Boys make the cutest babies! As young babies, if it was not for the physical gender differences, it would be hard to describe any behaviours as specific to boys and girls. For example, if you shout aggressively at a tiny baby regardless of gender, they will cry and when they are toddlers, both will cry if they fall and hurt themselves. Let’s be honest, they both have such tenderness, sensitivity, they are fragile, vulnerable and oh so gorgeous
What happens in our parenting as they get older that tells boys they do not have these same qualities as girls, that they are different?
Boys get the message at home, in school, often with their family, and more than likely with their friends, that they have to be tougher than girls and not be a ‘cry baby’. Do we talk to them about this? Do we prepare them for a world where showing sensitivity is (all too often) a trigger for being bullied? Children are conditioned to ‘fit in’, and know that you get picked on when you are different, whether it be hair, skin or some other physical difference. In the end, anything can be used as a trigger to make another feel small and bad about themselves. Often, these differences are not something you can do anything about. It is strange to consider, how the sensitivity that is innate in all boys, can be turned into a hardness and used as a reason to bully another in an attempt to prove they are ‘big and tough’, even though they are not.
We are so used to seeing the big tough act that it’s hard to get our heads around the fact that this behaviour is something completely alien to a boy as it is to a girl.
Boys are deeply sensitive by their very nature and this sensitivity will show up when taunted for being different. Yet, it is accepted because that is what we experienced when we were growing up, and the idea also that perhaps what we have learnt around toughening up works in this world better than the sensitivity. It is generally more accepted for boys to act the opposite of who they really are.
One parent shared that their red-haired child was in his first year in secondary school and during the previous week had been pushed and fallen in the school yard, hurting his knee badly and crying in front of everyone. The next day, he saw one of his friends experience similar treatment and went to check if he was okay. The following week he came home late from school and had a packet of black hair dye. It was clear he was upset and as their parent enquired what he was up to, he shared that there were kids at school who were picking on him because he cried, because he cared about his friend and because of his red hair. He wanted to change his hair colour to black thinking that would solve everything. The parent’s heart sank because they knew he would be bullied unmercifully if he dyed his hair black. They explained how bullies worked and that bullies looked for what made you different and tried to make you feel bad about it. They continued to share with their son that bullies particularly focused on things you couldn’t change, like the way you looked, who your family were, where you lived. And that in fact, the thing bullies focused on didn’t matter, it is our reactions that matter- that was they are goading us for.
Bullies feed off reactions and know they have won if they see any at all.
This parent knew that for their son to dye his hair black would be showing his reaction not just to the bullies, but to the whole school, and how this could create even more challenges for him. Reflecting on how they had raised their children, this parent felt they had slipped up because, whilst they had not actively de-valued the sensitivity of their son, they had not prepared him to cope with a school setting with other boys who had been raised with gender specific ‘toughen up’ attitudes towards boys. Put boys all together in a group setting and what comes to the fore can be hard to experience.
Most of us have been raised with this attitude and have accepted and lived with these beliefs for so long, as were our parents and their parents too, and so it is a fairly engrained picture we are seeing and accepting daily. Nonetheless, the lie is still not true. Just because a lie is repeated a million times, it doesn’t make it truth, it’s still a lie. But if you tell that to the boys who are being bullied, punched, pushed and beaten by their peers, they will believe the lie as much as anyone else because for them it feels very physically and emotionally dangerous to be different. And so, we have a situation where each generation of males are believing in the ‘tough’ myth, when in fact boys and men, by their very nature are tender, sensitive, fragile, vulnerable and caring as any girl and woman. To value and treat our boys and men as the sensitive beings they are, is a start in disassembling the myth that is causing so much harm to a man’s mental and physical health. So if we have been fooled by this ‘lie’, how do we disassemble it? Read more about how to stop this way of playing ball the the myth here.
To value and treat our boys and men as the sensitive beings they are, is to start disassembling the myth that is causing so much harm to a man’s mental and physical health. So, if there is even a possibility we have been fooled by this ‘lie’, how do we disassemble it?