Showing posts with label boys. Show all posts
Showing posts with label boys. Show all posts

16 November 2023

What's the Problem with Young Men?

In case you haven't noticed, there have been a heck of a lot of stories over the last year about the Crisis With Young Men and the Crisis of Masculinity in almost every news outlet.

And there is a crisis. Men do 90%+ of the mass shootings. They're lonely and isolated, and are falling behind at higher education. More women go to college and university now than men do.

MY NOTE: Although, whenever people go hog wild on that one, I remind them that a large chunk of that is in the health care field, where an RN, an LPN, a PA, radiologist, various technical jobs, etc., all require a college degree of one kind or another, and most of them are considered "female" jobs. (Probably because they involve nurturing and icky stuff and are considered "subordinant" jobs.) Also, there are still a lot more blue-collar jobs that can pay well (plumbing, construction, electricians, factory work) that are still primarily male preserves. So I don't think women are actually pushing men out of slots in colleges, although I could be wrong.

Also, they complain that most young men are single, and deciding to stay that way. Well, people have been having fits about that since the dawn of time. The general assumption throughout history has been that women want to get married, and men don't, and have to be lured / tricked / seduced into it. See Shakespeare's "All's Well That Ends Well", most 1950s rom-coms (especially the Doris Day/Rock Hudson ones), most Westerns (it's always the "real" men, like Shane or whoever John Wayne's playing, who are never married). Also innumerable movies and plays (Rosemary and Howard in "Picnic", Vida Sherwin in "Main Street", who marries the obviously gay man, because he's the only one who will have her) where women chase after even the least eligible bachelor and beg him to marry them. So since women need and want so desperately to get married, why don't they settle and take whatever they can get? Marriage will fix everything! Even that guy!

No, it won't.

And as for what men's roles actually are - our American ideas of what masculinity is and how it looks (how do I break this?) are not the historical or cultural norm.

"In the early 1940s, American society expected its men to adhere to specific characteristics that defined masculinity. In addition to courage and bravery, men strove to develop traits such as aggression, competition, stoicism, toughness, and independence in order to prove to others that they were truly masculine." (LINK)

For example, in China, for thousands of years the ideal man was a scholar (Chinese proverb: "Don't waste good iron for nails or good men for soldiers"). In Japan, in pre-Samurai days, a nobleman had keen cultural sensibilities and abilities (poet, perfumer, etc.), and this held true later when the warrior samurai came in. You might be able to kill with one blow of your sword, but you should also be able to write a damn good poem afterwards.

Think Cyrano de Bergerac (who actually existed). Also all those corseted, wigged, perfumed, high-heeled warriors of the world of Louis XIV, Frederick the Great of Prussia, the Napoleonic Wars, etc., and our own American Founding Fathers who read, wrote, thought, studied, and could kick some serious butt. Indeed, throughout almost all of history, in any culture, the hallmark of a true gentleman / nobleman / king was to be a scholar, AND a man of culture, AND a warrior.

Meanwhile, one of the screamingly obvious problems for young men today is loneliness.

Social circles have been shrinking for men and women, especially since the pandemic, but men struggle more. Thirty years ago, 55 percent of men reported having six or more close friends. By 2021, that share had slipped to 27 percent.

“Women form friendships with each other that are emotionally intimate, whereas men do not,” Levant said. Young women “may not be dating, but they have girlfriends they spend time with and gain emotional support from.”*

Aaron Karo and Matt Ritter, both in their early 40s, study the male “friendship recession” in their “Man of the Year” podcast. It arose out of an annual tradition of gathering at a steakhouse with several male friends, all close since elementary school.

“Guys are taught to prioritize career,” Karo said. “Also romantic relationships, although it doesn’t seem like they’re doing a very good job at that. Making friends and keeping friends seems to be a lower priority. And once guys get older, they suddenly realize they have no friends.”

The podcasters and their friends created the annual gathering as a way to keep their friendship alive. It spawned a year-round group chat and a “Man of the Year” trophy, awarded to the most deserving friend at the annual dinner.

