“Solitary confinement hints at what the male body experiences on a daily basis.”
At my 7 year old son’s elementary school, he gets 30 minutes of P.E. once a week. I used to supplement this by letting him run around and play after school, until the principal came out and told us that kids aren’t allowed to play on school grounds after school. This is a city wide policy, so no children in the whole city of Cupertino are allowed to play at school after classes end.
Of course, my sons do organized sports, but these are structured segments where they are constantly told to focus, pay attention, and concentrate. After the sports classes, kids are asked to leave the field, gym, pool, etc. to make room for the next class. No room is made for what has been called “free range play.”
Playing for boys nowadays often means virtual play. I can’t tell you how many times I have been in a restaurant and watched parents calm their rowdy boys by giving them an iPhone or iPad. Boys are no longer allowed to be in their bodies. And why would they? Their bodies are constantly being restricted, controlled, ignored, or shamed.
Things don’t get much better as boys become men. Addiction to video games and pornography have numbed the male body to real experience. More and more cases of “porn-induced erectile dysfunction” are popping up, especially in young men—a demographic that didn’t have problems with impotency in the past.
All this containment of the male body correlates to increases in depression and obesity in American men. Sometimes the oppression of male energy gets so unbearable that men lash out in often violent and aggressive ways. The UCSB shooter, Elliot Rodger, comes to mind.
When men do act out, they are often put into the prison industrial complex that further restricts their bodies. In some protective custody units, inmates are locked in their cells 22 hours a day. If you get aggressive in prison, you are put in solitary confinement.
Solitary confinement hints at what the male body experiences on a daily basis. Gone are the days of boys walking arm in arm to the sandlot or to see something really cool or scary (think Stand by Me). When men or boys bond together nowadays, they are often labeled as gangs. Even sports teams don’t have the same brotherhood that they used to have. It being March Madness, I can’t help but think about how even college teams are not as closely knit with players leaving their teams to go pro after 2 years.
I recently spoke at a conference on raising compassionate boys. Many of the parents wanted to know how to control boy energy without squashing it. Maleness both scares us and intrigues us. Like King Kong or Gulliver with the Lilliputians, the male body is tied down or caged out of fear, but also a prime spectacle—as seen by all the NFL stories proliferating in the media lately.
As we know with King Kong, Gulliver, and the Hulk, the last thing you want to do is get men mad. How can we incorporate maleness into our society in a genuine, healthy, and safe way? I have no answers, but I do recognize the necessity of the question that no one seems to be asking.