Is Building Boys Exclusively a Man’s Job?

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Photo by jDevaun via Flickr
Photo by jDevaun via Flickr

Excuse me while I take offense.

Recently, a college basketball coach told CBS reporters that a woman most likely will not head up a  men’s Division I college basketball team within the next 25 years.

That I can live with. A man put forward his best guess as to what will happen over the next quarter century. A guess is a guess, right?

But he kept talking, and his explanation makes me want to scream. For acccording to Slate.com, the coach also said:

A big part of being a college coach is molding boys into successful men. Obviously a woman can’t do that. I just don’t see a place for it.”

Them’s fighting words to any mama of boys, for this man actually said that a woman can’t mold boys into successful men.

What I really want right now is to knock on his mama’s door and get her opinion on his words. I’m going to guess that she’d tell me that she raised him better than that.

The idea that a woman can’t “mold” boys into successful men is just ludicrous, especially when evidence to the contrary is everywhere. It’s also a slap in the face to the women — mothers, teachers, coaches, Scout leaders and more — who devote their time and energy to helping boys become successful men.

And yet…

I’m reacting a 40-some year old woman, so I asked my 11-yr-old basketball-playing son what he thought of the coach’s words.

He nodded in agreement. “Makes sense,” he said.

“How?” I asked (while quietly fuming, Does this boy not see what I do everyday for him and his brothers?)

College basketball players all look up to their coaches, he said. And most college ball players aspire to be NBA players, he said, so a male coach who is former NBA player is a good and obvious choice. Women, he said, just don’t get that far in basketball. You never hear about WNBA players, he said.

Hmmm. I kinda, sorta get what he’s saying. What he’s saying, I think, is that the best college basketball coach would be someone who can bring a “been there, done that” perspective to the bench. Someone who is highly skilled and has navigated the whole ahead of these boys.

And while I reminded my son that women can (and do!) help build boys into great men all the time, I think it’s important to consider his perspective as well. Yes, his perspective is shaped by the world in which he lives. And yes, at 11, his perspective is still immature. But the reality of the matter is that role modeling is extremely important for boys and men of all ages. Boys and men often learn best by doing, by learning from a master. The master/apprentice mode of learning might seem antiquated these days, but it worked for so long because it works for boys and men.

Can women help boys become awesome men? Of course. Do women still face numerous obstacles within the worlds of sports and leadership? Absolutely. Do some people still cling to outmoded ideas of what women can or cannot do? You bet. Yet I think we need to be careful not to throw the baby out with the proverbial bathwater. We can work to break down obstacles for women while respecting boys’ strong need and desire for male teachers and role models.

As I’ve often said before, building boys is not a zero sum game. Helping boys does not mean not helping girls. Women are not more suited to help boys than men are, nor are men more suited to help boys than women. I think building boys works best when its a cooperative endeavor. What do you think?

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