“We treat friendship as a luxury, especially men,” Ritter said. “It’s a necessity.” (LINK)


Seriously, an historical reminder: throughout most of history, the primary love celebrated in letters and literature were friendships. Male friendships. Damon and Pythias. Montaigne and Etienne de la Boetie. Antonio and Bassanio (Merchant of Venice). Plato and Socrates. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. Etc. Lord Nelson and Hardy. What happened to that?

Personally, I think the real problem with modern masculinity, and the lack of friendships, is (and has been for a long time) the American media: between war movies and Westerns, being "sensitive" in any way, enjoying the arts in any way, enjoying education and scholarship, having good friendships, etc. has been transformed into a form of a sign of weakness and/or homosexuality. (1956's "Tea and Sympathy" with Deborah Kerr sums it up beautifully.)

"What, are you gay or something?" is and has been for a very long time a major insult in the schoolyard, the streets, the prisons, and the family. And it works. It's a great way to turn a boy into a basement dwelling, introspective, mute computer drone with no idea of what comes next, and no idea of how to even try, because all the doors in their mind to friendship have been closed. When you're that lonely, that frightened, that isolated... bad things can happen.

It's not women and women's successes that are limiting men, it's other men, especially on social media, who tell boys and young men who / what they should be.  Whether it really is or not.

* I firmly believe that one of the reasons women live longer is that we generally have strong friendships in which we share our insecurities, health issues, laughter, etc.

16 March 2014

The Long Sulk

I have a 14-year-old boy Donnie (not his real name) and his father living in my house. Jan Grape’s written about her ‘alien’, her grandson, but presumably to have a grandchild, she must have had children. I haven’t had that experience.

If you’ve ever seen the Greg Daniels / Mike Judge television series, King of the Hill, Donnie bears an uncanny resemblance to the cartoon character Bobby Hill in looks and personality. At least he looked that six months ago, he’s shot up another few inches since. The comparison to Bobby is so strong, that his classmates tease him with the name, which naturally he hates. But Bobby, er Donnie, is a gentle, kind boy. At heart, both lads are decent and both find it difficult to lie. The London Free Press claims Bobby Hill "arguably was the most interesting, complex and in some ways 'real' kid in TV." I can't argue otherwise.
A shock came learning about today’s modern school system. It’s no longer drop below 70 and you fail, then repeat until you get it right. Failing is now defined below 50, but not even that: So that we don’t bruise the fragile egos of our most important children (student athletes), even grades of 0 are awarded 50%.

If enough classmates fail Spanish, then the tests are considered defective and the class passes automatically though they can’t translate ‘Buenos dias’. (There's a joke there.) Politicians rather than educators are
meddling in the system.

Intestinal Fortitude

As you might imagine, a teenage boy eats a LOT. McDonald’s rolls in an extra supply truck when he visits. More than once we've had conversations that run like "Where's the frozen dinner pack I just bought? The package said it serves eight." "Oh, I had that for after school snack." "What about the roast beef?" "It was only two pounds, but great on rye."

Like Bobby, Donnie’s a surprisingly good cook although his only acceptable vegetable is French fries. Oddly, he despises leftovers, which is a problem because his dad deliberately cooks food in advance to eat when he's not around. Donnie calls leftovers “old food” and won't touch them. Think I’m kidding? I have found five opened jars of peanut butter and a sixth about to be violated.

Likewise, he’ll use a third of a tube of toothpaste or half a bottle of shampoo and refuse to use any more. What’s with that? His dad compounded the situation when he added ‘old shampoo’ from a pink (yes, pink!) bottle into the new Brut Shampoo for Men. Horrified, Donnie switched over to using my shampoo, not as Brutish, but still masculine.

Back to food: The downside of his gastronomical adventuring is breath-stopping biogas production. Here we come to another peculiarity: He doesn’t like to visit any ‘facilities’ other than his own bathroom. That means all through the school day, he stores and composts everything from the previous 24 hours.

