any child can become rotten little wild animals if their parents do nothing to control behavior–but expecting every little boy to grow up to be a tough guy goes against the fact that there are many personality types that boys can have. No wonder there is depression and confusion about what it means to be male when maleness is so narrowly defined.
To me, the ultimate expression of maleness is being a husband and a dad. I realize this is not everyone’s ideal and to push my ideal onto others would be just as problematic as having any other narrow ideal. But for me, having a family, providing for them, protecting them, sacrificing for them, teaching them how to live a life worth living are the most important things I can do.
Fortunately, in this country and in this technology-driven world, I am able to do these things for my family without being a muscle-bound behemoth. Intelligence and ambition do just fine. It makes me sad that so many boys (and men) are made to feel inadequate because they don’t meet someone else’s standard of what male should look like. I say find out what your purpose is and do that. Find out why God put you here and you will be fine.
Some other books I’ve read on this subject include: