As I See It: Catherine Drea’s fortnightly column as published in the Waterford News & Star
NOTHING good ever happens without vulnerability. So said Brene Brown in her TED talk describing the importance of vulnerability in life. For men and boys who are told all their lives to man up and stay strong, reclaiming it may be a crucial part of the healing that needs to take place amongst all of us after Ashling’s murder.
We are all hurting now. When women are hurt they cry and try to fix things. When men are hurting they often get angry and fight back. But it’s not the time for anger, for being defensive or bullish. This is the time for change.
We have been here too many times before; assaults, murders, misogyny, exclusion. I’m old enough to have a catalogue of experiences of my own, as well as to have been part of marches, discussions and calls for change. It’s not just about attitudes to women or attitudes to violence as outlined at the funeral of Ashling the other day.
Women have done the refuges and the supports for victims. We’ve done the lecturing and the awareness raising. What we need now is a renewed spotlight on what it means to be a man. On how we can support our boys to become better men and grow into reliable and more caring human beings.
‘Boys are beautiful, golden hearted, open and caring. Reassure them that they are good, that they can help to change the world’
At birth boys are almost indistinguishable from baby girls and yet they will have a very different path to adulthood and face many different challenges. Boys are far more likely to come to grief and end up harming other people or themselves. Compared with girls, boys are almost 10 times more likely to end up in prison, three times more likely to take drugs and three times more likely to end their own lives or die in a car crash.
As a society we seem to accept that somehow boys will be boys? We allow boys to believe that this is what it means to be a man; to be a tough guy, to survive amongst all the other tough guys while women tear their hair out about their sons risk taking and war games. What kind of men do we want our boys to be? How can we influence young boys now so that when they grow up they will be kinder to themselves and others.
Steve Biddulph who has dedicated his life to this conundrum about how to give boys a more fully rounded upbringing now says that there is a lot more to it than treating boys and girls as equals. While every child is unique, Steve has established that boys need some extra work to help them develop.
Boy’s brains develop differently and they are often up to 20 months behind girls, struggling with reading and the ability to sit still. School can be torture. Boys need the excitement of storytelling and book reading as much as girls so instead of sending them out to the yard, we need to find creative ways to help them. Steve says that more rough and tumble with their Dads helps boys to keep up with school work. Also boys who start school a little later do better in the long run.
Steve puts it like this, “it’s totally normal for little boys (and some girls) to be exploding with energy, and our job is to find ways to get outside and move about and have adventures. And some gentle but clear help with knowing when to put the brakes on. If we make a boy feel he is bad for being a boy, then we trigger an anxiety about being loved, that usually comes out as anger and the beginnings of a problem man. You can put boundaries on, and ask him to calm down, but do it kindly.”
Because above all boys need to learn about kindness, love, friendship, closeness and intimacy. They need to learn how to deal with feelings of anger; how to stay in a conflict without resorting to violence, how to make mistakes and face up to saying sorry without shame. Boys need true friends and closeness with family. They need to learn how to be “Buddies not bullies,” how to cry and express themselves to each other when they are sad.
In these days of social media boys need sources that they can trust, adults who will listen to their worries and questions with love and care. Boys need to learn so much about everything there is to know about relationships, consent, sexuality, from the right people. We, their parents and teachers, are the right people, so we better up our game too.
Boys are beautiful, golden hearted, open and caring. Reassure them that they are good, that they can help to change the world and that a better world for women and girls will ultimately be a better world for them too.