Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Letting boys be...girls? (citations probably needed)

Over the past few days, I've read some come across some pretty interesting things on the internet that have really got the brain churning regarding the topic of growing up as a guy in today's society.  Among them:
The second and third brought out some memories of elementary school (not always good ones) and the first one brought to light a potentially damaging mentality that may explain the challenges that modern boys (and to a lesser extent girls) face as they are growing up today and what they can look forward to.

Carr-Chellman's talk about the modern school system sounded like a accurate recollection of my elementary school days, even though they are many, many years apart.  As she describes, there is not much that young boys can relate to in the modern classroom.  She argues that the dearth of male teachers (and other male role models), draconian enforcement of zero tolerance policies, and being made to express themselves about things that are simply not relevant to them have driven them away from academics into a world ruled by Orcs and Elves.

That was my childhood.  I wasn't particularly good at sports, so relating to my peers was difficult. Reading was made into a chore, so rather than disappearing into books, my world was a virtual one.  It would probably account for a lot of my current level of social skill and why I'm not as good with talking to people as I'd like (especially members of the opposite sex), but whatever.  It's done.  But, what I had back then that boys do not have was the ability to express myself in writing.  This probably explains why I do what I do.

During my formative years (and for those who I knew back then can attest), I wrote some pretty horrible stuff.  Not necessarily poorly written (although some of it likely was), but the kind of stuff that would get kids in a lot of trouble today.  One collaborative fiction assignment I was particularly proud of initiating was a story about Barney the Purple Dinosaur being captured by a team of scientists that used gene splicing to turn him into a blood-thirsty killing machine and the ensuing massacre that took place.  After the story was handed to one classmate to continue, he immediately "ended" it, evidently too disgusted to continue the story.  A female classmate got a hold of it and the violence and bloodshed continued on paper.  I felt slightly vindicated after that.

Another classmate initiated a story which depicted me attempting to kill the English teacher's cat.  And yes, I probably had way too much fun continuing the blood and carnage and making it even more violent (I actually compared an exploding skull to the microwaving of a raw egg).  The teacher in question actually read that one and nobody got in trouble for it.  In the wake of the Columbine massacre, the result today would've been suspension and a meeting with the school counselor.

As to the increased attention given towards the unhealthy amount of time that boys are spending on video games, it's entirely possible that these worlds are the only thing that allows them to get their aggressive tendencies out.  Over the years, political correctness and the need to be nice to people who aren't particularly nice to us has made for a lot of frustration without any healthy means of dealing with it.  During my childhood, it was bad enough dealing with bullies, as I was given the constant message that it was wrong to hit back and sure enough, I didn't.  And of course, telling on bullies will make the problem worse, so that didn't happen either.  Not being equipped to deal with it, I took my bruises which I still remember, and probably affects me today (although I'm working on that).

It's worse for kids now, when retaliatory actions, even when in self-defense, will land the victim in more trouble than the bully, leaving the "weaker" boys (note the use of quotation marks) in an environment where they don't feel like they belong.  Forget about "play"fighting (which was grounds for punishment when I was in elementary school).  Nowadays, if a child brings an action figure to school carrying an accessory that no sane person would perceive as a deadly weapon, that child faces disciplinary action.

The fight club incident in Washington state is indicative of the problem and represents a very significant opportunity.  The reality is that most boys do have tendencies towards aggression.  Mine didn't manifest physically, but it was still there.  But simply ignoring them will not make them go away, and it needs to be channeled in a positive way.  We've evolved past the age where there would be maximum benefit for it on a regular basis (we don't have to hunt for buffalo anymore, we just go to the grocery store, and there's no way that checkout lines require that much aggression in order to survive), but it should be realized that "aggression" is not necessarily synonymous with "violence."

As barbaric as it might sound to our PC sensibilities, an after school fight club could have some potential benefits to it, provided that it's done within a controlled (read: supervised) and safer environment.  After essentially being reduced to caged animals in the classroom and not being allowed to be "boys", there's a lot of pent up frustration and aggression that's built up.  If it's released in an environment like this, boys can get their physical activity (a must in the light of cuts to physical education programs) and also just as important, they learn to stand up for themselves.  And as much as these "nice guys" are pleasant to have around, the world is relentlessly cruel to them.  They will miss out on countless opportunities, they will have their hearts broken countless times over, they will never have respect, and they will never reach their full potential.

But given the pacification of people today (and the fear of lawsuits), it's extremely unlikely that something like that would ever be sanctioned by parents or educators, which is unfortunate.  Parents will always want to protect their kids, and now with GPS tracking devices and the ability to (ab)use the legal system, they can do that.  But that's also doing a significant disservice, and it's ultimately futile, as kids will get hurt.  It's part of growing up.  The only thing a parent can (and should) actually do is equip them so they can protect themselves.

This generally isn't happening either.  This is a world where men are becoming increasingly obsolete, regardless of what the glass ceiling might say about income disparity.  Certain male roles (e.g.: hunting down buffalo) have been outmoded by industrialism, and as Barbara Kay's editorial indicates, largely suggests that to a certain degree, men have been reduced to providers of sperm. Indeed, with fathers increasingly out of the picture (working extremely long hours to support the family or being reduced to weekend parents after the custody battle left the children in care of the mother), boys are going to be left behind a lot more until the problem is recognized and dealt with, or we pull our collective heads from our asses and realize that it's not about us, but for our children's futures.

And for the women that say that there are no good guys left?  You're exactly right.  And there is a reason for it.

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