Parent question: “I really enjoy your blog and am working hard to raise my daughter with a broader view than just princess, even though they are her first love. I also have two boys. One almost two the other almost nine. I was hoping you could help me find some good balancing resources for them as well. I feel like I’m focused on making a whole girl but not the whole boy. Thanks.”
This image was originally shared as a straw man argument against feminism, but if we present it differently I think it actually raises some interesting questions. What are your reactions to this image, questions it raises, and the message it sends?
There does seem to be more outrage over (or more coverage of the outrage over) Barbie’s body than He-Man’s, though certainly his has come into question by many people. Some questions to consider:
~ Is the reason for this because there is far greater pressure from media towards women and their bodies vs pressure on men?
~ Are beauty standards more rigid for women than for men?
~ Is He-Man fantasy but Barbie closer to the reality of expectations and therefore more offensive? He-Man is a dream hero, Barbie is the norm?
~ Do we expect men to be “built” and therefore the He-Man body isn’t alarming?
~ Is there more awareness about body image for girls/women than there is for boys/men?
I am a feminist raising a son and I am concerned about his body image. I feel it is easy to avoid toys and media with body representations like this for him. It is not so easy with my daughter. When Benny was 3-4 years old he had an obsession with Spider Man and the accompanying gang of super heroes. He wore a Spider Man suit every day for four months straight, the kind with the built in muscles. We tried to take out some of the padding because the muscles were so ridiculous, and we discussed that action with him. The toys he plays with now really leave me with zero concern for his body image, I just don’t see Angry Birds and Legos as being a threat. For my daughter, though, it is an entirely different story.
As with most things, I don’t think this is a zero-sum game. I think feminists, scholars, activists and parents can focus on body image for both boys AND girls and try to make head way. I don’t want my son or daughter expecting people to look like the images above. We can make smart decisions about the toys and media we allow in, and have thoughtful discussions with our children encouraging them to take a critical look at the messages that do sneak through. It is important for us to consider what our boys and girls are learning from depictions of masculinity and the male body.
Here are two great sources if you are interested in learning more about boys and body image:
Hat tip to Lori Day for the image.
What about the boys? There is so much focus on how girls are treated by society and media, it is a valid question to stop and ask if we are giving the same considerations to boys and what that impact might be.
I notice it most with teens and young men, their movements are like a choreographed dance, their gait and posturing all mimicking each other. In college my girlfriends and I called it “The Man Dance”, as we sat there waiting for these boys to really figure out what it meant to be a man. But you’d look into their eyes, or have a long conversation with one of your guy friends, and realize they are just as confused, uncertain, excited, compassionate, and lonely as we were. We were allowed to show it, of course, because we were girls. The boys couldn’t because then the homophobic slurs would start, and our friend would be teased for having any human emotion beyond indifference and arrogance.
I was raised with brothers and am now raising a son. I’ve always had a close group of guy friends, even now, and I feel like I understand their insecurities and hopes and ambitions. My husband is the kind of man who says ‘I love you’ to all of us all of the time, who is affectionate and intelligent and thoughtful. He is a “man’s man”, but he is a man who respects women and is kind and gentle to children. He has emotions, we’ve seen him cry over more than just sports. Our son is allowed to dance and wear toe polish and love art with as much freedom as he is allowed to love racing down the street on his bike and mud stomping through creeks and catching bugs. He is allowed to be a human being, to laugh and cry and worry and whoop and shy away.
But not all boys have that right. Yesterday I heard a mother tell her eighteen month old son not to be “such a wuss” because he didn’t want to kill a bug. I heard a group of teen boys walking down the city street in front of my house, one boy being teased for being a “pussy”. He must have committed some indiscretion against the Man Code which immediately earned him the fate of being feminized and degraded.
And I wonder, will they be allowed the space to grow into their own manhood? What kind of men will they be? Or will they have to wear the mask?
My friend and colleague Jennifer Siebel Newsom has begun a new project looking at all of these issues facing our boys. Whether you have sons or daughters or no children, how our society treats its youngest members is impacting all of us. Jennifer and I have talked to each other about the hopes and dreams we have for our children and how the media and culture impacts our vision of the people our children can become. Jennifer is raising two daughters and a son.
Her new project, The Mask You Live In, will be a 75 minute documentary featuring powerful interviews with popular thought leaders and celebrities as well as academics and experts in neuroscience, biology, psychology, anthropology, sociology, ethics, education, sports, media, and history. It will be an exploration of American masculinity, and what prices our boys pay to fill that role.
From the Kickstarter campaign page: “The Mask You Live In documentary will examine how gender stereotypes are interconnected with race, class, and circumstance, and how kids are further influenced by the education system, sports culture, and mass media- video games and pornography in particular. The film also highlights the importance of placing emphasis on the social and emotional needs of boys through healthy family communication, alternative teaching strategies, conscious media consumption, positive role modeling and innovative mentorship programs.”