I don’t know what organic chemistry goes on inside his large intestine, but ever been around construction sites with large, belching earth-moving equipment? Recall the rumbles, the growls, the grinds, explosions and fizzles? All that occurs before the kid's load of a dozen fragrant water buffalos empties into a straining septic system.

There could be a positive side. His dad won’t let him near girls at this point, but I think his concerns might be mitigated if he considered potential on-line personal ads: “Likes candlelit dinners, long walks on the beach, and frequent flatulence.” So much for romance.


I know parents who think boys need to be toughened up, not shown affection and not comforted when they're hurt. I'd like to smack such parents. His dad's long-term girlfriend constantly calls Donnie a liar and a loser. She doesn't like Donnie… at… all. Lying isn't something Donnie does easily or well. It tears him up. Like Bobby, he has a strong sense of honor and lying doesn't fit that image, which the lady doesn't grasp.

The dad's girlfriend dotes on her own, very pretty, talented daughters, but she disdains Donnie often to the point of omitting him from extended family events. When one of the girls recently won an award, Donnie wasn't invited– not cool enough it seemed.

When Donnie was excluded from another event, I shoved him in the car and took him to a new neighborhood Japanese restaurant. It wasn't the same as spending time with the family unit, but he tried Japanese food for the first time and loved it. He tested something new instead of sitting in his room pretending he wasn't crying his heart out. So far we've tried Greek, Chinese, Mexican, and Cuban foods. When shut out, eat out.

Mood Machine

Like Bobby Hill, the lad's not athletic although he's a good shot, as his ROTC instructor learned. Nonetheless, Donnie excels at certain olympic events, such as the Long Sulk. I switch to my sportscaster voice:
“Donnie represents team USA this week, going for the record now held by the young Russian, Uvreli Pismiof. Uvreli’s record is 42 days, 14 hours and 10 minutes, but young Donnie has positioned himself as the current challenger. His patented scowl in place, Donnie hunches over his bowl, glaring at the wildly cheering crowds. Wait… We thought we saw a quiver of his lip… yes, there it is again… It doesn’t qualify as a full-fledged smile… but hold on… While the judges are reviewing the tape, the seconds continue to tick… 8, 9, 10, 11… YES! Ladies and gentlemen, a new world record!”
Those of us who’ve worked in offices have noticed women knowingly roll their eyes and whisper about some colleague “It’s her time of the month.” Let me tell you folks, they haven't experienced a 14-year-old boy. Around here it’s his time of the minute. Emotions erupt faster than a sour-tempered Tasmanian tantrum.

Donnie's unusually prim. He avoids sexual topics with his friends and won't look at nekked photos. (It's been suggested he was exposed to sexuality when he was quite young and this may be a reaction.)

I’ve never before heard Donnie swear, but the other day over the most minor incident, he told me “ƒ you.” Whoa! I didn’t tell him I was more amused than angry, but I superseded parental authority and confiscated his new bicycle, Play Station, pellet gun, newly purchased hunting/fishing knife, and NetFlix. It’s taken him a few days to apologize, but last evening he wrote me a contrite note. So far, only his bicycle's been returned, but good for him.

Death Threats

When upset, he tries a ploy that may have succeeded with his parents, slamming doors, punching walls, and shouting, “I'm going to run away.” I said, “No kidding! Do you want dessert first? Mmm mm, chocolate mousse. We'll give your room to a little girl named Ruthie who smells like strawberry candy floss and will replace your Call-of-Duty posters and baseball caps with pink pony decorations.” “Seriously?” He looked stricken.

Then he upped the ante. “I’m going to kill myself.” The first time, I dryly said, “Okay, just do it quietly. This is a no-wake zone.” He looked at me in disbelief, then burst out laughing.

So far, my other responses to that challenge have been:
  • Wow, like Moaning Myrtle. You’ll have to live in a loo where kids barfed in the sink and peed on the floor and the walls turned slimy green.
  • Not again! Shouldn’t you plan something new this week?
  • Sticking your head in an oven won’t work. If you can survive your own flatulence, nothing will do you in. Besides, our stove is electric.
  • Really? Leave a note on the fridge so we can identify the new odour in your room.
  • Man, you’re so lucky! You won’t have to worry about that first kiss thing with Abbie or Leona or Ishtar. And who’s that other girl who liked you since forever and her mother told her to marry someone like you? They’re so cute, but they might get annoyed.
  • Don’t make a mess. We’ll have to stop dinner to clean up and the garbage men complained recently. Can you pass the peas?
  • Cool! We could turn you into a mummy. The Egyptians did really neat things with bodies. They stuffed your innards in Canopic jars and they used special tools to pull your brains out through your nostrils. Their funeral guys preserved bodies with natron, which made them flammable. Not a lot of firewood could be found in the desert, so when trekkers needed a fire at night, they dug up a mummy and lit it. That would be so cool to try. Wait until we order natron from K-Mart.
  • No! I hate it when bits and pieces of body parts lie around all sticky with blood dripping from the walls. The pancreas and gall bladder are slimy, with so much gall your mother will have to clean up.
  • In this Florida heat, intestines rot from the inside out, your belly will expand and bloat, and you’ll explode all over the place causing squirrels to run for cover. How stinky and messy that is. When your friends visit and ask where you are, we’ll have to say everywhere.
  • EPA will come with biohazard suits and pick up pieces with tweezers they’ll stick in blue plastic barrels to bury in hazardous waste dumps in Bithlo. Can you imagine having an address for all eternity in Bithlo? Since no one can visit, they’ll mark your barrel on GPS. Other than that, how’s school?
  • Wow, that’s exciting. Death by peanut butter is really sticky. Jelly might be better if you remember to wash afterwards. A friend told me about death by sugar. If you fall into a huge pile of sugar, you sink to the bottom and as you try to breathe, you suck in nothing but more sugar until you choke, gag, and literally drown in it. One guy wasn’t discovered for more than a week when the rats found him, but not before most of the sugar was used in Kool-Aid.
I dramatized this last with my hands around my throat, gasping for breath. Nothing like a crime writer to turn a kid green, although I think he now threatens to see what I’ll say next.

Don’t criticize me– I’m winging it. Parents out there… what’s your advice?

Series created by Mike Judge and Greg Daniels. Production: Film Roman, 3 Arts Entertainment, Deedle-Dee Productions, Judgemental Films. Distribution: 20th Century Fox Television. Copyrights and trademarks property of their respective owners. Blue barrels from Dorney Park & Wildwater Kingdom, Allentown, Pennsylvania; photo credit: Theme Park Review.

17 June 2012

Boy, That's a Good Read!

by Leigh Lundin

What do boys read? In Criminal Brief, I complained that males don't read. Okay, they read sports scores and they might read page 3 in the UK, but men and boys seldom read. Women purchase more than 70% of books and closer to three quarters of fiction. They are the leading consumers of iPads, Kobos, Nooks, and Kindles.

On Friday, Dixon Hill wrote an illuminating article how to get boys to read. He went beyond complaining about the dearth of reading boys, he did something about it.
The Art of Manliness by Brett and Kate McKay
I stumbled upon Kate and Brett McKay's superlative list of 50 books for boys, most of them classics in one way or another. In case you think writing boys books is the sole bastion of manly men, some are written by women and at least one by a girl. The 4th author in the list, Dan Beard, was my distant relative and a founder of the Boy Scouts.

Then and Now

When I was a teen, kids who couldn't yet drive devoured the Hotrod novels by Henry Gregor Felsen, favorites of Stephen King. Many stories of that era moralized but Felsen shared lessons without seeming to lecture.

Are there lessons in Harry Potter? I'm not sure. But I think I'd like The Hunger Games… there's a morality tale.

