Sex education and masculinity: the struggle to raise better boys

Domain. Aggression. Good robust appearance. Sexual energy. Stoicism. Athletics. These are attributes of the “ideal guy”, according to the young Americans who talked to the author Peggy Orenstein for his new book, Boys & Sex.

In contrast, research shows that teenagers are now more comfortable rejecting stereotyped roles, thanks in part to simple slogans like “Girl Power” and “Yes She Can”, along with the liberating message of the popular animated franchise Frozen. Music, sports and literature for young adults have been singing happily in this feminist anthem for some time.

And the boys, then? Now, the difficult task of exposing and breaking some of the equally damaging conventional pressures on male children and adolescents has received a boost with the publication of two impressive new studies and the recent release of Disney-Pixar, Onward.

Everyone tries to show that boys need urgent help to express their feelings and deal with what society expects of them. And all three had a negative reception in some sectors.

Media education?

The two books, Boys & Sex, by Orenstein, available here in paperback on Friday, and Decoding Boys, by Cara Natterson, released last month, argue that unless parents move quickly to deal with the confusion and adolescent alienation from their sons, their daughters will soon leave them behind. when it comes to dealing with emotions.

They warn that sex education for boys has been left to pornographers and football coaches, while the effects of changing male hormones are commonly misunderstood.

The aims of these exams of modern childhood seem quite laudable, but they have already provoked accusations of prejudice and a suspicion that they were designed to scold men, rather than help them.

Writing furiously in the conservative online magazine The Federalist, Glenn T Stanton claims that the books by Orenstein and Natterson were well received by the liberal press, represented by The Atlantic magazine, because they seem to support the idea that “toxic masculinity” is running wild.

By focusing on examples of insensitive and emotionless male behavior, Stanton believes that the authors' findings are only fueling requests for current ideas of masculinity to be torn and thrown away. Defining any social group, including young men, by its extremes is wrong, he argues.

Another male critic, who wrote in Chicago in response to an article by Orenstein in The Atlantic, suggested that the symptoms of "toxic masculinity" tend to be ignored by men as they grow up. He also felt that Orenstein's choice to study young white athletes, or college sportsmen, had distorted his results: "If she had spoken with members of the debate team, for example, or with the theater club or the school band, she could have opened a window to a very different landscape."

Discussion necessary?

Orenstein’s book, which has the full title Boys & Sex, Young Men on Hookups, Love, Porn, Consent, and Navigating the New Masculinity, is a follow-up to his 2016 success, Girls & Sex, and his frank attitude in discussing sex means that he is likely to appeal far beyond academic circles.

Before writing, she took two years to talk to boys across America, mostly in college and aged 16 to 21. What she found was that when these smart young people were asked to describe “the ideal guy”, they often “seemed to date back to 1955”.

Orenstein wondered if the parents had been looking the other way for too long: “Feminism may have provided girls with a powerful alternative to conventional femininity and a language with which to express the countless problems that have no name, but there were no credible equivalents for boys. Quite the contrary: the definition of masculinity seems, in some aspects, to contract ”.

'Casual homosexuality'

Certainly, this is one of the main messages to take the last hit of the Pixar family, Onward. It tells the story of two teenage elf brothers, voiced by British star Tom Holland and Chris Pratt, who live in a magical version of the suburbs and are struggling with their father's death.

Director Dan Scanlon's film topped the American box office on its opening weekend, grossing £ 30,5 million, and won accolades for honestly dealing with male emotional blocks. “The fraternal bond between the brothers and their painful anger at the loss of their parents are evoked with exquisite sadness and clarity”, wrote Wendy Ide, of the Observer.

However, several Middle Eastern countries opposed Onward's liberal sensibilities and, more specifically, his casual acceptance of homosexuality. Now it cannot be shown in Kuwait, Oman, Qatar or Saudi Arabia, according to showbusiness journals. The offending character is policeman Specter, voiced by actress Lena Waithe, who spoke of his satisfaction in playing Pixar's first openly gay role.

These critical reactions may indicate that modern efforts to redefine gender conventions are doomed, if not to failure, to infinite levels of complexity. And limiting the discussion to biological sex is not much simpler.

A teacher at a boys' school in Baltimore entered the American debate last month to point out that when teenagers are supposed to be emotionally insensitive, it may seem to them that they are being considered immature or even stupid.

In fact, he argued, most boys are capable of complex thoughts at all ages, as are girls: “Boys understand each other - good, bad and ugly - a little more than we give them credit for, and this knowledge worries them. It shouldn't just concern us - the adults around us - it should drive an immediate change in our actions and attitudes ”.

"Problems are there"

Orenstein suppressed criticism of his approach with a clear defense. Many boys can mature due to bad behavior, but some do not, she suggests, and, what happens to them in the future, what do they harm? Among their main discoveries, the boys are concerned with the sensitivity of appearing on a first date.

They also complain that asking for permission to initiate physical intimacy is perceived as something full-bodied or, as you might say, "lame". Meanwhile, pornography, homophobia, misogyny and racism pose real problems on American university campuses, says Orenstein.

The book was widely received by both men and women. Last month, The Good Men Project, which proposes to examine “what it means to be a good man in today's society”, published a story that announced Orenstein's “overview of compassion and openness about some of the problems that the boys face in the United States. society".

Teachers and parents should start talking to boys about sex, according to its author, New York State professor Jeff Frank, due to the wide availability of pornography: “At the very least, we have to help boys see that sex it is not a competitive act. "

Also important, Frank thought, is helping boys to develop the emotional strength to be alone sometimes. "It is not a matter of telling the boys who they should be, but of creating the conditions that allow them to act consciously and grow up as men they hope to become."

Source: Guardian // Image credits: Allstar / Disney / Pixar

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