September 20, 2018

Help Boys Be Better Boys

Amid the soul-searching that has followed the Florida shooting, there has been an implicit acknowledgement that there are in fact differences between the sexes. My friends on the left posted and reposted this stat: 98 percent of mass shootings are committed by men.

After decades of hearing that there are zero differences between the sexes, this acknowledgment is quite welcome. Unfortunately, the fact that it is being used to prop up a “masculinity is toxic” argument undermines its usefulness. Imagine what could be gained if we put theory aside and began to look at reality again.

First, let’s be clear: Masculinity did not cause the deaths of 17 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. A legally bought AR-15 did. An AR-15, combined with systemic failure on the part of the FBI, the police and school officials.

Second, this interest in sexual differences is based on a false premise: that these differences are “constructed” by society, that evil parents condition boys to be boys by continuously telling them to “stop with the emotion,” encouraging aggression, and prohibiting their desire to play with dolls.

When my son was 3, he ran to join the dozen other boys watching a construction site next to the playground. Not one girl stopped to watch, and I remember thinking: Maybe now the “no-difference” parents will begin to understand biological differences.

Once we return to accepting sexual differences, there’s much we can do to help boys — and girls — become their best selves.

Shortly afterward, a mother of one of his friends said to me: “I finally relented on the subject when I gave my son a Barbie and he used it to hammer down some Legos.”

I must interject here: There are, of course, some girls who enjoy watching construction sites and some boys who like to play with dolls. When we talk about sexual differences, we’re talking about how the majority of males and females act.

Boys are generally more physically aggressive than girls, and it’s not because of parental encouragement. In fact, good parents work hard at channeling their sons’ aggression into healthy, constructive pursuits. My son and I used to watch “The Ten Commandments” a lot, and every time we came to the scene where brawny Joshua helps to save Moses’ mother from being crushed, I made a point of saying, “See, this is how we use our strength.”

Unfortunately, some boys become bullies; their aggression turns violent, their energy is used to destroy, not create. This we surely can call toxic masculinity, and it is clear the Florida shooter fell into this category.

Would various Broward County institutions have been better equipped to treat him if there was a deeper understanding of how masculinity can turn toxic? No doubt. All schools — society in general — would gain radically from even an acknowledgement of sexual differences and the problems that can emerge.

Right now, most schools operate under the neutralization theory promulgated by academia for the past three decades: attempt to neutralize all differences. At my son’s elementary school, this has amounted to boys in kindergarten being sent to the principal’s office if they can’t sit completely still for hours on end. Oh, and gym class has been cut to once a week, and there’s only 20 minutes of recess. If it rains or snows, the kids are forced to sit for more than six hours with zero physical activity.

Would frequent diagnoses of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and other behavioral issues be significantly reduced if kids, especially boys, were allowed more time to run around? I looked at the schedule of the top all-boys school in New York as an answer: vigorous activity, academic work, vigorous activity, academic work.

The point is, once we return to accepting sexual differences, there’s much we can do to help boys — and girls — become their best selves. Belittling boys and men, the current trend, is not going to get us to that point.

My hope is that the horrific Florida shooting leads to much change, from gun laws to FBI responsiveness. It would not be insignificant if it also leads to a better understanding of differences between the sexes, and what can be done to foster self-respect and dignity for all kids.

It’s well past time to tear down the false gods, whether promulgated by the National Rifle Association or gender studies departments.


Karen Lehrman Bloch is a cultural critic and author.