Boys Don’t Kiss Boys Here

Jennifer Moss want her children, either boy or girl, to know that there’s no prescribed mold they need to fit.

“Time to clean up your toys and come downstairs to say our goodbyes.” I yell upstairs as two sweet boys come sliding down the stairs, giggling—still covered in markers and delight.

“Give your friend a great big hug and a kiss and tell him we’ll see him soon,”

“Mom, I can’t kiss him.”

“Why not?” I ask with a smile, imagining some funny, as-only-kids-will-say statement. Sadly, my smile withdrew as I heard the following response come out of my child’s mouth.

“Because Sam’s mom said that boys aren’t allowed to kiss each other.”

Fear. It creeps in like a villain who, even after dying one thousand times over by the hands of the comic book hero, manages to live on.

This incident left me befuddled. It felt similar to a time when my son showed a love of dance that was so intense it only made sense to enroll him in lessons. At three years old, he was the only boy in a class of all girls. Comments from other parents were surprising.  My husband was particularly frustrated when one mother said, “Wow—that’s great of you. I just don’t think I can enroll her brother in dance. My husband would kill me.”

As a mother of a boy in a post-feminist society, I stopped a sole focus on career aspirations and cracking that ever-present glass ceiling and instead, altered my sightline.  Raising a boy is one feat, and requires presence of mind and reaction timing surpassing that of an NFL quarterback. To raise a man, however, requires forethought and an open mind. It made perfect sense that Tom Matlack started Good Men Project—what struck me in my desire to better parent a boy, is how little support and information there is out there to do just that.

In the UK, clinical psychologist Martin Seager has strongly vocalized the need to promote the study of male gender issues.  Seager states, on Psychminded, that male and female genders have clearly evolved together in inter-relationships. He also comments to the following statistics, stating that these figures alone should put stress on the scientific community to invest more effort in understanding the new male gender dynamic.

  • Suicide rates for men are higher than that for women
  • National statistics show that men die significantly younger than women
  • Men are four times more likely to become dependent on alcohol than women
  • Men make up the vast majority of single homeless persons
  • Nearly all prisoners in the UK are male and the majority of these prisoners have mental health issues
  • Girls are vastly outperforming boys in school

Seager believes a focused British Psychology Society (BPS) section on “The Psychology of the Male Gender” would not only help to raise awareness of the gender-specific pressures affecting the overall well-being of men and boys in our society, but it will help us to understand the impact of fathering (and my hope: mothering) on our society and to address factors that may influence and develop better parents.

I couldn’t agree more with Seager and yet feel that we need to take it one step further and focus on parenting boys AND girls, not as individual genders but rather, integrated relationships. We need to think about gender as a plural, not a singular focus and respond as parents more systematically and more conscientiously when we address and think about gender issues.

♦◊♦

I was hit with the realization that we do little to hold society accountable for closing the gender gap while watching (funnily enough) a preview for Madagascar 3 with my son. Less than a minute in, the Penguins are yelling at each other, “You pillow fight like a bunch of little girls.” Normally, I try not to take these comments too seriously, but lately I’ve come to think not only about how this impacts my little girl, to have her gender tossed out as an insult, but I also wonder how much this affects my son. How does it impact his view of sister, of his mother, of his one-day wife?

I know there are equal parts derogation and slander of men in pop culture and with a new understanding that our children’s frontal cortex won’t fully develop until much later in life, I wonder why we hammer these ideas so deep into their tiny psyche that it may become almost impossible to extract? Why do we let fear creep in under the guise of funny cartoon penguins to emphasize that boys should feel badly about acting like girls?

So, back to my conundrum: should I encourage my son to be publicly affectionate? According to Eric Anderson, an American sociologist, who co-authored ‘It’s Just Not Acceptable Any More’: The Erosion of Homophobia and the Softening of Masculinity, I wouldn’t be alone. Anderson claims that hugging and kissing are part of a larger trend among male teens and young adults. The results of this survey counter a pre-existing belief that men (particularly boys) are discouraged from showing their affection. Although studies like these demonstrate the small steps we’ve made to end homophobia and gender stereotyping, it still feels like we’re a long way off from ending the conversation for good. Case in point: my son’s lesson in farewell etiquette gone awry.

After all this pondering, I continue to ask myself, what can I do to guide my kids in the right direction? How do I teach my son and daughter that grey isn’t an easy place to exist in an oftentimes black-and-white world? I came to many conclusions, but here are a few principles I hope my children adopt:

  • There is no prescribed mold
  • Fitting in does not equal feeling good
  • Calling someone a girl is one of the nicest compliments you can give
  • Embrace your core gifts regardless of pink or blue status
  • Real strength is showing how you feel, and not to fear your feelings

I make no claim that these ideologies are parental law. For me, parenting feels like a series of preparations to improve one’s ability to react. Tiny humans are variables so if I can teach my son to own his decisions, regardless of whether I’m in his ear or not, then I’ll be satisfied. Maybe next time he’ll be able to turn to his friend, arms open wide and say, “How about a hug ‘cause boys kiss boys in my house.”

