Boys, Girls, Patriarchy, and Us
My friend sent me a blog entry called “Raising Boys in a Woman’s World.” The title itself struck me as humorous. First of all, I don’t think we live in a woman’s world. I think this world is still very much patriarchal and rooted in traditional gender views of what it means to be a man and what it means to be a woman.
I don’t want to pick apart the author’s own desires for her children, because she has a right to want what she does for her sons. She also has loads more parenting wisdom than I do; my little boy is still in utero.
Yet, as a college instructor who often teaches units on misogyny to my students, I have a bone to pick.
This author is reinforcing the traditional gender norms that our society has placed on us, as most Christian writers do. (I’m assuming she’s a Christian writer? Her blog feels Christian.) Christianity is rooted in traditional gender norms. This is why I love Jesus Christ and not necessarily Christianity. He subverted gender norms at various times in a world that wasn’t quite ready for that subversion (which I will write about later, because that’s an entirely different blog entry).
(And then when I read the comments of this blog entry and see women saying things like, “AMEN sister, I completely agree!” I cringe inside. Why do we have to all completely agree? Is that what it means to be the submissive wife? To uphold the majority view without question (especially if it reinforces patriarchy)? Why can’t a Christian woman raise her hand and go, “That doesn’t make sense to me. I see the world like this…”?)
I’m not going to take on the whole blog entry, but I do want to address a few concerns I have about Ms. Fragoso’s words:
Point One: Masculinity is Scary
“Despite the fact that there continues to be issues, women really have come a long way in our country – which is great, and I am thankful, but we’ve come so far, in some areas, that I fear we have changed society in such a way that being masculine has been deemed as scary, even wrong, and not expected or wanted – and forget chivalry, we can open our own damn doors!” (Fragoso)
I don’t think it is an issue of masculinity being deemed as scary. The fact is (and this scares many conservative Christians) that masculinity, as it has traditionally been defined, is starting to no longer be seen as the default pattern of behavior for men, nor as the idealized half of the “masculine vs. feminism” binary.
It’s similar to the shift in color majority in this country: white is no longer going to be the color of power very soon. By 2050, whites will be the minority in America (it’s going to hit my home state of California sooner than that). So some whites are reacting against this and saying, “We need to take our country back!”
Well, first of all, fellow white people, America is not our country to begin with. We kinda stole it from brown colored people. Remember? We shoved Native Americans into the desolate areas of this nation and forced them to abandon their traditional ways of living. We beat Mexico in a war and took over tons of western-state space. To be even more specific, take Hawaii: the native peoples of Hawaii had their land stolen from them too; prime real estate that was once home to the indigenous peoples now serves as tourist traps for rich Caucasians (of course, not just Caucasians, but you get the point). We reshaped that island for our own pleasure. People in power always do things like this.
When I read this entire post, I hear someone in the back of my head shouting, “We’ve gone too far with the feminist movement! We need to get back to center! We are post-feminist now, so we need to focus again on what men need.” Do you realize, anonymous shouter, that men’s needs have been at the center, and the majority of our culture, since our country’s inception? Do you realize that when you go around the world, over 90% of all societies are patriarchal? Do you hear the political rhetoric about Hillary Clinton? Do you hear what comes out of Donald Trump’s mouth? Do you turn on the television and see misogyny in every commercial, in every sitcom, and in every movie trailer? I don’t think men have lost much ground.
(In fact, if this author could watch M is for Misogyny, I think it would benefit her. I also think Killing Us Softly is a good choice. Even better, Miss Representation would be a good video, especially since it covers more than just the beauty industry.)
Point Two: Boys and School
“Boys are sent to school and expected to sit quietly for hours, to line up perfectly, and to always pay attention. They are taught to not question authority or to act assertively and if they are caught fighting it out on the playground – it’s instant expulsion from school. Sports programs are fewer and far between, and PE has been dumbed down to jogging or throwing a ball around; no more climbing ropes, racing, competing, or even breaking a sweat if you don’t want to. If boys act out, they must be medicated. If boys fight, they must have anger management issues, and if boys try to question authority, they obviously are disrespectful and must be put in their place" (Fragoso).