That's part of the point– books don't have to feature boys for boys to enjoy them. Lewis Carroll's Alice stories and Frank Baum's Oz stories can delight anyone. The most famous bad boy in the English language, Peter Pan, is seen through the evolving eyes of Wendy Darling. To know something about the opposite sex, boys should read a bit of what girls read. Take a break from The Hardy Boys (written by male and female authors) and try a Nancy Drew (written by many of the same male and female authors).

As luck would have it, I have no sisters or daughters, but I did have parents who took reading– including their children's reading– seriously. Many of the following recommendations come directly from them.

Where do we start? I was raised on classics so naturally classics come to mind. Let's get cracking.


Foremost, I think of Edgar Rice Burroughs, author of 26 Tarzan novels and another 50 exploration adventure stories, mostly interplanetary and 'lost world' series. Two other great authors in the exploration adventure genre are Arthur Conan Doyle and H. Rider Haggard, considered to have originated the modern 'lost world' genre.

I recommend several books by the popular and prolific Robert Louis Stevenson including Treasure Island, Kidnapped, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, his short stories, and a book of poetry, A Child's Garden of Verses. (While Kidnapped is fiction, it was based upon a historical case.)


Along with A. Conan Doyle, I add Agatha Christie, and the Lord Peter short stories by Dorothy L Sayers. As for American writers, we have Edgar Allan Poe and I recommend the Continental Op series by Dashiell Hammett.

Mystery Romance

Wait… don't flee in terror. Wilkie Collins, friend and colleague of Charles Dickens, is considered to have originated the modern English mystery novel. He combined romance in his most popular novels, creating a gothic genre furthered by Mary Roberts Rinehart, credited with the 'Had-I-but-known' school of mystery writing.

Science Fiction

If you want to grasp what science fiction is really about, read authors from the golden era of sci-fi, including Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Arthur C Clarke, Philip K Dick, Philip José Farmer, and Fritz Leiber. To that list, I add two more modern writers, John Brunner and Michael Crichton. While George Orwell's 1984 is too advanced for most youth, I highly recommend Animal Farm.

Sea Stories

Like Westerns, sea stories have fallen out of vogue, but I read dozens from undersea exploration to lost-at-sea adventures. Titles and authors have long since faded, but my mother was a major fan of C. S. Forester's Horatio Hornblower. I also highly recommend the non-fiction adventures of Richard Henry Dana, Jr. in his classic Two Years Before the Mast.


Westerns are about morality and responsibility. There are many considered classic, but I'll leave this list to John Floyd, himself a writer of several Western stories.

Wildlife Adventure

The master of this genre is Jack London, but the world has largely forgotten James Oliver Curwood, who when he died in 1927, was the highest paid author in the world. He built his own castle in Michigan, where he secluded himself in a tower to write. I know him through two of his stories, Kazan the Wolf Dog and Baree, Son of Kazan.

In the fourth grade, I noticed friends Tina and Diane reading The Black Stallion (recommended by the McKays). Walter Farley's title character isn't exactly wildlife, but it is feral and Farley wrote 20 in the series as well as another half dozen books.

Forgotten Classics

Charles Major was an Indiana lawyer who started writing rigorously researched historical romances. His first novel, When Knighthood Was in Flower, proved so popular that it became a Broadway hit and Major gave up his law practice to write. Other historical romances proved popular, but he became known for children's stories, especially The Bears of Blue River set in pioneer times.

Booth Tarkington, another Indiana writer and two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, wrote collections of stories about Penrod, a boy some compared to Tom Sawyer, but who's similar to Dennis the Menace. The stories were turned into twenty-some movies and plays. The three books are Penrod, Penrod and Sam, and the 'notted detective' tale, Penrod Jashber.

And Finally

Mark Twain always entertains and sometimes manages to educate. Read anything by Twain.

The Distaff Staff

Okay, I understand Twilight, but without sisters or daughters, I'm otherwise clueless. What do you recommend for girls?