Helping Our Boys Thrive Amidst Skewed Images of Gender and Sexuality

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You know that scene in the Wizard of Oz where Dorothy spies the man behind the curtain? That’s kind of how I feel after reading The Achilles Effect. 

After reading the book, it’s impossible to miss the gender-oriented messages that are everywhere. Case in point: I had a few minutes to waste before interviewing Achilles author Smith earlier this week. To pass the time, I clicked on Google news. In less than 2 minutes, I stumbled across a story about a new potato chip that’s being marketed to males. The bag is black; the product is bold and spicy. And it’s going to be launched at a party featuring MAXIM magazines Hot 100 Girls. What does that tell our sons about what men are expected to be?

But there’s hope. Parents remain powerful influences in their sons’ lives, and there’s much we can do to counter the stereotypical message that our boys are receiving from the pop culture. Here a few suggestions from Chapter 7 of The Achilles Effect:

  • Expose your sons to TV shows, movies and books that feature well-rounded male and female characters. TV shows like PBS’s Arthur are a great choice for preschool-aged boys.
  • Watch and read with your boys, and ask questions. Try asking your son what he likes about a particular book or TV show. His answer may surprise you — and it might give you the opening to share your thoughts, or to suggest other books, movies and TV shows that he may like as well.
  • Talk about the stereotypes. My boys know that I hate the bumbling Dad stereotype that’s present in so many TV shows. I may not be able to control what the TV executives put on TV, but I can be sure that my boys know it’s not reality.
  • Model good behavior. Make sure your sons see males partaking in housework and childcare, and women playing sports. Maintain a healthy attitude toward food and exercise, instead of obsessing over body shape and size.
  • Watch your language. Comments such as “man up” are not helpful for little boys. Boys and girls (as well as men and women) should be allowed to cry and express emotion and vulnerability.
  • Teach media literacy. Help your kids see behind the curtain. My kids have become pretty savvy at dissecting the hidden messages of TV commercials. (Have you seen the new Capri Sun commercials that seem to imply that if you love your son, you’ll buy Super V? Interestingly, the commercial also seems to imply that moms need to withdraw from their older sons, lest they completely smother them.)
  • Create balance. It’s OK for your son to play with plastic weapons and trucks. But he might want to play with dolls or a toy kitchen set also. Offer your boys all kinds of toys, and involve children of both sexes in household tasks such as cleaning and yard work.

 

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