I’ve been deep into a few books, so have let my stack of periodicals get a bit out of control. I decided to tackle it a bit this week and was reminded why I subscribe to The Atlantic: articles like this.
In The Miseducation of the American Boy, Peggy Orenstein chronicles her interviews with college bound / college enrolled boys about their relationships with other boys and how that informs their relationships with girls. The challenges she finds are existed on the edge of my awareness, but for a variety of reasons I didn’t want to stare at directly. Part of that reason is that I’ve raised my boy (and girl). They are both over 18 and doing well at adulting. I think we were able to give them a wider view and better models of masculinity/femininity as well as a basic foundation of respect with open hearted questioning on top. But I also know what this article represents is more representative of the water they swim in and that leaves me with a number of thoughts:
- Not to sound old, but geez was it easier when I grew up. I have what I feel is a healthy dose of compassion and an inquiring heart/mind for the conversations around gender, identity and relationships that today’s youth get to have (I’m failing at not sounding old), but still it seems inordinately complicated.
- I’m thankful for navigating this with our two children, now adults, in what seems to have been a healthy, effective way. Especially since I had no idea what I was actually doing at the time. At the same time I feel somehow responsible for providing something to those that are still trying to make their way through this, but am not sure how or whether to act on that feeling. Teaching the faith and sexuality class one way I am doing this, but that will only be a few weeks. Then what?
- I do wonder if some of this is a (mostly) unintentional byproduct of the important work to build up female identity and power. In a well intentioned and much overdue attempt to right past wrongs, most recently in the form of the #metoo movement, have we built up and women, expanding the Overton window of what is allowable for girls, at the cost of tearing down and giving increasingly limited options to boys? This is not to say that I feel or have experienced anything remotely resembling a backlash for being a white, cisgendered male in my life. But the stories in the article seem to me to be related to not replacing all the things we rightly removed from masculinity (misogyny, patriarchy, etc) with something to aspire to. A model to emulate.
- Now here’s the part that I will likely get into trouble for: I think that these boy problems will (or maybe even are) cause problems for girls, at least for hetero / cisgendered ones. This is totally colored (i.e. biased) by my own experience, but I have been made immeasurably better through the relationship I have with my wife. And I think she would say the same about her relationship with me. That improvement is not because we are the same, but in fact because we are different, we know each other and we see each other’s blind spots. It seems to me that the boys described in this article will struggle to be a good mirror to the girls they manage to build a relationship with. Those girls will miss the opportunity to see themselves through the mirror of their partner and vice versa.
In all of this, only one thing is clear: There are no clear diagnosis or easy prescriptions. I only hope we have reached some sort of local minima and can improve from here. I hate to think about what worse relationships between boys and girls could look like.