**The following is an excerpt from the Higher Unlearning post ‘Understanding Boys, Understanding Girls‘**
I spoke at a conference in Toronto back in 2012 where my mission was to hang with a group of Grade 4 boys, all day. All. Day. Just me.
These boys from various parts of the city settled in, as their educators then went into their own day session. A freckled boy with long red hair came by himself and sat down. A young boy then whispered loudly to his small group of fellow classmates at end of the room “Yo, is that a GIRL??”
And there it was, right on time, that train is never late.
Pressures to be a certain way.
Pressures to enforce a certain way of being.
We started out the day talking about how there are rules for people deemed boys and girls to behave and act a certain way. These ideas are enforced in spaces like our commercials and what they try to make you buy. We looked at this by checking out the Gender Remixer website. The site allows you to mash up the audio from commercials geared to boys and the video from commercials geared towards girls, and vice versa.
Whenever I use this site and mash up TV commercials for an audience of young boys or girls, they first burst out in laughter and then erupt in conversation. They get it. They understand how products are marketed to them…soft, high-pitched voices for girls inviting them to be friends…aggressive adult voices calling boys to join them in battle.
Go ahead…you know you wanna take it for a spin.
An interactive portion I present in every talk or session I run with people of any age and walk of life is “What do you like/dislike about identifying as a certain gender” or “What do you like/dislike when people assign a gender to you based on your appearance?” When I ask a younger group the question is usually “what do you like or dislike about being a boy or a girl” (We later discuss how this really isn’t a binary discussion, but your experiences in life are based on how many people will interact with you as either a boy or girl)
I asked this group of fifty Grade 4 boys to get into groups and answer the question. Here is the list from one breakout group of those Grade 4-6 boys:
As you can see some of the boys pointed out pressing pet peeves like how ‘boys smell bad’ or ‘grow hair everywhere’. Many usually share thoughts such as how they don’t like that boys get very competitive, leading to aggressive behaviour or cheating to be labelled a ‘winner’. In all respects, it is all about being a winner for boys, sometimes at all costs. Some will talk about how boys always are in trouble, as one boy indicated here with ‘…an automatic bad reputation’.
One particular answer stood out to me with this list.
It was the one at the top of the list : ‘not being able to be a mother’. I asked “who said this answer?” Usually one of the standard responses from boys of all ages during this exercise is how they like that ‘we don’t have to give birth’ (usually followed by a lot of head-nodding). A little fellow put his hand up, I asked him if he’d explain what he meant. This tiny thoughtful Grade 4 boy stood up to talk, the same boy who said he wanted to ‘be a politician when I grow up’. He explained that when you see commercial for a baby dolls, it’s always girls playing with the dolls and how boys don’t get to be mothers.
I said “…but you could be a Father? That’s what you could do…be a dad!”
He looked at me with a confused look like I spoke in another language.
My mind raced as I wondered just how many of these fifty boys had physically-present but not emotionally-present fathers or role-models, or had fathers who were present at all. If they did hang out, they did little more than throw the ball around.
We need more Maps to Manhood.
When we reinforce outdated codes and ideas of manhood, these young boys will strive to achieve a standard of being a man that ensures they will fail as a human being.
Some of the other pieces we discuss include how boys are pressures to assert their masculinity and prove their manhood in everyday activities everyday all day. This leaves us with a world of boys and men pretending: trying to achieve an unattainable state of manhood.
Together, we can change this world.
The world we live in is the world we shape.
**Read the full story in the Higher Unlearning post ‘Understanding Boys, Understanding Girls‘*