Boys Will Be the Men We Raise Them to Be
“—we need “to raise our sons differently in order to protect our daughters …
we also need to raise our sons differently for their own sakes.”
To Raise a Boy: Classrooms, Locker Rooms, Bedrooms, and the Hidden Struggles of American Boyhood is written by mother of a baby son and young daughter, former middle school teacher, Washington Post journalist covering education and world events, and first confidant of Christine Blasey Ford, Emma Brown. She received responses to the Ford/Kavanaugh stories that prompted an epiphany: not only do we need “to raise our sons differently in order to protect our daughters … we also need to raise our sons differently for their own sakes.”
YES! Teaching a course called Men and Masculinities, and my own mothering of a son and daughter gave me this insight too. Every young woman in class talked about how she prepares to walk alone – daylight or night: keys, pepper spray, cell phone, letting friends know location. The men conceded they had never thought of this, except those who describe themselves as gay. They too know caution at all times.
There is much to think about regarding guns and sexual violence and how boys learn behaviors. Brown begins with shocking material on brooming assaults that are nationwide, often involving high school athletes. This is not a book about growth charts and best toys for toddlers.
#MeToo and the increasing visibility of transgender and nonbinary people, Brown suggests, has “created more space for all of us to consider what gender is, and what impact gender norms and gender stereotypes have on our lives.” Cheer another – Yes! The young people I work with, from Kindergarten through College, see gender as a spectrum, not just a flat line between boy and girl with strict boxes of behavior.
Gender is how we feel being in our body, mind, and heart, how we express and present ourselves to the outside. Most of us are raised in tight binary boxes. Many of us rebel. Even a small child can express exasperation at the rules.
Casting off our socially expected gender armor can be challenging, but maintaining the façade can be literally deadly. Brown cites 2015 Centers of Disease Control and Prevention statistics:
4 million men (and 5.6 million women) had been victims of sexual violence in 2014. Death by suicide is staggering among white middle-aged men, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. This is not “horseplay.”
Brown explains a Columbia professors’ description of “sexual citizenship”–respect and realizing sex is something you do with and not to, another person. Sexual assault researcher Mary Koss says, “When you are learning to drive your penis, you can really hurt people by mistakes you make due to inexperience.” My students realize the conversations about sex and gender ought to begin ASAP—age appropriately of course.
Brown’s chapter, “Racism, Violence, Trauma: How Close Relationships Can Help Boys Cope,” describes the successes of Chicago’s Becoming a Man Program. She considers the way bias has impacted how Black boys think of themselves as well as how “implicit bias is like the wind: you can’t see it, but you can sure see its effects.” Teachers and other adults in their lives can be blustery and harming when they don’t interrogate their biases.
It seems there are more similarities than differences between boys and girls/men and women. Sexual assault (‘SA’ students say) is utterly ubiquitous. Men need a liberation movement. The power and control issues that create a society of harming and hurting are harming everyone. There are societies that do not have a word for rape because it does not exist, which is impossible for western citizens to imagine. If we really do become equal . . . .
 Brown, Emma. (2021). To Raise a Boy: Classrooms, Locker Rooms, Bedrooms, and the Hidden Struggles of American Boyhood. New York: One Signal Publishers/ Atria, p. 6.
 Ibid. p.13.
 Ibid. p. 89.
 Ibid. p. 148.
 Ibid. p. 160, Walter S. Gilliam in an article Brown wrote for The Washington Post, 2016.
 Helliwell, Christine. (2000). “It’s Only a Penis”: Rape, Feminism, and Difference. Original publication Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 25(3). Access: https://www.jstor.org/stable/3175417?read-now=1&seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents