You talk about how boys lose authenticity over time, or become less authentic and more performative, taking on roles rather than expressing what they really feel directly. But isn’t it good for people to learn how to be less natural in some ways? Toilet training for example; you don’t want them to do the natural thing, right?
Absolutely; being socialized is not inherently problematic. Obviously we want to teach our kids to be appropriate so they’re not at a restaurant dancing naked on the table. You want to teach them to be savvy and strategic; you don’t want them to be vulnerable in every situation and then have that vulnerability taken advantage of. But it’s more that distinction between compromise and over-compromise, in which they’re so focused on setting up a particular image that they believe will get them what they want—acceptance and popularity and success—and realizing that that comes at a cost. And that cost comes when the fit between who they are and who they feel comfortable being doesn’t perfectly match society’s expectations, and they feel like, oh, I can’t show people this part of myself, because then they won’t like me.
That’s not to say that they need to be open and out there in every situation. But they need to have at least one place or one relationship where they can do those things.
From “How boys teach each other to be boys” in The Atlantic.
One way to do this is by teaching boys and men to cultivate empathy — and not just for one another. The violence prevention organization A Call to Men, for example, encourages boys and men to recognize and reject a culture of manhood that enables violence. Part of that involves actually talking to girls.
Societally, “we teach men to distance themselves from the experiences of women and girls,” said Tony Porter, one of the organization’s co-founders. Boys aren’t encouraged to befriend girls, he said. When they do, they are teased about romantic or homosexual implications. To encourage mutual respect, however, boys and girls must be allowed the space to form meaningful bonds.
A Call to Men conducts workshops — on football fields and in community centers — across the country. During these sessions, young men are encouraged to question traditional gender roles and challenge sexist and misogynist attitudes — often in the presence of women.
“As a society, the only emotion we allow boys to have is anger. We need a critical, purposeful conversation with our sons about their experiences. Doing this early on is very important,” Porter pointed out. “Once they turn 16 or 17, they become accustomed to not talking to us.”
From “The case for raising feminist men” in AlJazeera America.