Today I wish to respond to a trend I find too prevalent, being inflicted upon males and yet is quite difficult to respond to, namely, the issue of gender role confusion. Too often I hear phrases from my peers and society in the United States claiming; “All men think about one thing”, “Men should be tough”, “I worry for that boy, he seems too much like a girl”, and “Oh, its fine if he is a little wild, boys will be boys”. To be honest, who is at fault in these examples? Are the men or boys being observed only at fault for the stereotypical behavior? I wish to to observe that both parties of the observer and participant are equally guilty of different detrimental behaviors. Such is the point that Olga Silverstein and Beth Rashbaum point out in their book The Courage to Raise Good Men, which talks about the difficulties that surround both parents and male children in the growing process.
Often the authors cite similar examples I have pointed out, which examples give male children a kaleidoscope of mixed messages about their roles in society. Males are too often taught that to be men they must not be like or similar in many behaviors which are defined as feminine. According to society’s stereotypes, if males exhibit feminine behavior they can bring harm to themselves by becoming homosexual or sissies (weak men). While at the same time harming the parents for having failed at raising their male children.
So therefore how does this dilemma inflict harm upon the work of feminists? According to Silverstein and Rashbaum it is similar as asking males to look both left and right in regards to all female issues and topics. In short, to be feminists while still being patriarchal. Clearly, there is a problem here, and the problem is addressed by Silverstein and Rashbaum. First, the relationship of the parents must be where they agree on one set standard for the male child, such that both contribute their unique and defining qualities of being both male and female to the child. Second, that if we decide that we do not want our sons to act in certain manners toward women, we must stand by that decision in all aspects of action, speech, and thought. As parents, we cannot tell our sons to support feminist behavior if at the same time we make remarks that to be feminine for males is either harmful or homosexual in any manner. If society wants the normative statements of which we all hope for, namely, equality between the genders, then we must first apply such thought into our daily lives.
To conclude, I wish to paraphrase an example found in The Courage to Raise Good Men, in which a mother brought her son to a family therapist claiming her son was lacking male influence in his life. Mostly the situation had become a concern due to a past divorce and the wife being a single mother. The concern was that the young man needed a man to be involved in his life, in order to teach him how to be a man. The therapist agreed that the young man needed male interaction as well as female interaction, notice the therapist did not say to the mother that she had to bring in a male into the boy’s life and therefore she herself was free of responsibility. If we want to raise good males in society they must embody the best qualities of both genders! The same goes for good females. Just as we as feminists combat female stereotypes we should also combat male stereotypes of what males should be and support those men in all their endeavors. For society is made up of both genders so let us raise the standards for both to improve. In the words of Adrienne Rich, found in the forward to The Courage to Raise Good Men;
What do we fear? That our sons will accuse us of making them into misfits and outsiders? That they will suffer as we have suffered from patriarchal reprisals? Do we fear they will somehow lose their male status and privilege, even as we are seeking to abolish that inequality?
-Adrienne Rich (Of Woman Born)
I state we do not fear! Because we know they can and will be happier better people.