These Stereotypes Are Hurting Boys

After another story of a child being arrested for making violent threats and having access to assault weapons makes the news, I am struck by a silent terror that I try to hide around my sons. It is no longer a secret that our boys are suffering. Their angry and horrific actions are our wake-up call and it is up to us to stay woke.

I’m not looking to address gun control, though that is an extremely important part of the puzzle. I want to address the psychological straitjackets we subject our kids to with gender stereotypes, and their traumatic effect they have on our children’s ability to cope, overcome and thrive.

Stereotypes are insidious because they are everywhere. Research shows the lessons our children learn about gender have lifelong, sometimes tragic consequences. A new study in the Journal of Adolescent Health examined the negative impact of gender norms on both boys and girls. They found that not only are these types of stereotypes universal, but they transcend income levels and become firmly entrenched before 10 years old, having lasting, sometimes negative results.

The most recent shooting at the Parkland school in Florida, shows the horrendous consequences that have been shown to occur when boys conform to these harmful gender stereotypes. Conforming to male stereotypes have been shown to correlate to:

  • Engaging in physical violence to a much greater extent than girls.
  • Dying more frequently from unintentional injuries or accidents.
  • Substance abuse and/or suicide.
  • Sorter life expectancy than women.

As we have seen stereotypes begin early, with our expectations of what boys do laying a foundation that builds to how men should behave. Some of the most common stereotypes my sons encounter include:

  • Boys don’t cry.
  • Boys should be gentlemen.
  • Boys aren’t emotional.
  • Boys will be boys.
  • Boys aren’t as mature as girls.
  • Boys are strong and aggressive.

Male stereotypes are more variations of these themes. Morphing into ideas about life, career and relationships that can include:

  • Men are aggressive.
  • Men don’t have as many feelings as women.
  • Nice guys will finish last.
  • Men are not nurses, they are doctors.
  • Men want to do “dirty jobs” such as construction and mechanics: conversely men are not secretaries, teachers or cosmetologists.
  • Men do not do housework.
  • Men are not responsible for taking care of children.
  • Men play video games.
  • Men play sports.
  • Men enjoy outdoor activities such as camping, fishing and hiking.
  • Men are in charge; they are always the boss.
  • As husbands, men should tell their wives what to do.
  • Men are lazy and/or messy.
  • Men do not cook, sew or do crafts.

This is just the tip of the iceberg, but you get the idea. While we tend to view stereotypes on an individual level, they have larger consequences to the world at large as recent events have shown. We want to empower our kids to be fully-formed individuals, but we face an uphill battle. The messages children receive at home can be contradictory to those they receive from their teachers at school and vice versa. Media itself plays a large role in perpetuating these inequitable norms.

We must come together as a community to eradicate this type of thinking. Thinking outside the box when it comes to gender stereotypes will make our children healthier adults and might just save a life.

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