—Photo Tammra McCauley/Flickr

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About Jennifer Moss

Jennifer Moss has worked in PR and social media for over ten years, with a passion for projects in the non-profit sector. In 2008, she was awarded The Public Service Award from The Office of President Obama for her Community Relations initiatives. She sits on the Board for too many non-profits, she posts to her Tumblr when she finds the time and manages to tweet at a frenetic pace. Jennifer is most passionate about raising her kids in a tolerant world where nerd is the new cool, nostalgia is valued and there is respect for the words of our elders.

Comments

  1. Julie Gillis says:

    One the things that ticks me off the most in media are the portrayals of men and women as so polarized. I do know it’s done based on market testing and so forth, but “fight/run/kick like a girl” definitely means that the best way to do something is outside my gender. And I like my gender.

    I also dislike it when I hear “Well men are just…..brutes/dogs/etc.”

    I ‘m on board with your suggestions save the third one. I need clarification. Do you mean that if someone is insulting you in a gendered way, “You walk like a girl.” You’d want your son to say, thanks for the compliment, girls are awesome pushback kind of thing?

    I’d probably want my child to turn and say, “what does that mean precisely.” Because I bet the person doing the insulting wouldn’t have one bit of answer for it. All that being said, I’d want my kids to know that it is a beautiful thing to be whatever gender they are, and I’m pretty sure that’s what you are getting at.

    • Julie – thanks for the comment. I too feel infuriated when we polarize men and women. The concept of Mars Venus is a disastrous and oversimplified mindset. We are complex creatures and considered unique based on more than gender alone.

      I also completely agree with your point that rather push back, we need to better understand where the comment came from and then address it head on. However, a simple “thank you” may say it all – but that may just be the sarcastic Jen talking.

  2. Thank you for brining attention to the problems experienced by boys and men. What an appropriate topic to broach here. I have two brothers and four sisters and now two daughters, and a huge circle of friends with kids, both children and adult. I have very strong opinions on raising children successfully, based on a lot of observation, study, and volunteer counseling. So, I’ve seen quite a lot.

    The home environment is the absolute key. Hug, kiss, pat, talk to, read to, listen to, and play with your kids every single day, and make 1000% sure they know you love them more than anything in the world. However, I see no value in introducing a lot of hugging and kissing amongst young children. What for? Let them learn what is appropriate hugging and kissing by what they experience at home. My daughters are very affectionate, because they learned that at home, not because of kissing other 2 and 3 year olds.

    My kids are older and I can tell you that boys hug boys, girls hug girls, and boys and girls hug. All the time. The evidence shows that the problems experienced by boys have nothing to do with boys not kissing other little boys, or comments about throwing like a little girl. (I have a one year old and five year old neices. They don’t throw that hard).

    If the core of boys’ problems were associated with boys not kissing other boys, etc. there would be less suicide among boys not more, and boys would be doing better in school, not worse – since very young boys are cross-dressing and proclaiming that they are homosexuals, things that weren’t the case when boys’ suicide rates weren’t as high and when boys did better in school.

    Which brings me back to the home environment. If one looks at the changed family landscape over the last 3-4 decades, and the criticism of and attack on male-ness, you will see a corresponding drop in boys’ school performance, drug and suicide rates, gang involvement, and other issues that negatively and disproportionately affect males.

    • Eric – I agree and I think that is what Seager wants to explore further. The male role is shifting, so we need to better understand how to be men, to raise boys into men and we can’t do that unless we step away from only focusing on gender issues as it pertains to women. It is actually a disservice to the advancements women have made, to ignore this.

      I am not looking to feminize my boy, I just want him to feel like he can show affection without fear. And, if he wants to dance he can do so without ridicule. I don’t want him to feel that he is less masculine by choosing dance to hockey. This is why I say that we need to stop focusing solely on the study of men and women as separate beings – yes, we are different – but we need to understand how we thrive as an integrated species in this rapidly evolving world quicker than I think we realize.

      • “we need to better understand how to be men, to raise boys into men and we can’t do that unless we step away from only focusing on gender issues as it pertains to women.”

        It’s not a mystery. There are good men all around us, good husbands and fathers, men who know how to show affection without being effeminate. I like to think I’m one of hThey know. Ask them. I doubt you will hear them even mention the word gender, let alone “focus on gender issues” as a key to raising boys to be good men.

