Another new book or article, by a women, talking about boys and masculinity. As reported on CNN online, Emma Brown’s new book, “To Raise A Boy: Classrooms, Locker Rooms, Bedrooms, and the Hidden Struggles of American Boyhood,” reveals that dismantling rigid concepts of masculinity is the next step toward true social progress on gender.
Her main premise is the often repeated trope that rigid gender norms for boys and men put their own health at risk and that makes it hard for boys and men to ask for physical or mental help.
Brown goes on to state that, “Another problem is isolation. Many boys are forced to disown their desire for emotional intimacy. One of the most memorable conversations I had was with a 50-year-old man who woke up in middle age and realized he didn’t really have any friends — no one he could connect with emotionally.”
She also claims that research has found links between boys who believe they must live up to standards about being “real” boys or men and those at a greater risk for perpetrating sexual violence against women.
Let me begin with debunking her main premise about rigid gender norms. Yes, there are some men who do not take proper care of themselves for both mental and physical health related issues. Frankly, I believe that this might be true for a few boomer men and those men who inhabit the fringe hyper masculine world. The truth is that for the vast majority of men among the younger generations, according to counselors at post secondary schools, they seem not to hesitate in seeking help for depression, anxiety and trauma related issues. In addition, there is no evidence for the notion that society at large promulgates the message that boys don’t cry. Again, I’m sure there are a few parents and old school athletic coaches who do deliver this message but certainly it rarely appears in the mainstream media and from the pop culture icons.
Brown’s argument that boys are forced to disown emotional intimacy does not ring true based on my personal experience and the many men I have interacted with in 25 years of facilitating men’s groups. Men openly talk about the close friendships they had as boys, teens and through young adulthood. What they miss is the opportunity to continue those types of relationships once they are actively pursuing careers and participating in family life. The issue of adult male loneliness is not a product of a constrained masculinity but part of a bigger problem of social isolation in our modern society that has affected men more than women. Robert Putnam’s book “Bowling Alone” underscored how the collapse of the American community has had a profound impact on increasing male isolation.
Particularly infuriating was her claim that research links how a “real men” attitude leads to a greater risk for perpetrating sexual violence against women. When I checked the research she relied on I found the following. “Thus, the men who adhere strongly to these particular hegemonic masculinity (i.e., antifemininity, sexual dominance masculine norms may feel compelled to be sexually aggressive and/or coercive toward an intimate partner in order to maintain their need for dominance within their intimate relationship. ” In other words the data showed toxic masculinity attitudes which are far different than the vague real men perspective is the link to truly misogynistic behavior. As I have frequently blogged, being a real man in the light of masculinity is a far cry from the toxic masculine world.
I find it increasing troubling that rehashing the no longer valid message that we continue to constrain boys and men from being fully actualized is leading to misconceptions about gender roles rather than clarifying the discussion of how to achieve a gender equal not a gender neutral society.