Is Society Purposely Messing with Boys' Heads?

A very thoughtful and surprisingly moving piece by Anthony Esolen, at Inside Catholic:

Why, I wonder, do boys these days get no love? What have they done to deserve their treatment at our hands?

Recently, a boy competing for his high school in the Iowa state wrestling tournament chose to forfeit his initial match rather than wrestle against a girl. He spoke about his decision with an admirable reserve and good sense, saying that wrestling could be a violent sport, and that in this case he had to follow his conscience and his faith. He believed, in other words, exactly what in almost any other circumstances he would be taught as an absolute rule, and that is that a man is not to raise his hand in anger against a woman, and that he is not to touch a woman who is not his wife in the way that wrestling makes necessary — grabbing under the legs, pressing chest to chest, and worse.

And there are other considerations, harder to talk about, but ones that should have occurred to sensible people — should have, that is, if there were the slightest thought for the feelings of the boy in question. The boy would have been peculiarly vulnerable. The wrestling suit is skin tight. What if he should be aroused? What if he should hesitate to use certain holds, out of embarrassment — an embarrassment, I might add, which is natural and to be respected? Nor is the girl in exactly the same situation. She can only win, and he can only lose. If she loses and he wins, well, that is only what is “supposed” to happen, given that even before they grow tall and broad shouldered, boys are still usually stronger than girls. But if she wins, her name will be on all the sports pages across the state, as well as his.

We can say all day long that he should not feel humiliated, conveniently forgetting that it is not a man we’re talking about, but a boy, and one struggling, like all boys in the straits of puberty, to grow into his manhood, to become, wiser people would say, the sort of man who would take for granted that his duty is to protect women, not to pin them to the ground. That struggle is the more acute as the boy in question is small and light, wrestling at 112 pounds. What sport can a 112-pound boy play that would allow him to be an equal member of a team of his mostly bigger and heavier and stronger brothers? The one sport that affords him the best chance of it is wrestling. Why, then, should the smallish kid be placed in this predicament? Why do his feelings and his needs count for nothing?

Emphasis mine. That’s a question I wonder about often: why have we allowed notions of “equity” and “tolerance” to become narrow one-way streets, completely at odds with the broad boulevards they were supposedly designed to be? Esolen’s piece is called “Benign Neglect or Calculated Malignity?” and the title zeroes in on the way well-intended movements toward inclusivity and esteem-building for perceived “victim” classes have led to the thoughtless exclusion and neglect of others, and an apparent unwillingness to attempt true balance.

In an era where the number of women earning bachelors and masters degrees (or entering law and medical schools) now exceeds the number of men, there has as yet been no adjusting of the “celebrate girls” narrative. Increasingly, it seems that boys are encouraged to subdue their natural inclinations and embrace passivity while the girls are encouraged to be daring. Why must either sex be passive, why can’t both be daring? Why does it seem like it’s not enough to be equal – the boys must spend time with their face in the mud, until they’ve made their penance?

What ever happened seeing the dignity and worth of the human person alone, and why are we still less focused on the content of one’s character than the character of one’s chromosomes?

The question can be applied in other instances, as well. I once asked a religious sister, who insisted on expunging as many male pronouns from the liturgy as she could get away with (she hit a wall when she tried to de-sex Jesus) why she was so manic on the subject. She kindly explained that “some women have been hurt by men, and they don’t have good feelings about fathers, so it’s important that we not perpetuate the idea of God-as-Father, or as having gender at all.”

I replied, “well I’m a woman, and I’ve been hurt by men and don’t have good feelings about my father; that’s one reason I’ve always been so grateful to have the idea of a Heavenly Father who is perfect; what about women who feel as I do? Why do we get short shrift? Why can’t we echo Jesus and say ‘Abba…'”

Sister was so taken aback that she actually took “a step back” from me and said — with wide-open-eyes — “you are the first woman I have ever heard express that sentiment.”

And I shrugged and said as nicely as I could, “but I can’t possibly be the only woman in the world who feels this way; perhaps you need to get out more, sister!”

Nothing changed, though. As with this young wrestler in Iowa, the “feelings and needs” of some mattered more than the, quite equally felt, “feelings and needs” of others.

And it strikes me, thinking of it now, that the “feelings and needs” that were being served were the pessimistic, negative ones that catered-to and perpetuated a sense of aggrieved victimhood, not the more optimistic and more hopeful ones I had expressed, which seek to move beyond the implacable and earthbound past.

Touching on this in a related way Esolen writes:

If, as happens, a male teacher is not good at attracting female students to his courses, that is his problem; but if, as happens somewhat more frequently, a female teacher is not good at attracting male students to her courses, that is their problem.

Yeah, there is a cognitive disconnect going on — that one-way street, again. And it’s not just about men and women, either. We see the same mindset at work arguing that gay marriage or gay adoption should be perceived as rights so basic they should trump the right to follow the dictates of one’s church or conscience. Having the right to one’s opinion, increasingly, means having the right to live in a cultural cul de sac; no think-through traffic allowed.

Esolen’s piece ends by focusing on where the church has failed to help parents teach their sons how to be joyful men. Pope John Paul II did a wonderful job explaining the “feminine genius” of women, but perhaps there is a need to underscore, in a positive way the masculine genius as well.

All of which reminds me of this recent Eagle Scout Ceremony I attended. The masculine genius may be rooted in an almost casual, no-drama-kindness that we’ve discounted for too long.

Dr. Helen Smith, who writes and speaks frequently on this (benign or malignant) sensitivity imbalance makes note of a new radio program meant to give a Voice for Men. Who knew, when the bras were being burned, that men would come to need such a tool for the exploration and reassertion of their own inborn traits and gifts, and the expression of confused frustration at their obfuscated role in society?

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