It can be devastating to watch the gendering process of young boys.
It begins so early—in the womb for most of us—but the shaming begins at different times for different people. Some boys are barely walking when they’re being told that an expression of emotion is unacceptable from them. Some are discouraged in very negative ways from playing dress up or with dolls. This often comes from family members. If they do make it to school age years this shaming is often the role of their peers. But watching the light die in a child, seeing them realize that previous possibilities for being who are get closed off to them is incredibly difficult.
I run workshops to support other therapists in working with fathers and I spend a good deal of time talking about masculinity. We examine the stereotypes and, because I’m often in front of “enlightened” social workers, we talk about how we have moved beyond this (hah!)—yet there are so many remnants, large and small, that remain.
A challenging part of the workshop is when I ask people to reflect on, not only times they have witnessed this, but also how it may have happened to them—and how they may have (intentionally or not) enforced some of these stereotypes.
Whatever gender people identify with we’re able to look at this. Terrence Real talks about how boys and girls are “halved” at some point in their childhood. The boys are discouraged from emotional expressions and relationship building while the girls are told not to be too “bossy”. None of us are encouraged to be our full human selves.
People split off into groups and talk about how this affected them. A lot comes up. Often we’re unaware of what we’ve denied about ourselves. We bought into ideas of gender because society makes it so difficult to challenge these. We make the sacrifice, willingly or kicking and screaming. The few who stick to their whole self do not receive much support from the bulk of society.
Many of us have experienced shame regarding something we wanted to do, something that seemed to come natural to us, but were told it was not something that boys or girls do. Can you recall an instance when something about you was called out? How did you respond? Perhaps it was:
- Needing help
- Being scared
- Playing with a certain toy
- Wanting to play with girls or boys
- Expressing an interest in music, art, dance, sports, D&D
Maybe there was one big moment or, more likely, a collection of small and large times when you were given the message that who you were was unacceptable.
Sadly, we use that moment to pass the shame on. We even convince ourselves that we’re doing it to shield our children from judgment by their peers. But instead of choosing to build up their sense of self-esteem, speaking to their teachers, connecting with like-minded parents, we put it on the child to take care of things. We build shields without altering the structure of the community. That’s unfair. And will never shift society in a major way.
As I do in my workshops, I challenge you to connect with the moments that you began “halving” yourself. I encourage you to sit with the pain and decide whether there are parts of you that you’d like to revisit and reconnect with.
The relief you may feel is simply becoming human again.
What’s your take on what you just read? Comment below or write a response and submit to us your own point of view or reaction here at the red box, below, which links to our submissions portal.
We have pioneered the largest worldwide conversation about what it means to be a good man in the 21st century. Your support of our work is inspiring and invaluable.
If you believe in the work we are doing here at The Good Men Project, please join us as a Premium Member, today.
All Premium Members get to view The Good Men Project with NO ADS.
A $50 annual membership gives you an all-access pass. You can be a part of every call, group, class, and community.
A $25 annual membership gives you access to one class, one Social Interest group, and our online communities.
A $12 annual membership gives you access to our Friday calls with the publisher, our online community.
Register New Account
Need more info? A complete list of benefits is here.
Photo credit: Pixabay