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Are young men today being marginalized?

This week's Angeles has a great article by Bishop Robert Barron:

In this article he sees some trouble with our "you-go-girl" culture.  Without marginalizing how our culture is encouraging young women to "do it for themselves," is it possible we're marginalizing our young men?  Please read this this article and see what you think...

My mother was a strong woman.  As a member of the Silent Generation, she was sandwiched in between the Greatest Generation who fought WWII, and the Baby Boomer Generation who fought the social revolution.  Actually, as an "in-betweener" myself, I can relate to her situation, sandwiched in between those same Baby Boomers who seem to rule the world, and the Millennial Generation who are taking over the world, leaving us Generation X'ers in a social void.  But I digress...

My mother was somewhat ahead of her time.  Outgoing and single when being outgoing and single wasn't appropriate for a young woman.  When her father became too ill to work due to heart disease she quit college and went to work... but not just any job, as a secretary in that boys club called Wall Street.  She and my father didn't get married until they were 27... very late by 1960 standards.  And even after their marriage her personal strength played out as my father, a merchant marine engineer, was often away at work for months at a time (bringing new meaning to the phrase, "wait until your father gets home") leaving a household and eventually 5 children to tend on her own while he was away.

Needless to say, being raised by a strong, progressive woman gave me a unique perspective on women that many of my peers didn't have.  And being the second eldest son, much of the work around the house that a father would normally do would fall into my lap, as would helping to care for younger siblings as I got older.  Changing diapers was nothing new for me when my own children were born.  Doing the cooking, the laundry, the dishes, the household cleaning were all second nature for me.  Between my mother and the Boy Scouts, my development of these and many other life skills played into my own craving for self-sufficiency and being able to take care of myself.  Needless to say, my experience, both growing up, and in my own marriage today, seem to be outside the norm.

Bishop Barron makes some very astute observations about how young men today are feeling marginalized by these media stereotypes.  Need proof?  Just look at any Disney princess movie.  Where are their fathers?  There are only two choices… either they’re dead or they’re helpless buffoons.  It’s great to show that girls know how to get it done, but as a middle-class white male, I also feel somewhat offended by this portrayal of men as being unable to take care of themselves (or being dead), or worse, being portrayed as the worst version of male privilege (I’m looking at you, Gaston!)

It is an unfortunate reality that many young people, both yesterday and today, are not taught a full course load of basic life skills.  The old stereotype of a first year college student not knowing how to do laundry, or not knowing how to cook a basic meal.  And the media, from TV sit-coms to feature films, from the dawn of their day through to today, still mine these tired stereotypes for comedy.  Years ago this could be directly attributed to defined socio-economic rolls in society, but why does this happen today in our supposedly enlightened society?

First, we have to recognize that the pull of these old social stereotypes still exist, especially in our immigrant cultures.  Add to this the more modern phenomenon of “helicopter parenting” and self-esteem education we have a recipe for building an entire generation bereft of domestic and self sufficiency skills… particularly among boys.  They go from being pampered by mom, then by their girl friend, then back to mom, and onto other female relationships that essentially have them going from one care-giver to another well beyond the time where they should be caring for themselves (which should be by age 12 if you’re doing it right).  So is it any wonder that our young men are feeling less than adequate?

So how do we fix this?  Bishop Barron is quite right when he suggests that we need to throw in an “at-a-boy” just as much as we should encourage our girls… but it has to go farther than that if we are going to break the chains of perceived gender roles and roll back the schools of “modern parenting” if we are to teach these young men how to manage on their own… to teach them the skills they need to take care of themselves and provide them the opportunities to exercise those skills.

There is no question that today’s young men must bear the consequences of male privilege that have prevailed throughout all of recorded history.  It’s no wonder they’re feeling less than stellar about their current situation.  But as they say, the first step to recovery is to first recognize the problem.  And while today’s young men may not be the perpetrators of male privilege, they must first recognize that this has been the long standing situation, and how that situation has lead to some social injustice.  Education is the key to understanding this and provides the foundation for supporting a change in the status quo.

The next thing to getting past this malaise is for them to have confidence in themselves, as people.. as contributing members of a larger society.  More often than not, it is a lack of confidence that makes them feel less than adequate.  Here again, education, training, and building experience, both in domestic and non-domestic trades will help them see that they are capable of taking care of themselves, which leads them to be in a position to care for others.

I see this a lot with young fathers.  Many of them not only recognize the need to be involved in the car-giving of this new infant, but they genuinely want to take part.  Unfortunately many new mothers, or the mothers of new mothers, will shoo them away because “they’re not doing it right.”  In this type of environment how long do you think it will take for them to cede all child care responsibilities?  In too many cases, the women in our boy’s lives must give them the opportunity to do it themselves.

By teaching our boys (and all our children) good domestic skills, there is also one very important benefit that cannot be overlooked:  It helps them build empathy.  Empathy for those whose job it is to care for others:  From hotel maids, to restaurant servers, to car mechanics, to gardeners, to school teachers, to coaches… the list just goes on and on.  Without empathy we can all too readily marginalize others, which Is not what God intended.  Instead, God felt it important enough that he sent Jesus to this world so he could see firsthand what our lives were like.  And it is that empathy leads us to the mercy of Christ.


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