We have failed our boys.

We have failed our boys. Every day I see more and more boys who say they don’t want to read. Knowing how to read but choosing not to is the same as being illiterate. The result is the same whether they know how to read but don’t or they never knew how. Every day I see boys who – if they read at all, read far below their age level, only able to read books that have many pictures in them. They are either unwilling or unable to read a book that has only words in it. They choose graphic novels and comic books if they choose books at all. There’s a whole series of books geared towards boys now that are written very simply and have many illustrations in them. It is as if they need training wheels in order to read. It is a disturbing trend.

Then if they read, the subject matter is concerning. Their parents steer them toward “boy” books. “Girl” books are about relationships – sharing, making friends, learning how to compromise. “Boy” books are about relationships as well – dominating others, being a soldier, being in charge. They learn this script too well. They learn that they must control every relationship they are in. They learn nothing about sharing or cooperating. Anything other than domination is seen as a failure. It is easy to see that it is impossible for everyone to be a winner with such a scenario. This sets them up for a lifetime of disappointment.

We have failed our boys. By telling them that “boys don’t cry” we are telling them that they are not allowed to express their emotions. Those feelings have to go somewhere. When you don’t allow someone to cry the feeling turns around upon itself and transforms, metastasizes, goes dark.

We have failed our boys. When we say “boys will be boys” to excuse bad behavior we’re saying that they don’t have to try better. We’re saying that there’s no reason for them to act in a respectful manner. Any behavior that you would want to see in your boy when he grows up into a man should be encouraged when he’s young. When we let boys get off the hook from punching others or pulling on girl’s pigtails (or worse forms of abuse), we are saying that they are not accountable for their actions.

Is all of this why so many acts of violence have happened recently? Is this why so many boys and young men have decided to express themselves, to be heard, to be noticed, by taking a gun into a public place and shooting random strangers? Have we done this to ourselves?

More importantly how can we make it stop?

Tracy and Robin

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Tracy and Robin had joked for years before they got married that people never knew who was “he” and who was “she” of the two of them. They decided that it was nobody’s business, so they never let on.

Their friends had hoped to learn the truth on their wedding day. Surely they would wear the traditional clothes? They were in for quite a surprise when they arrived at the event. They wore the traditional clothes, but not in the traditional way. This was in line with everything they stood for, so it made sense after all, but it still didn’t answer any questions.

Tracy and Robin were drawn to each other not out of a sense of finding their other half, but in finding another person who was whole. Both were perfectly comfortable repairing a car or knitting a shawl. Both could mow the lawn as well as cook. They felt lucky that their parents had taught them both how to be people first and foremost. Their gender was never used as a reason for or against learning anything.

They both hid their gender, not out of a sense of privacy or shame, but out of a sense of rightness. They wanted people to relate to them as people. The first item of prejudice was gender. Sure, you could add race, religion, creed, national origin and a host of other things up to and including what football team they rooted for. People used any excuse they could to pigeonhole you, to decide who you were before you even opened your mouth. Tracy and Robin figured that the more you can avoid those markers, the more people would have to make up their own minds for a change.

They were mindful to shop only where the bathrooms were genderless. Sometimes the buildings were old and only had one restroom with a single toilet. Sometimes they had family restrooms. They didn’t want to have to out themselves if they could avoid it.

They shopped at thrift stores, getting whatever clothing that struck their fancy and wasn’t too snug. Both were equally comfortable in pants or skirts. They were pleased when they could find clothing that was from immigrants because it was often loose and ambiguous. Comfort was the most important thing.

It was always assumed that one was female, but it wasn’t a given. Both could have been. Or neither. Or one or both could be intersex. Did it matter? Nobody separates by eye color or height, so why separate by something as equally meaningless and random as gender?

Why do women have to cover?

Why don’t Muslims cover up men’s eyes rather than cover up women’s bodies? Why don’t they make some sort of headband/facemask combination that forces their eyes downward and makes it possible for them to only see a few feet in front of them while they walk? It would make life difficult for them but it would certainly stop them from accidentally becoming aroused by women and being unable to control themselves and feeling like they have to attack them.

They must think that women are very powerful and that men have no power at all. Merely by existing, merely by showing an elbow or a calf, a woman can cause a man to lose his self-control. If he has so little self-control then doesn’t this mean he has no self-control? Why do women have to cover themselves up for modesty when it is the fault of someone else if they cross a line?

If I am an omnivore, should I stop eating meat in front of vegetarians for fear that it will make them start eating animals? This is the same issue. It is saying that my actions control another person’s actions.

The Muslim faith is not alone in this. There are sections of the Orthodox Jewish faith that have women not only cover their heads because their hair is seen as sensuous, but the women have to shave their heads as well. The idea is that by shaving their heads (at least monthly) there is no chance that a hair will accidentally show – and thus accidentally weaken a man’s resolve.

I have a strong belief that the original intent of Islam and of Orthodoxy was not to control women, and to reduce men into knee-jerk autopilot sex machines. I believe that both faiths originally respected both genders. I have a suspicion that over the many years since the faiths’ inceptions some radical detours have been made by well-meaning, but control-happy people (namely, men).

How about we stop coddling men by making policies that say that women are responsible for men’s behaviors? How about we stop saying “boys will be boys”? How about we expect men to have self-control, and not feel the need to disturb (and I’m putting it lightly) women?