Tuesday, February 14, 2012

How to Talk to Little Boys

Recently, I've heard a lot about how to talk to little girls, how to build their self-esteem 1 2 3.

"Stop."

I don't mean, "Stop talking about the problems of little girls and how to solve them." No.  I mean "Stop," is what I usually hear said to little boys, followed by "No," "Sit down," and, "Be quiet."

Now trust me. I am not innocent.  My five-year-old son currently has only two volumes: loud and very loud. And I say, "Shut up," a lot, like every other breath.

But it's something I frequently feel convicted about.  I am tired of telling them bad things about themselves.  And, to be honest, even though I feel like I am full of negativity, I am frequently reprimanded by others that I don't reprimand them enough.

You see, I want my boys to be safe and functional, but I'm not sure that making them more like girls (or worse, blaming them for the disparities that we see in girls) will solve the problem.  I love that they are sensitive, but that they are sensitive differently than I am.  I love that they are doers and that they hardly ever do the same thing twice.  I love that they move first, talk later.

But there's all kinds of things that bother me about how boys are seen.  When is the last time you saw a hero--outside of sports--with a beard?  I don't think Dumbledore and Jack Sparrow count. 

My oldest son recently told me, "When I grow up, I'm going to be a good guy.  You know, one who's got no beard or stickers on his face."

 Since when did beards and whiskers translate into "bad"?

When is the last time that a hairy chest (or hairy anything) was okay?  It's not that I think that all men should be hairy, but hairy should be okay. 

Also, when was the last time you saw a guy where it was okay not to be buff or a buff guy who was smart?  I can only think of shows for adults.  When was the last time a hero was a baritone and not a tenor?  "South Pacific" comes to mind.  "Camelot."  But anything this half century?  Sure, it's fine for a guy to be smooth-faced and high voiced.  But excuse me if I wonder if we aren't saying that the further away from a woman you become, the more animal-like you are.

It makes me nauseous.

My biggest qualm about leaving Korea was how bad it is for boys here in America.  They can't have close friends.  They shouldn't touch.  They should be ashamed of their dirty, hairy, smelly bodies.  They should never gain weight, but they shouldn't move around.  They need to be fierce at sports, but gentle at everything else.  They should never make fun of women but should laugh appreciatively when their female classmates demean them and their female teachers crack jokes about boys and men.

Is that healthy?  Is it even possible?

Blasting men over "stupid" things has become so commonplace that I never even thought about it until I went to a movie with a friend and a bunch of her friends.  As a whole, we were lamenting the things we didn't like about our husbands or boyfriends when I asked one of the girls, who had been quiet to this point, what annoyed her.

"Oh," she answered quickly.  "I try not to make generally disparaging comments about my significant other."

While I was a little stung by the way she made the comment, I changed the way I spoke about my husband from that point on and paid a lot more attention to how men were treated in the stories we read.

I don't mean in any way to suggest that there aren't problems out there for girls or for the different races, those with physical or mental disabilities, or anything else.  What I mean to suggest is that a good number of us who are raising boys right now, and we are doing it at a disadvantage in a society which is skewing masculinity to be a more and more unachievable goal.

So how do I talk to little boys?  Or maybe the question is how do I talk about them?  Or what do I do with them?  Or how do I listen to them?

And I've got to tell you that I just don't know the answer, but I think it's time to really get looking.

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