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

two 2

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?

What about the boys?

There is a lot of attention these days about empowering young girls. Girls are now encouraged to learn about anything they want to, such as science or politics or economics. Fields that were traditionally male-only are being opened up to women. Women are being encouraged to speak up for themselves and stand up for their rights.

But what about the boys? While the toy aisle has been de-gendered, with Star Wars right next to Barbie and not separated by different aisles labeled by pink and blue placards, what about the boys? If it is now socially not only accepted but encouraged for girls to play with anything they want to and to learn anything they want, then are we opening up the same opportunities for boys? Can boys do traditionally girl things without being looked down on? Can a boy read the Nancy Drew stories in the same way that a girl can read the Hardy Boys? Can a boy play with an Easy Bake Oven or have a tea party in the same way that a girl can play with trucks and erector sets?

If we’re going to go for gender equality then we have to be for equality for everyone. It has to be okay for boys to be whoever they want to be and also not be forced into a particular mold or pattern of how they are expected to be simply because they’re born male. I think the world would be better place if girls can be whatever they want and boys can be whatever they want, with no limitations placed on either because of their gender.

While we certainly can use more female doctors, lawyers, and engineers, we also need to make sure that we allow girls to be stay-at-home moms or teachers or nurses if they want. There needs to be no shame if girls want to take on traditionally female roles or jobs. They do not need to be seen as “less enlightened” if they don’t become astronauts or politicians, but cooks or housekeepers. And likewise it should be okay for boys to be teachers, nurses, artists, or stay at home dads. One’s gender should not prevent or predispose one’s occupation.

Poem – why is it that?

Why is it that

a woman who shaves her head is a feminist,
but a woman who covers her head is oppressed?

Why is it that

a woman who wears pants modern and hip
but if she wears a skirt she’s old-fashioned and uncool?

Why is it that

if she starts her own business she’s a trendsetter
but if she’s a stay-at-home Mom she’s a fuddy-duddy?

It goes on.

She’s too fat, too skinny
has too many clothes on, or not enough…

Women are seen as
things
to be looked at
to be judged, classified, compared
instead of as
people
to be allowed to live and grow and feel
as we are called.

It is done to us
and then we do it
to ourselves,
like adult children
of abusers.

It is about freedom of choice.
It isn’t a choice
if there’s only one option.

Why he hits. Why she stays.

If you wonder “why she stays” or “why he hits” it is all the same. It is all about power. They both feel powerless.

She doesn’t leave because she thinks she can’t support herself without him. He makes all the money. He knows how to repair the cars and the house. But also he feels powerless. If he doesn’t have her then how is he going to get fed? How is his laundry going to get done? They stay together out of a sense of desperation and powerlessness.

If you want to address the cause of men hitting women and women taking the abuse, you have to address the root of power. You have to teach boys how to cook and clean and take care of the household in addition to teaching him how to use tools and repair cars. If you want to teach women to be strong you have to teach them how to use tools and how to repair cars in addition to teaching them how to cook and clean and take care of the household. Only when there’s a sense of equality will there not be a sense of powerlessness.

Men also abuse others because they have not been taught any other way to deal with their emotions. “Boys don’t cry”, remember? Boys are taught to roughhouse and to fight. They are taught to be aggressive. Anything less than this is seen as weak. If a guy shows any gentle tendencies he is seen as gay. He is excluded from the pack. Thus when guys feel powerless, they will lash out with the only tool they are allowed to use and that is violence.

Part of power is also about giving people a sense of worth and value. They have to feel like they can take care of themselves. This includes being able to get and keep a job. People need to feel like they are needed.

Address these issues and you have solved the reasons why he hits, and why she stays. Teach people how to be independent.

Marry out of strength, not weakness

When you have half a person married to another half a person they don’t make a whole, they make a half. When you have one solid person married to another solid person they make something amazingly strong.

People shouldn’t try to marry to find their other half. They should marry to get even stronger. They shouldn’t marry in order to have someone “complete” them. If you have to have someone else to make you whole then you aren’t whole to start off with.

If you want to get married so she will cook and clean for you, you don’t need a wife – you still need a mother. If you want to get married so he will protect you and keep you safe, you don’t need a husband – you need a guard dog. If you want to get married so someone will cheer you up, you don’t need a spouse – you need a therapist.

Marry out of strength, not weakness.

If you marry out of need and loss and lack, then you will grow into that and get even more needy and even more empty. It will be like getting crutches for your broken leg. You go years with those crutches, and your leg never gets used and gets weaker and weaker. Then when the crutches go away, you can’t stand at all.

More musings on romance novels – Power

I’ve noticed a trend with romance novels. The man’s economic or social position is always higher than the woman’s. He’s a duke, or a CEO, or something similar. He’s never an average guy.

Now, of course, this is fantasy – but notice that women are being told in these books that they are supposed to go up in status. They are never supposed to “settle”. Equal or lesser than them isn’t OK.

She’s a secretary, and he is the boss.
She’s a nurse, and he is a doctor.

It plays out, over and over.

