The Brutality of Boyhood: Parenting in the age of #MeToo.

AuthorWeeldreyer, Sarah P.
PositionTo Raise a Boy: Classrooms, Locker Rooms, Bedrooms, and the Hidden Struggles of American Boyhood - Book review

The heated, reclining driver's seat in my car is more comfortable than any chair in my house, which is nice because I spend a lot of time waiting in parking lots for one or the other of my two sons to emerge from baseball or soccer practice. That's where I was when I read, with my hand over my gaping mouth, of the aggravated rape of a ninth-grade boy, "Martin," by his basketball teammates--rape with a pool cue. Martin's recovery began with six days in the hospital and was followed by nine months of physical therapy, including learning how to walk again. Even with these facts not in question, the adults involved could not initially agree on a name for what had happened. "This was something stupid that kids do that shouldn't have been done," said the Gatlinburg, Tennessee, police detective Rodney Burns in state court. "What this case actually is, is much smaller than what it's been blown up to be."

Would Detective Burns have had the same flippant assessment of this gruesome crime if the victim had been a girl? In her book, To Raise a Boy, the Washington Post reporter Emma Brown argues that the answer is no. Through expertly gathered research and interviews with parents, teachers, coaches, mentors, and young boys from all walks of life, Brown offers a study of what it means to be a boy in America today--and the outdated notions of masculinity that continue to let our boys down.

For starters, we generally don't hold boys' bodies sacred in the same manner we do girls'; boys are apparently too tough to experience physical pain. We deny them access to the full range of human emotions, labeling certain feelings like sadness and fear as exclusively feminine. We don't give boys the language to tell us when something bad happens to them: Being hung from a hook by your underwear is "just messing around," and penetration with a foreign object is not rape, but "horseplay." Real rape happens only to girls. And, finally, we adhere to the myth that boys are unfeeling, oversexed, and naturally prone to violence. These low expectations for boys persist despite a two-decade focus by academics and journalists on what has been termed the "boy crisis."

This book raises an important and overlooked question: In a society where boys who are brutalized are left with no words to describe their anguish, should we be surprised that we also have a problem with sexual violence of all kinds? "When we fail to recognize and address violence against boys, not only are we failing to protect boys, but we also may be stoking violence against women," Brown concludes. "These problems are to some extent intertwined."

Already the parents of a daughter, Brown...

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