“In our culture a false picture has emerged of what it is to be a man. The culture’s emphasis on crude, macho masculinity as a status symbol causes young men to strive after the wrong type of expression of their masculinity.” — John A. Sanford and George Lough, Ph.D., “What Men are Like.”
Not long after he turned 3, older grandson, playing on the floor, looked up at me with his brown eyes sparkling and proclaimed, “ I’m going to be a MAN when I grow up. I’ll go to WORK! That got me to thinking about what he would have to deal with along the road to maturity. I viewed his future with much more fear and trepidation than I did when his uncles were his age. Much had changed in one generation. All of this came back to my mind while attending his recent wedding (He’s now 30). We feel very proud of him and the life he and his new wife are making for themselves.
Compared to today, the media was relatively innocuous. Grisly and raunchy video and computer games did not exist. Schools were well funded. Many more mothers were at home. We didn’t worry about child abduction, school shootings and random murders at malls and festivals, etc. Crudeness and disrespect were definitely discouraged.
Add to the above the “male mystique” that boys in our culture have been expected to emulate and we can see how so many boys become troubled. Males are expected to be strong, independent, competitive, aggressive, stoic and invulnerable. Despite some gains in awareness of the problem on some levels, this cultural expectations continue to prevail and, in one way or another, influence our boys every day. Vulnerable and sensitive boys (and they all start out that way) have a tough row to hoe in a society that claims to value children but takes little action to alleviate their problems.
So how does all of this add up? Today’s boys need more nurturing and support than ever, but too many aren’t getting it. Those who feel (consciously or subconsciously) that they don’t fit the bill get the idea they are flawed and defective as human beings. Anger results from being neglected, misunderstood, coerced, shamed, criticized and under pressure to cope with a culture that exploits them shamelessly. When a deep-seated rage develops in young men, they will be lauded if its ramifications are socially acceptable, such as participation in violent sports, exploiting others for the compulsive accumulation of wealth and power, producing gory and sadistic movies, etc. But when the rage breaks out in a murderous rampage, we are horrified.
James Garbarino, author of “Lost Boys,” sums it up well. “Boys fall victim to an unfortunate synchronicity between the demons inhabiting their own internal world and the corrupting influence of modern America culture. They lose their way in the pervasive experience of vicarious violence, crude sexuality, shallow materialism, mean-spirited competitiveness and spiritual emptiness.”
It’s next to impossible for boys, even from well-functioning families, to be affected by all of this. For instance, just watching TV, a boy will see men portrayed as bumbling idiots, crude Neanderthals, lecherous predators, automatons obsessed with power and violence, narcissistic and arrogant athletes, politicians and entertainers, or maybe just mindless airheads who have no clue. For too many boys, these are all they have to look to for role models,
Many boys aren’t blessed with the presence of at least one consistent male adult who cherished him, supports him, encourages him to express his feelings in acceptable ways, spends unhurried time with him, dispenses loving discipline, and helps him to direct his propensity for action, competition and assertion in a productive way. When you consider the number of broken families and the way modern life overwhelms many parents, a great many boys are deprived of the kind of nurturance and support that they need and are left to absorb the values of their peers, exploitative corporate interests and whatever other unsavory aspect of our culture that they happen to encounter.
The health and well-being of its children are the barometers of any culture’s viability. Have there been in depth studies to find out why some boys crack more easily under stress? Could it be a congenital weakness that makes some boys and young men resort to violence? Or is it because of distress caused by life’s circumstances, or mental illness such as schizophrenia? How long are we going to look the other way when repeated significant indicators point to the despair, loneliness and alienation of so many of our boys? When are we, as a culture, going to face the fact that we are all responsible and do something about it?
Since 1984, Dorothy Dimitre has written more than 1,000 columns for various local newspapers. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.