Dr. Jennifer W. Shewmaker

Boys will be Boys

When I started researching media sexualization, I was really focused on the impact on girls and women. But as I’ve been reading more about it, I’ve realized that boys are just as involved in responding to these messages as girls.

One of the things that’s really bothered me as I explore the media for young boys is the huge amount of stereotyped images that they’re seeing about what it means to be a boy. In children’s programming boys are overwhelmingly shown as being loud, active, and rude. Those who don’t fit this stereotype are portrayed as geeky and unlikable. In the  Disney Channel’s “Suite Life” series, there are two twin boys. One brother is loud, disrespectful and popular, while the other is kind, smart, respectful and……unpopular. Hmm……what does this tell our boys about what makes them successful socially?

As they get older, boys see that they are supposed to be obsessed with girls and getting into relationships with them. Is this really something an 11-year-old boy should be thinking about? Sure, some boys are interested in girls at this age. But for a lot of boys, it’s very normal for romantic interests not to begin until they’re much older.

One middle school boy told me that he was asked by a peer if he was “gay” because he didn’t have a girlfriend.  This really upset and confused him. He said, “I just want to hang out with my friends, boys and girls, and have fun. Why does it have to be about having girlfriends now?”

The media may send these messages, but all of us who spend time with kids and kids themselves can choose our response. Let’s be intentional about this issue. No, it’s not expected that you have a boyfriend or girlfriend as a child, or even as a teenager. In fact, going out in groups and spending time connecting with each other as friends is much safer and emotionally healthier way to begin exploring romantic feelings. Let’s not let the media tell us who we are or should be. Let’s be transformers in the world around us.

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2 comments on “Boys will be Boys

  1. Phillip
    August 29, 2010

    You are really good at noticing really important issues, even when you haven’t directly experienced them!

    As a young boy who was ALWAYS asked that very question, and as a young man who is continually asked that question, I have almost began to think it’s a legitimate and appropriate question, luckily I have people like you in my life that remind me it’s absurd!

    The older I get, the happier I am that I failed at succumbing to social pressures to date and prove myself to others. I now realize that I am me uninfluenced. By that I mean I was able to become me exactly how I was meant to, I had no significant other telling me what I should do, like, or think. I was able to spend every moment of my childhood, and formative teen and young adult years exactly how I wanted to. Now, I know exactly who I am, and consider myself exactly who I want to be! I am me unedited, and because of that I feel blessed.

    In my personal experience, it isn’t a normal obsession for an 11 year old. It is more or less one kid who makes another kid think they are different; in an effort to fit in that one kid will conform, shift the spotlight to another kid, or ignore it. Because it’s often risky to ignore it, the kid who was different quickly becomes normal and the kids who were normal quickly become different. As adults who understand this I think it is important to remind our youth that there is no normal, that there is only different, that’s what makes us who we are! When it’s ok to be different, it’s ok to be yourself! Right now it is “cool” to be the same, I wonder what the world would be like if it was “cool” to be different! …we might be a world unedited!

    • drshew
      August 30, 2010

      Phillip, you make so many good points. I think the one that stands out to me is your contention that when we become involved romantically with someone, we begin to “edit” or change ourselves to fit their idea of what we should be. At the critical time of identity formation that young adolescents are going through, it seems like a particularly bad time to be so heavily influenced by a peer. Of course, to a certain extent, it’s always going to matter to you what your peers think of you. But romantic involvement really shifts the balance.

      I think it’s wise to spend time getting to know and understand yourself first, and building friendships, before you launch into romantic relationships. This pressure for early romance, even having “serious” relationships in elementary school isn’t healthy. Kids just aren’t ready for that developmentally. The adults in their lives need to encourage them to step away from that pressure until they’re ready to handle it. That’s what we’re there for, after all, to help our kids navigate life!

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This entry was posted on August 28, 2010 by in Acting, Recognizing.

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