As a mother of three boys, I have been blessed / cursed with more than my fair share of advice on raising human beings of the opposite sex. Having spent the past decade ploughing through it, I can confirm that most of it is male supremacist bollocks.
Of course you’re not supposed to think of it that way. On the contrary, the average raising boys guru sees himself – and it usually is himself – as offering a corrective to a rigid, conservative “man up” culture that breeds only misery and aggression.
Seeing boys as victims as well as aggressors is offered up as some brand new discovery that will change the world as we know it. It’s also presented as a move towards gender non-conformity (since isn’t, like, victimhood for girls?). The sorrier the reader (i.e. the mother) feels for the male sex, the more liberation there will be for her too. After all, it’s not as though anyone ever thought of prioritising male feelings before!
Boys, we learn, are fragile beings. So fragile, in fact, that they deserve more attention than girls from the very outset. Steve Biddulph declares that male babies are “more prone to separation anxiety” than girls and advises against putting them in day care, while Sue Palmer goes one step further and bemoans the fragility of the poor male foetus (“so advice to pregnant women about eating healthily, eschewing cigarettes and alcohol, and avoiding inessential medication has even more resonance if they are carrying boys”).
One could point out that prioritising the needs of male foetuses and babies is actually pretty fucking patriarchal and has contributed to a global femicide, but that would be churlish. This is, like, a totally different kind of prioritising. Besides, the females who do survive infancy are totally privileged by being allowed to cry and talk about their feelings and shit. Life’s one long pyjama party for them!
In addition to being more fragile than girls, we learn that boys are naturally more aggressive. This isn’t down to social conditioning, as those lunatic feminists would have it, but down to a testosterone surge in the womb or to hunting mammoth back in the day or to pissing standing up. Whatever, boys can’t help it, so they must be permitted outlets in order to keep that aggression under control.
Looking at the news these days, who does this remind you of? The poor male victim-aggressor, the boy who needs more than the girls, who might hurt you if his needs aren’t managed, whose feelings simply have to come first, political correctness be damned?
I would propose that, uncomfortable though this is, this person is not just Jordan Peterson or one of his followers. It’s Everyboy. This is not just toxic masculinity, it’s how masculinity is constructed. Victimhood, self-pity, neediness, aggression – all of these things are sold to mothers of boys as essential male conditions requiring constant care and attention, to the detriment of their own needs and those of their daughters.
This was what my mother “knew” about how boys and girls should be raised – and how husbands should be treated – without the help of any books. My generation, post-second wave, needed Raising Boys, The Essential Difference and the like to repackage the same old shit as new and revelatory.
Men and boys! A mystery! No one knows what they’re thinking (apart from the mothers, wives, daughters, girlfriends and sisters who spend their entire lives tiptoeing around because they know exactly what the man in their life wants from them and the consequences of failing to deliver)!
We are terribly shocked by the entitlement of incel culture and so we should be. Feminists are, rightly, saying “fuck off” to the idea that woman-hating young men are owed sex in order to keep their violence and aggression at bay. Beyond this, however, women are still expected to deliver the goods providing a suitably liberal narrative can be constructed. The pressures placed on lesbians to sleep with male-bodied people in the name of inclusivity, for instance, receive little attention from mainstream feminism (hey, it’s only sex. Why can’t these women just be nice?).
What we need, I think, is a broader engagement with all of the ways in which female people are groomed to feel sorry for male people and to prioritise their needs. Meanie, right-wing, MRA pity for boys is seen as distinct from nice, liberal, god-but-it’s-hard-for-them-too pity. In principle this sounds fine. It’s just that when you look at the two things in close up, you find they’re not that different.
In neither case is it recommended that the solution to male entitlement is for boys to be considered no more special than girls. Male contentment must always come with a struggle and nasty or nice, it must always take something from women and girls (admiration, care, love, attention, gratitude – god, the gratitude we are supposed to feel towards any male who is “brave” enough to reject the external trappings of masculinity! The attention these heroes are owed, while our own non-conformity is written off as self-interest!).
The pride I have in my sons has less to do with how much they associate themselves with masculine or feminine stereotypes. What matters to me is that they are kind. From kindness and feeling for others comes the knowledge of where boundaries lie.
The empathy my sons are owed – that all boys and girls are owed – should be on the basis of their shared humanity. Yet each generation and political side seems to find new ways to feed the male entitlement monster, presenting male victimhood as some precious new find.
It isn’t. It’s always been with us and it’s always been used to put pressure on women and girls to keep on giving. But if victimhood is a vital weapon in patriarchy’s armoury, it will always be making victims of boys. I’d like something more for my sons.