Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Hey advertisers, boys are not buffoons!

Since I don't really watch television, I heard about the new Dr. Pepper 10 ad through social media. I am bothered by it nonetheless, and it exemplifies one of the main reasons that we don't watch television in our house. (And I should clarify that we watch plenty of series and movies on DVD or through online streaming subscriptions that are ad free. I have nothing against video as a form of media or entertainment. It is the advertisements that I take issue with.)

This new ad has managed to annoy and offend women by playing on tired old stereotypes that we thought we had for the most part left behind us. According to reports, Jim Trebilcock, executive vice president of marketing for Dr Pepper, thinks that women won't be offended because we “get the joke”. While it is does appear that the ad is hyperbolic with the possible intention of being ironically humorous, some women are offended enough to start a petition to stop the ad. I think it is safe to say that we get the joke, but not all of us think it's funny.

It can also be argued that the ad is equally offensive to men. The ultra-macho portrayal of men who fear appearing in any way un-masculine, and who overcompensate to the point of suppressing all emotions and indulging only in violence and destruction, is a condescending attempt to manipulate men's consumption by instilling insecurities. They even issued “10 Man'Ments” that are supposed to advise men on how to be more appropriately macho. This particular ad has gotten a lot of attention for being so over-the-top, but the stereotypes it is reflecting are not new to advertising. Worthwhile Canadian Initiative has written an excellent article on the topic of how men, and their relationships to women, are portrayed in ads. She says that, “[these ads] are part of a larger social trend towards seeing men and women as fundamentally, irreconcilably different.” This is a trend that is insulting and detrimental to women and men.

And it is not just women who are noticing these ads and their negative masculine images. Men are offended too. AskMen.com put together a list of Worst Male-Bashing Ads with examples that depict men as incompetent, unsophisticated, subservient, detached, immature, disposable creatures with primitive drives and mental processes. And the AskMen article points out that our children are noticing these messages too: 
“You’ve seen him plenty of times on sitcoms; he’s the dumb, bumbling, idiot dad, husband and boyfriend who appears useless at everything but bringing home a paycheck. The message: Guys are dumb and women have to lead them around. This, of course, cues the laugh track. Yet a survey from an organization called Children Now found that two-thirds of kid respondents described men on TV as angry, while respondents from another group’s survey said men were portrayed as corrupt on TV by a 17 to 1 margin. Clearly, this is no laughing matter.” 
These stereotypes seem archaic and outdated but they are still prevalent in advertising and media today. The group Media Awareness Network has categorized some of the Common Stereotypes of Men in Media: the joker, the jock, the strong silent type, the big shot, the action hero, the buffoon. These stereotypes all send a message that there are limited rigid roles that boys and men can fit into and that anything different is somehow less than manly.

So, what messages would we like to see in the media about masculinity? What would we like our children to be seeing about how men and women relate to each other?

Here is what I would like to see replace the common male stereotypes:

The Joker?
You can joke with us. We love your sense of humor as much as we love your serious side. And we love that you have the emotional intelligence and sensitivity to know when, where, and how to joke appropriately.

The Jock?
You can be an athlete. We love that you have found something that you are passionate about and talented at. We admire your kinesthetic intelligence, your hard work, and that you know how to handle the victory and defeat of competitions with grace.

The Strong Silent Type?
You can be a leader. We love your willingness to take responsibility and make difficult decisions. And we are here to support you and talk through these decisions, because we know how emotionally straining they can be. We also love that we can work in partnership, and alternate taking the lead.

The Big Shot?
You can have a successful career, and you can define that as whatever brings you a sense of fulfillment. Sometimes career will be your first priority, sometimes it will be lower on the list. We can work together to help each other balance our careers with all of the other important aspects of our lives.

The Action Hero?
You can be a hero in many different ways. Every time you speak up for what is right, act on a sense that something is unjust, help someone in need, do something kind just to do it, set an example of being true to who you are, and countless other ways, you are acting heroically strong and courageous.

The Buffoon?
You can make mistakes. You can need help with things. You can count on us. These things do not mean that you are not a smart, independent, reliable, caring, competent person. We will not mock you for being human and relying on other humans for assistance at times. We will rely on you too, and appreciate you for all that you are.

What kind of roles would you like to see boys and men fill in media? Are there any ads, shows, movies, or other media you enjoy that send positive messages about gender roles and relations? Or is there media that makes you feel good about who you are and the roles you live?

Friday, October 14, 2011

Friday Shout

I wanted to give a Friday Shout out to Hyacinth at Undercover Mother. A blog post she wrote on Monday here popped on my Google Alerts (keywords: raising boys) and I'm so glad it did.

Her post about raising boys all wrong strikes a chord in me right now. My boys are almost three and definitely overrun me on a daily basis. Since their sleep is not consistent or even present at times, I'm constantly tired and have a hard time maintaining a respect for their growing needs. I often find myself yelling at them and it's crushing to see their faces fall, yet I can't stop. I can't meet my own needs for sleep or even a shower so I feel I am failing at meeting theirs. Top it off by my challenges in finding and connecting with other moms (IRL) who strive to support and respect their children and I just end up feeling alone and frustrated. I should say I have a great community of supportive moms online but we all know it's nice to see a friendly face now and again.

So what I'm getting at is that, at a time when I'm feeling the least receptive to influence, Hyacinth's post serves as an important reminder to me to honor my boys' innate boyness and the crazy, needy, loud, quiet, jumping love they can't wait to smother all over me. They need me in ways I learn anew every day and if I am to be really present and meet those needs, I should first just listen. Not try to change their clothes or do the dishes or pack the car, just listen. They'll tell me in one of a dozen different ways what they need and if I'm really listening, I'll hear it louder every day and realize how easy it can be to be give them what they need to be the best boys - and men - they can be.

Another note about Hyacinth that I think is important to mention; her relationship with God that infuses her writing with such a brilliant perspective on raising children. This isn't the traditional strict, children-should-be-seen-and-not-heard perspective. It's refreshing and personal and new, at least to me. Check it out. I'll keep reading her blogs for inspiration and as a reminder that even if I'm feeling alone as a SAHM, I'm not really by myself.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Bedtime Battles...

...sword battles that is.

It was evident from very early on that this little boy was not going to be lulled and sung to sleep, the way that I had imagined all children could be. Instead he likes to laugh himself to sleep; usually while running, rolling, dancing, jumping, and bouncing (sometimes literally) off the walls.
And I have come to love this about bedtime with my boy.

When I decided to become a parent, one of the things that I really wanted to establish was a pleasant bedtime routine. I didn't want to have the fight every night that so many parents talk about, where they feel like their children are intentionally trying to derail their evenings just to be difficult and the children can't feel any better about their parents' intentions. So I read all kinds of books and articles about kids and sleep and bedtime rituals and routines. I thought I had all of the best ideas about how to create a peaceful, loving, calm bedtime routine.

Then my baby was born.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Future of Feminism?, Part 2

Gloria Steinem brought up a great point about how we haven't seen the same expansion in men's roles as we have in women's roles since the start of the feminist movement, and the importance of humanizing both masculine and feminine roles. We discussed this as it applies to raising our boys in a more humanized way than 'raising men' to fulfill a limited and limiting role.

In a recent article, Youth Rights Is a Feminist Issue posted on the National Youth Rights Association (NYRA) website, Kathleen Nicole O'Neal makes a call for a much needed feminist focus on youth. She discusses many examples of issues related to youth rights, and particularly the rights of young women, that would further the goal of feminism. While I disagree with her view that the male perspective continues to be the default when youth issues are discussed, I do agree that we cannot ignore the gender-specific issues that affect young people. And I wholeheartedly agree with these words:

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

THAT Parent

This CNN article, What teachers really want to tell parents
is a wonderful example of why I will always be THAT parent. You know the type, the one who:

If we give you advice, don't fight it. “
  • always fights advice from people who think they know the child I love and live with better than I do , especially when that advice does not ring true to my experience, observation, or way of living.
Take it, and digest it in the same way you would consider advice from a doctor or lawyer. “
  • doesn't just automatically trust professionals to know what is best for my family.
I have become used to some parents who just don't want to hear anything negative about their child ...”
  • gives her child the benefit of the doubt no matter how bad the situation looks.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Future of Feminism?

There is an excellent interview with Gloria Steinhem on the future of Feminism in yesterday's Huff Post. Whatever you think about GS or feminism (I think both are rad), she makes an excellent point that the future of feminism depends on the humanization of the traditional masculine and feminine roles. She goes on to say that it is these

'gender roles that are the beginning of a false human hierarchy and normalize race, class and other systems of domination to come -- even "Man's" dominion over nature. The deepest change begins with men raising children as much as women do and women being equal actors in the world outside the home. There are many ways of supporting that, from something as simple as paid sick leave and flexible work hours to attributing an economic value to all care-giving, and making that amount tax deductible. Until the masculine role is humanized, women will tend to be much better at solving dangerous conflicts. That's already happened in Ireland and Liberia, and is beginning in North and South Korea.'

We've talked about ways we can raise our boys to help them be the best possible version of themselves as human beings that are male, rather than 'raising men'. Indoctrinating young children with failed ideals will only produce more of the same failures in our culture and in our world. Raising human beings is a much more complex and delicate operation that requires our full attention and all of our relationship skills. Learning and knowing our children, both male and female, and giving them the gift of our love and attention, is a good start. Shedding many of the failed 'parenting' techniques like hitting and isolating, are great next steps. Developing and maintaining a connection with our kids and meeting their needs are ways we can keep the momentum going towards buoying our boys, girls - and humanity - to meet the challenges ahead.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Playing With Dolls

I have never enjoyed playing with dolls—not barbies with my best friend, not babies with the girl down the street, not army guys with my brother, and now I am having a really hard time playing robots with my son. They are all just dolls to me, and they are all completely boring.