Meanwhile, guys don’t read these books. They aren’t getting the script.

Perhaps they don’t need to read it. Perhaps they just know, based on our society’s expectations, that they are supposed to marry “beneath” them.

Men are supposed to be the breadwinners.

She’s the artist, and he is the neuroscientist. She’s the amateur writer, and he’s the professor. It is never the other way around.

She has the “fluff” job, the one that doesn’t pay the bills. Her income is extra. He’s the one in charge, and his way goes.

When one person controls the income, they have all the control.

So this is “fantasy”? This is ideal? Why would anybody want to dream about a passive life, where they have no control, no authority? Where things are done to and for them, instead of with?

Bird shot dating

A lot of guys seem to look for women the same way they go hunting. They shoot with bird shot. They aim for women just because they’re women. They don’t set their sights on a specific woman. They aim for them just because they are women. There is no aiming for a specific person at all.

All women want to be wanted for themselves, as people, and not just because they have the right plumbing.

I have thought about sharing ideas for men to know how to talk to women. But then I thought I might be doing a disservice. I thought I might be making it easier for the creepy people to not seem creepy. This would then make it harder for women to avoid the creepy people.

Putting a façade on a falling down house doesn’t fix the problem. In the same way, teaching creepy men how to interact with women might be a problem. It might make it easier for creepy men to get involved with women. But perhaps the reason they are creepy is because they don’t know how to interact with women as people. Perhaps the reason they are creepy is because they don’t know how to interact with humans at all.

Perhaps by giving them some tips it might make it easier for them and for everyone else. I’m working on this. It is hard, because I’m not a guy. So I’m not sure what kind of advice they need. It is kind of like reverse-engineering a problem, or translating into a language that is not my own. But I know what creeps me out, so perhaps it is worth a try.

Anything has to be better than nothing, right? We have too many guys who feel frustrated that they don’t know how to interact with women.

First, they have to stop thinking of them as women and start thinking of them as people.

I’ll be working on this. Feel free to offer ideas.

Women as appliances – the source of gender violence

I was walking outside at lunch last week, and a guy drove by in a car and yelled at me. It took me a bit to process it. I couldn’t believe that someone was yelling at me. What he yelled was “Your skirt is too f—–g long, b—h!”

Except he filled in the blanks. He threw his words, like trash, out of the car, and at me.

I was shocked. I felt attacked. And I was confused. My skirt is too long? That is a problem? Oh, so I should hem up all of my skirts so they show off my legs so he can see them. I get it.

Like that kind of person deserves to see any part of me.

I’m married, after all. I’m not on the market. But even before I was married I dressed modestly. It just isn’t other people’s right to treat me as an object, a thing, a body. I am a person first. By hiding my body I make people look at me instead of my body.

I’ve written quite a bit about how men objectify women who wear clothing that is revealing. I’ve written that women should think about what they wear so that they do not get unwanted attention.

But now I’m rethinking that. I was wearing an ankle-length skirt, and I got unwanted attention.

And then I remember that at work, wearing very modest clothing, I get unwanted attention. Guys hit on me and they know nothing about me. They don’t know my name other than what is on my nametag. They don’t notice that I wear a wedding band. They don’t know what I read or what my hobbies are. They know nothing about me other than I am female and they are male. They think that should be enough to ask me out.

Perhaps I’ve been going at this wrong all along. Perhaps the boy who killed women simply because (other) women wouldn’t date him is part of this problem. Perhaps all gender violence and miscommunication stems from this same root.

Some guys don’t know that women are people and not objects.

Some guys don’t know that they need to make friends with women first – and as real friends, not just as an attempt to get to date them. And by “date”, I don’t mean “have sex with”. A lot of guys get that confused.

Yes, we women have been sold the idea that our looks are more important than anything. We’ve been sexualized and objectified by the media. We’ve been sold this idea that we have to have a man if we are to be anything. But men have been sold the same message along with us. It isn’t just women who have been short-changed by this message. It is men who are missing out on knowing women as individuals, as people.

For many men, women are a means to an end. Women are girlfriends and then wives and then the mothers of their children and homemakers. Women are yet another thing they have to have in their lives.

They are appliances.

They are washing machines and stoves.

You have to have a washing machine to get your clothes clean. Sure, you could wash your clothes in the sink and hang them to dry. Or you could take them to the Laundromat if you don’t have a washing machine in your house. Or you could take them to the dry-cleaners if you don’t know how to use a washing machine.

Or you could get married and let your wife do it.

The same with food. Everybody needs to eat. You can cook for yourself, or you can eat out. When you eat out, you can eat fast food or you can eat at a fancy restaurant.

Or you can get married and let your wife do it.

Men have been short-changed by our society. We have told them that women are the ones who cook and clean. Women are the ones who hold the keys to these basic needs. So they have to have a woman to fulfill these basic needs.

Sex is extra.

You have to have clean clothes and you have to eat.

If we teach men how to take care of themselves, then women won’t be a means to an end.

It is all making sense now.