I hope you join PPBB in supporting this much needed project. Jennifer has set to to continue the discussion and increase the comprehension of gender inequality in our country. Click HERE to visit the Kickstarter page to support this project, even a $25 or $50 donation will push the project forward.
I asked the Facebook Community to share with us what challenges and stereotypes their sons face. My own concerns are echoed in their comments. A Cliff Notes version would read something like allowing boys to feel and express their emotions, play with dolls and enjoy fancy things like dress up and nail polish, balancing violence/weapon play, and doing away with phrases such as “He’s all boy” or “Boys will be boys”.
My hope is as we continue to move into a space that involves advocating for childhood for both boys and girls, we can support parents raising boys in a culture that doesn’t really allow them a boyhood. Whereas we’ve talked for years about girls being sexualized and stereotyped since birth, I think equally so our very little boys are rushed into a quasi-manhood they aren’t ready for.
Here are some quotes direct from our parents:
“Personally, I’d like to see the end of “boys will be boys.” No, gender is not an excuse for inappropriate behavior. It shouldn’t be reason to encourage such behavior either. I think a much better saying is, “Boys will be men.” We need to think about who we are raising in regards to both genders. We are not raising perpetual 8 year olds. We are raising men and women.” -Michelle B
“I’ve got three boys each very different kids. My oldest loves his longer hair, despite the kids at school mocking it, luckily he has male family members with long hair to show him all the different ways to look. My middle is pretty rough and tough but he loves purses, babies and dress up. A typical kid experiencing the world. The baby is mostly happy go lucky but we get some comments for him wearing pink socks, or a pink swimsuit (his sister is the next youngest so we have lots of pink baby socks) I just wish my boys were allowed to be kids, like colours and activities without having genders assigned to them.” -Crystal G
“The saying “He’s all boy” rubs me the wrong way. People always say it when my son is being super active/energetic or playing with sticks or something like that. No one ever says “he’s all boy” when he is carrying his beloved baby doll or tenderly wrapping her in a blanket. No one ever says he’s all boy when he is cooking me a pretend cake or when he drapes his sister’s purse over his shoulder. Does he suddenly become half boy/half girl when he does those things??! Why don’t we just say “He’s all kid!” or better yet just ask him what his baby’s name is or what flavor cake he’s making…*sigh*” -Ruthann T
“Guns as toys. And violent play altogether. I recently looked for an action figure for a friend’s three year old son and couldn’t find anything without a gun. He got plenty of toy guns for his birthday, and the kids all ran around “killing” each other during the party. It was horrifying watching a kid put a shiny toy gun to my daughter’s head, yell “you’re dead!” and run away laughing. Kids, most often boys, are taught to play murder before they even know what death is. I worry that guns are so commonplace in our toys and entertainment that kids will stop being shocked when they encounter real ones.” -Lisa Y
“I wish it was “okay” for a little boy to be masculine. There seems to be a pendulum swing from “no, you can’t like pink” to “you must like pink”. Our boys do need to be taught nurturing, it’s not just for girls, but just as we’ve started a movement for girls to be girly AND tough, it seems that we’re focusing on “sensitizing” our boys, and taking away their “tough”. It seems to me that boys have been stripped of their identity in an effort to groom them to be more sensitive, and the little boy who has no natural inclination to wear a pink tutu or play dolls, runs the risk of being labeled a caveman who grows up to beat his wife. (That’s a bit tongue-on-cheek.) There’s too much political correctness in childhood. Adults are projecting way too much on what should simply be child’s play.” -Amanda J
“Boys get the “male role” installed on them beginning at a very young age. There are different phases presented throughout this male role installation. It starts with teaching boys that they are not who they think they are. They are not able to identify with certain emotions (i.e.; fear, sensitivity, etc.) and are made to realize that they are wrong for feeling what’s natural. Then they have no way to resolve the pain and hurt they face. This is where coping mechanisms enter the picture. It gets worse because then we start teaching boys that not only are they not supposed to do what’s natural (inherently true) but that they are ‘better than” other people. We teach them that they are superior to girls and gays and that girls and gays are “less than” boys. In doing this we introduce sexuality (i.e.; your gay, don’t be a girl) before boys even know what sexuality is.” -Josh B
“What they need is the freedom to explore those interests, whether they are “gender-typical” or not. We have to get past the idea that there is only one way to be a boy.” -Crystal Smith of Achilles Effect
and finally, I think this says it all…..
“We need a broader definition of boyhood.” -Amanda B
Mentioned above, my friend and colleague Crystal Smith is a mother to two boys and the author of “Achilles Effect: What Pop Culture is Teaching Young Boys About Masculinity”. It is an excellent read, and I highly recommend it. Especially if you are new to looking at the stereotypes our boys face, it will be a real eye-opener.
Here is a post Crystal just wrote about boys and the expectation to be “tough”….Click HERE.
This post by our friend Sarah Jay of The Mauve Dinosaur does a great job of explaining why we’re all in this, together….Click HERE.