A recent quote from a female journalist, “Today’s boys are being raised in the middle of the biggest redefinition of male gender roles in recent history. ” She continued, “Should I (a boy) be kind and sensitive or distant and aloof when trying to win a partner over?” When I started to read the quote I was pleased to see the acknowledgement that boys are being raised in the middle of the biggest redefinition of male gender roles. However, after reading the second part I started to laugh. The dilemma of whether women prefer the nice guy to the bad boy has been grappled with men of all ages for decades. Nice guys who respected women and were good listeners were often bewildered when a women they were courting told them they were great friends but then sought romance from the charming scoundrel. Some women seem to outgrow their attraction to the so called “bad boy” after being burned and then look for the nice guy who has been waiting patiently in the wings.
The additional dilemma for today’s boys is far more confusing than the nice guy vs. the bad boy scenario. The role models that help shape gender identity for boys has become extremely disparate. About 40% of boys are being raised in homes without a father limiting their ability to experience male role models on a daily basis. LGBTQ advocates have garnered considerable publicity for gender non-conformity as a socially acceptable lifestyle. On the other extreme social media has provided forums for men on the toxic masculinity spectrum who advocate patriarchy and a mythological man code. In addition, there are parents who are pushing gender neutrality to the point of not identifying the gender of their child in order to allow the child to pick a gender. No wonder boys are increasing confused about their masculinity.
Educators and parents need to pay more attention to the struggle that boys are facing. As I have blogged on numerous occasions, boys and young men are falling behind girls and young women in every measure of emotional, vocational and academic achievement. Schools should provide curriculum and instruction for boys on the societal value of the best of masculinity while altering teaching methods that are more suited to male energy. Some years ago, with sponsorship from my men’s group, I was able to conduct workshops with teachers on how they can better tailor their teaching styles for boys. They were well received.
It appears that the “metoo” movement and the focus on diversity, albeit important, have put the issues of losing our boys to the back burner. Can we really afford to neglect 50% of our population. We are capable of advancing both agendas.
In my review of the articles concerning caregiving it was mentioned that there are insufficient examples in the media of men fulfilling a caregiving role. The problem might be in the narrow definition of male caregiving rather than a lack of examples. While broadcasting the end of Super Bowl celebrations the camera turned to the behavior shown in the following image of Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ lineman, Ryan Jensen and his son.
As a football player the 6’4″, 320 lb. center is known as a fierce competitor and is the highest paid center in the league. He plays the game utilizing his physical skills in a game that epitomizes controlled violence. For those of you who do not like football because of the violent nature of the game, at least accept the fact that the violence is governed by rules and all of the participants are there by choice.
What has Ryan modeled for his son? On one hand his son saw his father, the warrior, throughout the course of the game physically attempt to overpower his opponents according to the rules. On the other hand, at the end of the game Ryan allowed his young son to push him over and to engage in a loving physical interaction. Ryan’s uniquely male fathering behavior demonstrates his compassion for his son while empowering his son’s confidence and sense of physical intimacy. In addition the interaction was on display for millions of the TV audience to see. Imagery that exemplifies masculine caregiving affirming the best of masculinity.
Is this title an oxymoron? Some writers, always women, conclude that the facts bear out that men who take on caregiving are in the minority and that the main reason is cultural norms and a lack of models of men who choose to take on a major portion of childcare, housework and related activities. One writer points to the “creaky old idea that caregiving — for a spouse, parent or child — just doesn’t come naturally to men.” Is it really a creaky old idea? Partially so, but other data suggests that it is not that simple. Over three-quarters of American fathers are back to work two weeks after their baby arrives, and only seven percent of all stay-at-home parents are men. We know some of this is because paternity leave is shorter for men but studies show that in Scandinavian countries with generous paternity leave men tend to want to come back to work much sooner than their female partners. A somewhat tongue in cheek comment from former CNN host, Piers Morgan, when questioned on the subject of men and caregiving said, “most dads don’t want to do paid paternity leave because it isn’t the most exciting gig in town.”
The issue then becomes whether or not women take on the lion’s share of caregiving because of reasons beyond the “creaky old ideas.” The fact is that women generally are more nurturing than men and the reason is for that goes far deeper than patriarchy and historical male dominance. Women read verbal and non-verbal emotional cues better than men and this leads to having greater empathy than men. Nurturing, the essence of childcare for infants and toddlers, is the byproduct of empathy and the bonding hormone oxytocin which is released for women during childbirth and breast feeding. For most women nurturing young children can be quite fulfilling despite the more tedious demands of childcare. For most men they feel enormously loving and protective of their infant children and feel the pressure of what it means to provide for their new family. The most thoughtful men will help with diaper changing but frankly do not find the day to day maintenance of an infant as satisfying as their female partner. Therefore, unless there is a significant economic advantage for the family, women will choose the primary caregiving role and not resent that choice. Obviously, their male partner’s willingness to help out as much as possible is certainly welcome and ultimately will lead to a more satisfying family experience for all parties, including the child.