The Revolution That Hasn’t Happened
“Microbubble, Toil and Trouble,” Shakespeare wrote. Actually, it’s “Double, Double, Toil and Trouble” in neat trochaic tetrameter, like a scary nursery rhyme. Either way, it’s about trouble and I’m asking for it. I’m wading into the dangerous waters of discussing boys. If you didn’t notice already, I’m a boy, a man, a male.
Girls have fought against the headwinds of culture, liberating themselves in many ways. The current tsunami of revelation exposing decades of inappropriate behavior by men in power, disturbing sexual harassment, puzzling exhibitionism, and worse is driven by younger norms that refuse to tolerate this behavior, part of the same sea change in gender identification and same-sex marriage. The newspaper headlines, Senate hearings, and court cases of today will be a deterrent for tomorrow.
Insufficiently included in the conversation of the moment are the vast number of boys, now men, simultaneously coming forward after decades of exploitation in the Church. These are troubling times. There is way more abuse than our society has been willing to come to terms with, and it’s been around forever.
The suppression goes easily back to Freud in the Victorian Era and his “Seduction Theory.” Freud originally discovered that virtually all his patients, female and male, had been abused as children, even realizing his own father was an abuser of his brother. But his theory was professionally shunned, so he famously reversed himself declaring instead that his patients had not been abused but had repressed their wishful fantasies of incest, shifting the blame from adult to child, moving the suspicion from abuser to abused, a concept central to every abuser’s denial.
The abuse has to stop, but there is another party lost in this dilemma – boys. There, I said it.
Boys have been defined by what is wrong with them, their swagger viewed in only negative terms. We don’t support the kind of the guy you never see or hear about – a red-blooded boy, with raging hormones and all the proper working parts, but still the kind of guy who is thoughtful, genuine, and put off by inappropriate stuff. These boys are not unicorns. They exist.
Do that Googling thing and you’ll see tons of stuff on how boys are a largely ignored crisis. I date the current crisis to 9/11 the single most photographed and recorded event in history. Simultaneously, in those years, social media began and online porn with pop-ups and online computer games inundated boy’s lives. Those kids were deeply disturbed by all this. Many have not recovered. What parent hasn’t wrestled with these factors? Women don’t even want men who watch too much porn, who have no idea what foreplay is, and think sex is a form of acrobatics.
One truth should be evident. There is a dearth of positive male role models from the youngest ages, as evidenced in the case history of every sexual abuser in the male universe. We have little positive to offer our boys, no new paths to a functional way of being or reinforcement for the guys who have better qualities and know how to behave. When a society can’t bring itself to envision something better, then it doesn’t have the will and wherewithal to change.
Children’s television can be a litmus test for the culture at large. In the 1950s, we lived in a G.I. Joe/Barbie World. Those toys defined our gender politics and the layout of every toy store in America.
Twenty-five years ago, there was an opening for a clever, assertive, sensitive girl. I was fortunate to create Clarissa Explains It All and participate in helping provide an example for girls, a girl who wasn’t overly stereotypical, who couldn’t be categorized as “tomboy,” “girly girl,” or “seductress.” She was perfectly imperfect. She didn’t want to become a star. She wanted to be a star in her own life. She invented her own style, designed videogames, and was friends with a boy who wasn’t a “boyfriend.”
One reason I created a girl was that networks would have never accepted a boy as clever as Clarissa. They still won’t. The same dismissive attitude toward girls that Clarissa proved wrong, today is applied by every network to boys. As ground-breaking as Clarissa was for Millennial girls, networks still won’t accept an equally clever boy.
Look at the male tropes that dominate: a real man, a jock, a sissy, a nerd, a villain, a superhero – or these days, an abuser. In cinema, every male hero and comic-book character has been bludgeoned to death with Joseph Campbell’s version of the hero’s journey. It’s why these male characters are predictable, dreary – boring. It’s way more deadly than Kryptonite.
“Boys will be boys” has become a negative. I’m not a Latin expert, but my understanding is the Latin origin of the idiom meant “Children will be children and do childish things.” The equivalent creation, which is more recent, “girls will be girls,” is an empowering phrase. Non-gender bias should work both ways.
Boys of one stripe or another are half the future, half of the equation in sexual equality, more than half of the issue in sexual violence. It’s time for the overdue revolution for boys.