Do you realize this happens to girls too? I see young women in my classes every day who want to talk, who want to be physical and aggressive with their bodies, and yet they have been taught to be silent. I knew girls in school who were placed on ADHD medication to keep them calm. I’ve seen girls want to be on boy’s sports teams and told no, even though there was no program for them to join at their school. I remember getting detention for talking too much in school, and it mortified me. So I also had to learn to be quiet and respect authority. It’s not simply a “boy vs. girl” issue here.
The author’s solution to this? Homeschooling. (Running away from the problems, perhaps? But I digress, and that’s my own bias against homeschooling coming into play.)
Point Three: Parental desire for Tradition
“I want my boys to be chivalrous. I want them to be masculine. I want them to be strong and brave and tough (when they want to be)“ (Fragoso).
There’s the magic word: masculine. Found in this statement is the implied notion that being masculine means to be strong, brave, and tough. To be feminine, on the other hand, means to be weak, cowardly, and wimpy. I’m glad she added the caveat “when they want to be.” Because what if they don’t want to be? What if they don’t want to be society’s stereotypical definition of a man? What if they want to do things and say things that have been stereotypically defined as feminine? And what happens in that scenario when our culture has stated that to be masculine is to be good and to be feminine is to be bad?
Point Four: Natural Tendencies
“I will reiterate again, I fear that by emasculating our boys we are making them oppress their natural tendencies” (Fragoso).
Who are we to assign natural tendencies to our children?
As an example, my sisters did not play “feminine” games. They enjoyed getting outside in the dirt and rough housing. They played with cars and horses. They ran around the house and tackled each other. They screamed. They threw things. They ganged up on me, their older sister (who had more “natural feminine tendencies”) until they made me cry. They were partners in crime. People often commented how they “played like boys.” Their way of playing was their natural tendency. They didn’t learn that behavior from me, and we didn’t have any brothers. What if my parents had forced them to stop playing with cars and trucks? What if they had told them to be quiet and “play like little girls”?
I don’t think this is an issue of emasculating our boys. This ideological change is setting both little girls and little boys free from the boundaries of “correct” gender behavior.
I am happy to see more discussions surrounding gender norms in our society; I long for the day when these discussions actually enter through the church doors. Because these norms don’t only negatively influence women; traditional masculine definitions have squashed men for centuries. Why do we have generations of men who are afraid to cry and share their emotions (and when they do cry and share their emotions they are shamed for doing so)? Why do we have entire male cultures set up where fighting is the way out of anything, and that in order to “be a man,” men must belch, scratch their packages, sleep with multiple women, cheat on their wives and girlfriends, hit their wives and girlfriends, rape their wives and girlfriends, and abandon their baby mommas when the child comes into the world? Why is becoming “the alpha male” the desired prize for men? Why is submission to authority seen as a negative thing, especially if the authority figure is a woman?
Point Five: Hearing the author out
“This is not my opinion of men vs. women. This is my opinion of the needs of boys and how often these needs are ignored….This post is about my opinions, struggles, and observations of raising boys, not about ignoring women’s issues. This post is about bringing up boys in America, in a society that is expecting me to raise my boys in such a way that isn’t set up for boys to thrive in – at all" (Fragoso).
I can see this, and I hear it. She’s writing from her heart and really struggling with this, and I feel bad for her in that.
But I think we need to remember that this isn’t a “man vs. woman” issue. This is about all of us, regardless of gender. What harms women ends up harming men too, and vice versa. We can’t ignore the needs of men or women. But we do need to have an honest discussion of our unconscious biases and the super-replicators that have been passed down to us by previous generations (and that we are now passing down to our children).
(See Daniel Gilbert’s book Stumbling on Happiness for more about super-replicators.)