Monday, July 8, 2013

girls rule and boys drool

as the mother of a 7-year-old boy and a woman who counsels kids and teens, in my spare time i keep my eyes open for social trends and hypothesize underpinnings of these trends. anecdotally, i am seeing uber-confident girls and bumbling, defeated boys. i am bereft and a bit heart-heavy about my son's future - psychologically, socially, economically - when i see the robust presentation of his female peers. found a book that validates and quantifies what i'm seeing: dan kindlon's alpha girls: understanding the new american girl and how she is changing the world. kindlon has an earlier work published, raising cain: protecting the emotional life of boys. it's in my amazon shopping cart.

title of post is direct quote from alpha girls. this witty little ditty has tentacled itself in my mind. can't get rid of it. i hate it, clever as it is. here's what kindlon says to explain aphorism:

"researchers have observed that young female chimps ... are smarter than young male chimps, at least when it comes to learning how to fish for termites. young female chimps watch their mothers select the right size stick to dip into the termite mound and quickly learn to imitate them. the young males, on the other hand, pay their mothers no mind. they are inattentive, rolling around in the dirt and generally slacking off. the young females start fishing for termites on their own at a much earlier age than the males - on average over two years earlier - and they remain more proficient fishers as adults....this picture of young female chimps as focused, receptive learners fits well with our portrait of academically accomplished girls move in positions of power and prominence, what will happen to boys? will their penchant for figuratively horsing around while their female peers master important life skills mean that they are going to become increasingly irrelevant?"

later in his text, kindlon begins to identify boys as perpetually "rolling around on the termite mound."

in conversations with folks - especially moms - tentative mentions of anecdotal observations are vigorously defended against. i am politically incorrect to affirm that the three waves of feminism have really been advantageous for girls, yet have left boys far far behind. i am anti-girl-power if i say such things. listening shuts down, mothers self-righteously label me conservative (!), and stomp off, muttering to their daughters, "she's jealous because you're __________ than her son!"

i respectfully beg to differ. my son has a higher emotional IQ than some of his girl peers at an enlightened montessori. many an afternoon's drive home was spent validating anger and sadness when nicholas reported yet another variation of, "sophia says girls are better than boys. mommy, is that true?" mommy CBT shrink carefully listens, validates, challenges irrational belief, installs rational cognition, and ... prays for a different outcome tomorrow. tomorrow usually brought more of the same. said girl, sophia, oldest of two sisters, daughter of loud, vociferous, know-it-all mother, usually found myriad ways in the span of eight and a half months to impress upon my son that she has it as fact that girls are just so much more than boys.

in thinking (a lot) about these subjective affirmations in which she is the winner, i wondered if this is not some kind of psychological bullying. here i am, teaching my son that we are all different and different is wonderful (!), and there is her mother, teaching her, "you are the best because you are a girl." i began to tell my son that those kinds of statements - totalitarian, subjective, us vs. them - are hurtful, untrue, and indicative of bullying behaviors. he rallied around this heartily! i won. this time. i buffered his flagging self-esteem. but i know my son. he is kind and sniffs out injustice a mile away. is crushed when he perceives unkindness. it renders his tools null and void.

so i revisit this girls-vs-boys thing with my son pretty often. to make sure he GETS it. to make sure he recognizes that girls who affirm, as one of kindlon's subjects does, "i will get what i want because i am aggressive," are bullysih, the statements offensive and unilaterally competitive, whether they come out of a girl's or boy's mouth. beliefs such as this preclude understanding, cooperation, kindness, definitely room for error.

kindlon's - indeed, america's - alpha girls score high on masculine traits. these traits are measured by items such as, "when i play games i like to win." or, "i would rather do things on my own than ask for help."

is this what hundreds of years of feminism has gotten us? girls who score high on masculine traits? it seems that mostly it has. in my practice, i see teenage boys, young men, and older men, all with myriad psychological symptoms, but most of them with the underlying theme of what it means to be a man. i salute the freedoms feminism has gained for women. but even twenty years ago, besotted with it after my first philosophy course in feminism, i had an inkling about the lopsidedness of the argument. i did not identify as a man-hater; i wanted an inclusive world. i wanted a kind and just and fair world. of course this was idealistic utopian wishful thinking; of course it can't come to be as such. however, the empowerment of women (alone) has left a huge gap in its wake whose effects we are starting to see now. no revolution of maleness as a gendered construct has been suggested. shoddy efforts were made to redefine masculinity, but these efforts came from “woodsmen” who called on men (and boys) to take up their axes and tromp out to the woods while beating their chests. far from imbuing maleness with flexibility (as feminism did for girls), these bearded 20th-century tarzans advocated for the continued inculcation of uber-masculine traits in boys.

and where are we now?

well. i, for one, am angry at the reality of alpha girls, contemplative about the male gender role – let’s be clear about this, it IS a socially-prescribed role - and compassionate about my son's fervent tears and disarmament in the face of sophie's bold statements.

one day at a time. one fallacious statement at a time. if we truly want a just society, we would do well to start empowering our boys to cry, to hug and kiss more, to talk about their hurts and fears, to draw and dance and sing and build and cook and cry in the face of injustice and unfairness and to take up "arms" against these injustices. including the discipline to stop rolling around on the termite mound, for God's sake!