Our gender biases are killing the bond between boys
Last year my son decided to take a hip hop class. He showed up to each class bursting with enthusiasm, and when the day came to perform on stage with his peers, he danced with confidence.
At the end of the show, each performer was gifted a shirt that said: “Every time I dance I become a better version of me.” I’m not sure if it was the bright green colour of the shirt, or the words that were splashed across the front, but my son loved that shirt and wore it every day for weeks following his big performance.
Then one day, he stopped wearing it. I noticed his apathy when I handed him his freshly-washed fashion fave, and asked him why he had suddenly lost interest in his cherished top. He told me that whenever he wore it to school, the other boys would make fun of him, calling him a girl. He didn’t want to return to dance the following year - despite my encouraging words, and when Pink Shirt Day came along, he refused to wear pink, worried that his peers would make fun of him.
Boys are constantly pigeonholed as competitive, autonomous, and emotionless beings. From nursery rhymes of boys being made of “frogs and snails and puppy dog’s tails,” to parents brushing off behaviours saying “boys will be boys,” to our sons constantly hearing “boys don’t cry” and “toughen up” at any sign of emotion, males have been trained to remain tough, stoic beings. They’re allowed to fight, yell, and destroy, but never encouraged to cry, show affection, or pursue “non-masculine" interests.
Not only is this affecting their self-esteem, but it’s greatly impacting their friendships, especially as they move towards the teen - and even adult years.
According to a recent article entitled, Why Do We Murder The Beautiful Friendship of Boys, the author states that while boys are developing strong, emotional bonds with each other in their earlier years, they “know by late adolescence that their close male friendships, and even their emotional acuity, put them at risk of being labeled girly, immature, or gay. In response to a cultural context that links intimacy in male friendships with an age, a sex (female), and a sexuality (gay), these boys mature into men who are autonomous, emotionally stoic, and isolated.”
This is greatly a result of generations of biases. Intentional or not, our comments and actions impact how our children see their roles in the world. We have a responsibility as parents to foster and encourage connectedness and emotional honesty in our boys, and to demonstrate healthy emotions and friendships between men so that our sons can see that it’s ok to have a loving relationship with male friends - even in their adult years.