Author Peggy Orenstein has a new book out this week, Boys & Sex: Young Men on Hookups, Love, Porn, Consent and Navigating the New Masculinity. (Spoiler alert: we’ll be interviewing Orenstein on ON BOYS podcast later this month.) Orenstein’s been making the media rounds and as glad as I am that boys are getting national attention, I kind of just want to scream.
Why? Check out the introduction of this GMA segment:
Did you catch that? The GMA reporter started by saying, “This is pretty eye-opening stuff.”
Maybe. Maybe if you don’t have any boys or interact with any boys. Maybe if you don’t read or pay attention. Maybe if you are so focused on girls’ issues that you forget that there are other humans in the world. But it’s not at all eye-opening to those of us who are raising or teaching or coaching boys.
Yes, boys are struggling! Today’s boys are trying to make their way in a society that hasn’t yet fully recognized or accepted that young males are full, complex human beings. Today’s boys — and their parents — are trying to navigate a world that more often portrays boys & men as “the problem,” rather than complex humans or valuable assets to society. We, collectively, are so quick to come down on boys who don’t live up to our evolving standards, but just as quick to dismiss a teenage boy who says he feels prejudice and bias when women and girls cross the street because they think he might be a rapist.
We parents of boys have been screaming about boys’ struggles in school for years. We are intimately aware of the fact that increased academic expectations at increasingly young ages, coupled with decreased free play, have disproportionately harmed our sons, whose brains mature on a different timeline than girls’. We parents (and our boys) know that many boys’ interests — from video games to race cars — aren’t welcome in the classroom, especially in the early years. We don’t want our sons to grow up to be mass murderers or sociopaths or rapists either — but neither do we think that shaming boys who draw weapons or write “war” stories is necessarily the best way to go about achieving those aims.
Those of us raising boys know that our boys need and want our love and respect. Today’s boys are a lot more ready to embrace emotions and intimacy than many adults, but they’re caught in a culture that still assigns position and power to those we act in stereotypical ways. Our boys want us to see them and love them and accept them for who they are, but frankly, when they look around, they see that it’s not yet fully safe for them to live authentically.
Things are changing. As I argued this week in a TRT Roundtable discussion, the #MeToo movement has inspired parents of boys to think deeply about how to raise good men. The question of how to raise good guys is on our minds every day. But we can’t get there alone. If we are to raise a generation of boys who are more open, more honest, more consistently respectful to all than the generations that came before them, we need the rest of society to recognize, embrace and support our boys as well.