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It's ok to be a guy!

(Today's jumping off point is this David Brooks piece in the NY Times -- Men on the Threshold. You may want to have a read before my comments.)

My degree is in Psychology. And one of my most-remembered (though not favorite) courses was on gender psychology. I never imagined that I'd end up as a gender stereotype-breaking SAHD. But now that I am, I find the topic fascinating and write about gender issues frequently.

We tackled, back then, quite a bit of info on the "war against boys." I was neutral at the time. And I'm still not sure how much of it is actual gender bias versus shifting cultural expectations. I've seen these topics explored in more detail, and better, other places...but Brooks does an ok job to continue the discussion. Especially the inability of boys/men to excel in the educational and employment climate we're now facing. The lack of masculine role models. Or, better stated, the double whammy of a decline in male culture and the inability of males to respond by finding substance in the new culture. Our old stereotypes of frat boys, cowboys, and athlete superstars aren't going to work as role models in the modern world.

Don't even get me started on fatherless homes. That's not the problem though everybody wants to scapegoat single moms and deadbeat dads...guys, please raise your children, but the bigger issue is that our larger society doesn't value men so why should we value ourselves? Look at the way men are presented in pop culture or history...that's the problem. And, yes, we did it ourselves partly. History has, indeed, largely been a tale of men doing stupid things. But we're not exactly righting the ship with an impressive 21st century collection of admirable men. (Or are we? Food for thought.)

The question is are we dropping out, eating chips, playing Xbox, and not raising families because we want to or we have to? Both? I'm not sure I have the answer. I know that, for me, raising two toddlers is more impressive than anything I was doing helping supervise membership at a museum. The opportunities for men just aren't there. Which, in turn, lowers our education, employment, and cultural value.

I'm not sure what the answer is...be it a men's movement where we seek a strong, confident, intelligent presence in the culture. That's a hard position to take...that we're now somehow victims after being on the other side all those centuries. Fighting for a voice now when we're still busy sorting out the past. But that doesn't mean we can't advocate for masculinity in other ways.

Which brings me to the real reasons gender issues are so important to me. My son. And my daughter. She wore a pair of swim trunks and a boys swim shirt to the pool last night. Not some girlie swimwear. My son likes to run around the yard with sharp sticks, has numerous cuts and bruises on his legs from falling, and frequently has a layer of dirt on him from, well, being a boy.

That's the two sides of the coin I'm working with. For my daughter, protecting her from a culture that will want to value her for her wardrobe or physical aesthetics and not her brains or strength or athletic ability. While simultaneously trying to not let my son be culturally silenced over the fact that he is brainy and strong and athletic. He's actually a very traditional...male. Neither is less important, authentic, or fully human for who they are. I love them both and encourage them to both be whatever God made them.

Going forward, the tricky part is how society asks them to conform to not just gender stereotypes...that's old news...but how expectations and opportunities are given and taken away based on how well they learn to change and play the game. The real question for most of us out there navigating the world of gender issues is how much do we punish and reward both those who play to gender role and those who play against role. For me, personally, I'm finding a very rewarding and fulfilling life playing against type. It's a quiet rebellion that let's me gently poke at mores. But I'm also mindful that my children could very well grow into people who enjoy or even need to use their conformity to social norms as an advantage in some way.

As I've said before, the point isn't to choose for them or teach them that one way is better than the other. The point is to lay the framework so they understand options and learn to play with gender issues in thoughtful and interesting ways. You have to know the rules...and also know that it's perfectly ok to break those rules, too.

If there's any one piece of advice I'd give to both of them about gender it's this: what it looks like to be a man or a woman is whatever you make it. Don't let anyone else tell you how to be you.


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