If a man cannot take care of himself – cannot clean his clothes, clean his house, feed himself – he will have to have someone else do this for him. This is embarrassing, and it is a slight against his manhood. Sometimes that someone else is a stranger – the dry cleaners, the fast food worker. The prostitute.

Sometimes that someone else is his wife.

One of the most powerful things you can do is to give control back to people. It is essential to teach people how to help themselves. It is vital for their souls. We must, as a society, start teaching all people how to do all the things that they need to take care of themselves. We have to cross-train everybody.

Men must learn how to cook and clean. Women must learn how to repair cars, plumbing, electricity. We both must learn each other’s tasks, and our own. No more gender division. No more “women’s work” and “men’s work”.

For our own sanity, survival, and strength, we must do this. If we all can stand on our own, imagine how much stronger we will be together? People will marry out of strength instead of weakness.

And men won’t “have” to have a woman. They won’t see women as objects but as people. They won’t see women as appliances – washers, dryers, stoves. They will be able to take care of their own human needs, so they won’t feel the sense of empty desperation that comes from feeling helpless.

People control – on school violence and gender roles

We don’t need gun control, so much as people control.

If you ban guns, then only the people who obey laws will not have guns. The people who don’t obey laws will have as many as they want. They are the ones who kill people anyway.

We need to address why people, especially young boys, are killing other people.

We need to address the rage and powerlessness that young boys are feeling and counter that. They kill to make themselves seen and heard. Address that in a healthy way, early on, and they won’t feel a need to kill.

We have to address the sense of hopelessness and alienation they feel.

When boys are told to not cry, to “be a man”, they are not allowed to be in touch with their softer sides. They are molded into an unnatural shape, like a bonsai tree. But unlike a bonsai tree, they aren’t shaped into anything beautiful, but warped.

If a boy acts in any way other than the traditionally masculine role he is seen as either gay or a girl. He is emasculated by his peers. He is a “pussy” or a “fag” or “has no balls”. A guy who is caring, who is considerate, who is loving, is seen as not a guy. This is unhealthy and damaging to him as a person.

The only way that guys are allowed to express themselves is through being physically aggressive. So is it any surprise that they become violent, and the only way they feel that they can be seen and heard is to use violence? Gun violence is the most extreme form of “acting out,” but it is still in line with being a guy.

First, we must drop all the “rules” about what it means to be male.

Our society has really started to raise its collective consciousness about women’s rights and roles, but we’ve failed the boys. We tell women that they can be anything they want to be but we don’t say the same thing to boys. We tell women that they can be doctors or lawyers or mechanics, but we don’t support boys who want to be dancers or artists or stay-at-home-Dads.

Sure, they can be, but at a loss to their masculinity. Sure, they can be, but they run the risk of being seen as not male. In American society, that is the same as not being a person.

When a woman has a job that is seen as being traditionally “male”, she is a groundbreaker. When a man has a job that is seen as traditionally “female”, he is seen as not being a man. For a woman, it is a step up. For a man, it is a step down.

Let’s drop the “rules” for what defines someone as “male” or “female” and start thinking about what it means to be a person. Let’s focus on character and compassion instead. Let us let people be people, and not gender.

Let us also teach everybody – boys and girls together, as many ways to express their emotions and needs. Humans need connection. We are not solitary beings. We have to communicate with each other. But not all of us are good at communicating with words. We all need to learn different “languages” – of art, of dance, of music. We all need to learn as many ways as possible to “get it out” of ourselves. Bottled up feelings tend to bubble over in unpleasant ways.

Remember how frustrated a small child gets when something isn’t right? He wails and whines and fusses. He’s hungry, or tired, or something hurts, or he needs something that isn’t there. His frustration grows and grows until someone figures out what is wrong and fixes it. Sometimes a parent will say “Use your words” to remind him that he has to communicate his needs. Then he has to slow down and think about what it is that he needs so he can express it. Then the parent can help.

But what if he doesn’t know what is wrong? Or what if he hasn’t been taught the words?

There is a trend these days to teach sign language to infants. They are taught a gestural language because it is easier for them than speech at that point. The frustration level is reduced dramatically. Instead of guessing what is wrong, the parent knows because the child has said it with gestures.

But what if you are older? What if you know a lot of words? And what if they still aren’t enough?

I believe that this, along with the rigidity of the masculine gender role, is the heart of the problem. I believe that everybody needs to learn how to express themselves in multiple “languages”. Bring back art programs. Bring back music in the school. Let everybody take a turn at theatre. Or gardening. Or cooking, or sewing, for instance. Everybody needs to learn the skills necessary for life, for being an independent person, anyway.

I also believe that everybody needs to get moving. Lack of physical exercise results in too much pent up energy.

We can turn this around. We can’t wait for the government to do it, or the school systems. It will take too long for the committees to study it. Every person who cares for a young person is responsible for this change. Anything counts. We can’t do it all, and we certainly can’t do it all at once. But we have to start.

Go to the library for ideas. Check with the Y, or the community center. Get moving, get creating on your own. Think it costs too much? It is cheaper than a coffin.

The life you save will be that of your young friend and twenty random strangers.