 I would agree about all of the benefits I have heard can be gained from playing with dolls. It is a great opportunity to develop language skills, practice dialogue, enact various roles that you cannot fill in your real life, socialize with others in roles they normally don't fill, be imaginative and creative, practice real life skills, process difficult situations and experiences, exert complete control over a setting and the characters in it, and just have fun. But personally, I would rather act things out with my own body than with a figure. Nevertheless, I love imaginative play and my son is really into playing robots right now. There are good guys & gals and bad guys & gals and epic sagas of the ongoing struggle between the forces of good and evil. This is great stuff... in theory. In practice though, it still feels like a chore.

But today the value of this type of play really sunk in for me. While rehashing a part of the LEGO: Hero Factory movie, a really empowering statement was reinforced. There is a point in the movie when the Hero Team is getting discouraged and the team leader says to them “Always remember who you really are.” And they eagerly reply, “Heroes to the core!”. After repeating this exchange several times, I made my robot say the leader's words to my son. His reply, to my delight, was “ME to the core!”. Now that is a scenario I don't mind repeating ad nauseum. If playing with dolls can help reinforce the importance of staying true to yourself, especially in the midst of difficult times, I can enjoy that.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Another Pink vs. Blue Debate: Does It Really Matter Anymore?

This recent ABCNEWS article on gender roles and the impact of color choices for young boys has us yet again focus on the tired debate of whether boys can wear pink. In fact, they do wear light pinkpreppy pink and faded berry. They wear a lot of pink in the spring and summer, in fact. Does this challenge their manliness or is it just a fashion choice? What about the boy in the article shown wearing light pink toe nail polish and pink plastic toy heels? Still ok?

Ponder Diane Keaton in Annie Hall in her gender-bending ensembles and what they say about women. Do men who dress in feminine colors say the same about themselves or is there a different message? Are we afraid it's this message?

What are your thoughts about boys wearing pink when it's not in the form of a polo shirt?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

What Do You Love About Boys?

No, it's not a title to an 80's pop hit. It's a serious question! What do you love about the boys in your life? It could be the grown men or the tiny babies, but we want to hear what makes your heart pitter-patter when  you see your guy(s). It's important to celebrate what we like about the men in our lives as well, because it can be these qualities that we strive to instill in our little ones.

I have twin two-year-old boys and they're just starting to talk. I love hearing their voices express their opinions, likes and dislikes, wants and needs. I love hearing them get excited about seeing a lizard on the window (we live in Texas), an ant on the ground or the truck on the road. I love their great big smiles and even their crocodile tears. I love how they hug their stuffed bunnies and how much they love their Grandpa. I love watching them play and I love to play with them. I'm just in love with them right now, even on days like today when they skipped their nap and performed Armageddon, The Musical, at dinner.

I must confess here that I think I was a little secretly disappointed when I learned I was having boys. I grew up being fed the 'girls rock' diet and just knew I would be the best girl mom ever. I would support and encourage her, empower and respect her; all the things she would need to succeed in this world. Then, when these guys were born, it all changed. I would now do every one of these things for my boys but honestly - have you ever tried googling, 'empower boys'? All you get is page after page of links for empowering underprivileged boys. What about all boys? Do they need to start with a deficit before we recognize their worth? Isn't it time we give them a place, right next to girls? I digress.

What do you love about boys? Do tell!

The Purpose Of This Blog

  1. To keep afloat or aloft.
  2. To maintain at a high level; support.
  3. To hearten or inspire; uplift.

Why this blog?
This is a place for us to explore, discover, discuss, and create the resources, ideas, and practices that boys need to thrive, so that we may better support them in being resilient, healthy, empowered boys who grow into compassionate, well-adjusted, and confident men.

Don't boys already have 'male privilege'?
There is an abundance of programs, products, resources, media, clubs, etc. sending the message that girls can do anything they set their minds to, girls are powerful, girls are empowered, girls are divine, girls are competent, successful, creative, beautiful, and valuable. The success of any of these efforts is certainly open for debate. However, they are there for girls and not for boys. We have been operating with the assumption that boys are already receiving this message because of the legacy of traditional gender roles in our society. But are they still getting this message? If all they are getting is the power and value of girls, what does that teach them about themselves? What messages would we like for them to be getting?

What do boys need?
What we don't want to do is go backwards. Maybe it was simpler when roles were more clearly defined and were never questioned. But that left a lot of marginalized and unhappy people who were unable to conform. Instead, we want to forge a new way forward building on the progress that we have made, learning from oversights and failures, and finding our way to an embracing, accepting, inclusive future.