Matthew Branch has a call to action for American men: Offer boys the opportunity to witness you demonstrating the qualities of a gentlemen, the duties of a good father, and a man’s responsibilities to his community.
High violent crime and incarceration rates combined with falling college enrollment suggests that dreadfully wrong is embedded in the value systems of young men.
In the United States, men are responsible for roughly 85 percent of murders, 90 percent of assaults, 95 percent of dating violence, 95 percent of child sexual abuse, and 99 percent of rape. Broadcasters are unable to avoid reporting on the repercussions of dishonorable men, mostly young men.
The tragedies in Newtown, Steubenville, Aurora, and Boston stand as recent testimony, their town names now besmirched by the actions of evil men. These terrifying and extreme examples rise above a deeper problem and much more common occurrence. Joe Nocera writes a regular column for the New York Times called The Gun Report chronicling reports of gun violence in the nation. His report for September 11th of 2013 showcased twenty-two articles. These combined reports showed that all of the known shooters were men, and of the twenty-seven victims, twenty-five were male.
Boys are not naturally violent or predisposed to being victims of violence. They are being betrayed, misled, and twisted toward violence largely by the example of adult men. For most men, masculinity is a moving target. It alludes us all even at the best of times. Boys struggle throughout their lives to prove themselves as men, following the trends of what is and isn’t deemed masculine as guidelines to get there.
They endure a barrage of media messages and other social cues that undermine their intellect and emotional vulnerability while forcing them to question their sexual habits, physical strength and gender identity. In reducing masculinity to a collection of possessions and attractive traits, countless media are effectively redefining masculinity as something that can be bought or earned in sweat, not something found in a person’s emotions, good deeds, and strengths of character.
Rarely do young men experience masculinity portrayed as a set of honorable characteristics, gentlemanly qualities, and sophisticated skills. Even magazines, long considered one of the more polished and sophisticated mediums of media, reduce masculinity to its most simple form. Muscles are masculine. Kindness is not.
Across the nation, boys are sinking in their chairs and slouching away from their education and the responsibilities of adulthood. They retreat to the safety of chat rooms, video games, and internet porn because we have failed to provide them with alternative spaces to explore their male identity. Boys are left with other boys to guide them and little access to positive male role models.
The public discourse regarding the misconduct of young men leans toward punishment and away from prevention. Boys are no longer at risk. They are mid-peril. And we cannot punish them all.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, boys are nine times more likely to commit homicide, and three times more likely to be the victims of homicide. The imprisonment rate for men is fourteen times that of women. The CDC reports that males are four times more likely to commit suicide and the National Center for Educational Statistics reports that boys are 30 percent more likely to drop out of school.
We are a nation experiencing extensive male underachievement and are largely without a plan. Right now we are satisfied with our aggregate reaction of astonishment. How much longer can we truthfully act surprised? Young men are in desperate need of a new vision of manhood. Most importantly, they need good men to guide them.
The implementation of widespread and accessible male mentorship for young men is paramount.
Positive male role models are slim, especially in academic arenas. According to The Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 18 percent of elementary and middle school teachers are male. Less than three percent of kindergarten and preschool teachers are male. Boys could go years without engaging with a positive male role model outside of their family.
With so few male role models in schools, boys need multifaceted interventions targeting young men specifically and at young ages.
Nurturing positive characteristics in boys such as compassion and bravery, trust and tolerance, honesty and honor, should not be the sole responsibility of the few private organizations which provide such mentoring. It is the responsibility of our public education services to take action toward fostering safe spaces in which boys can come to terms with their identities and discuss the pitfalls of associating violence, lethargy, and sexual deviance with their sense of masculinity.
But until that happens, we need good men teaching boys how to be good men.
Good men of America, find the time to coach, teach, and tutor. Show kindness to strangers and exhibit empathy and restraint in the most difficult of circumstances. Volunteer, educate and speak up. Offer boys the opportunity to witness you demonstrating the qualities of a gentlemen, the duties of a good father, and a man’s responsibilities to his community.