        I’m glad that you don’t want to feminize him. You won’t convince the world that male ballet dancers are as masculine as hockey players. However, you can teach your son to be confident in his own choices and not be controlled by the opinions of others, even if those others happen to be the majority. A good man can stand on his own, without needing the approval of the crowd.

  3. Wow. Just wow. How sad I am for Sam.

    One of my daughter’s friends is a boy who likes to play dress up and yes, dance. His mom, a friend of mine, has had all kinds of things said to her about it. She believes in allowing him to express himself. And I support that, because I feel the same about my own child. I wrote a post similar to this, though not as eloquently:

    http://www.thewriterrevived.com/2011/12/boxes.html

    Great post. We need to challenge societal attitudes and “norms” if we are ever to make any progress.

  4. wellokaythen says:

    Curiosity as a nonparent here:

    Is it appropriate to tell a child to give someone a hug and/or kiss if the kid doesn’t want to? It seems like telling a kid to give physical affection sets up a bad dynamic. Asking for a hug or kiss is one thing, but telling him to do it because that’s what the grownups want him to do seems a little over the line. At some point a person gets to set his or her own boundaries about physical affection. Maybe I’m overthinking this, but it just rubs me the wrong way when parents tell their kids to give someone a hug or a kiss.

    If a kid says he doesn’t want to kiss someone, do you make him do it because he gave a bad reason?

    • Julie Gillis says:

      I think boundaries are important to respect. If a child doesn’t want to kiss someone they shouldn’t be made to kiss someone.

      • Good point. And, we have had to teach our daughter that sometimes people do not want to receive hugs or kisses. She is very affectionate, but has had to learn that it is not always welcome/appropriate.

    • This is exactly what I was going to say too. I grew up feeling pushed and coaxed to give out physical affection when I was totally uncomfortable doing it. I don’t think either boys or girls should be asked to do this by parents unless it is their nature, in which case they don’t need to be asked, just to understand to be sensitive to the receiver, who might not want the hug or kiss.

    • Hugging grandma and a kid on the playground are two very different things. There is simply no reason to feel compelled to hug some other kid if the child doesn’t want to; however, if grandma traveled across three states to visit, a quick hug is not too much to ask.

  5. To be fair, it could be that Sam misunderstood what his mom said about boys kissing boys and Sam came to the wrong conclusion. Kids do that sometimes.

    Now, to be unfair: assuming she did say that, I bet she’s acting out of something autobiographically specific to her, either consciously or unconsciously. Don’t be surprised to discover in a few years that, in fact, Sam’s dad or uncle has just come out of the closet. I would wager a greater than average chance that’s true.

  6. To respond on the first point: There wasn’t a misunderstanding. Sam’s mom has shared on a few occasions that her culture does not support male to male public displays of affection.

    Also, I don’t force my kids to hug or kiss anyone, but encourage them to express themselves if desired and most importantly, reciprocated. I just don’t want to have other parents to say that it is not allowed or discourages it. As one doesn’t want to be forced to be affectionate, they shouldn’t be forced to refrain from affection.

    My two cents.

    • Marcus Williams says:

      Good article, Jen. Here’s something I struggle with as a parent, though:

      I just don’t want to have other parents to say that it is not allowed or discourages it. As one doesn’t want to be forced to be affectionate, they shouldn’t be forced to refrain from affection.

      I agree with you about affection and not wanting to deprive kids who want it, but the struggle part comes when I substitute some other thing I don’t want my kids doing, and think about another parent overruling my judgment with theirs. Like maybe wine at the dinner table before they’re legal drinking age. Or giving religious training that’s not just living their faith in front of my child when they’re a guest, but trying to instill a faith that they’re sure my child needs and wants even though I disagree. Those kinds of examples make me so uncomfortable – angry even – that when possible, I hope to respond by living a different example that guest kids can see, but not entice them into joining in when I know it’s against their parents’ wishes, even if the kid seems to want to. (Even if my other examples don’t work for you, I bet you can think of others where you’d be upset if another household tried to get your kid doing something you object to because they know better.) I say “hope to” because it hasn’t come up much yet with twins that aren’t yet 3, so this might just be inexperience talking.

  7. “Give your friend a great big hug and a kiss and tell him we’ll see him soon,”

    Kids often do what their mothers tell them. Boys rarely make public displays of affection to other girls as well.

    • Often the full context of these posts are difficult to express in depth as every back-story would suggest a novela rather than a blog post, but to offer further background to this particular friend; he was someone my son had always hugged and they were typically affectionate with the other. It shifted suddenly and that was when I learned of his new stance on affection. Like I said – he can make the choice at any time and there are friends we don’t hug because it isn’t comfortable for either of them, but in this particular circumstance, the reluctance on my son’s part to hug his friend was based on an instruction from an ideology that wasn’t really his, or mine.

  8. How do you plan on socializing him with other boys? Will you allow him to play competitive team sports?

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