Be a Man, my Son

In this post I want to start to look at how we may be unconsciously and unintentionally raising our sons for the trauma of warfare, and to be capable of killing.

In my last post, I suggested a list of possible characteristics that would be positive for a man to have in a war situation and another list negative to warfare. So let’s take Professor Goldstein’s* theory further. If, as he states, all boys are raised to be psychologically prepared for war – how are we doing this? How are we encouraging the characteristics from the first list in our sons and discouraging those in the second list?

Listing them briefly and in no particular order – here are some of the things I’ve thought of:

  • On the physical level, we encourage our son to be active and competitive at sport – we like to think that he will go out there with a ‘win at all costs’ attitude.
  • We want him to be able to defend himself against the local bully and to do this he has to learn to be tough and strong, so that if anyone mocks him, he can react aggressively.
  • Some things we may say we don’t like or approve of, but we still expect them from a boy. We expect him to get up to all kinds of risky, even dangerous, behaviour. There’s a certain pride in knowing that he is adventurous and courageous.
  • We may say that we don’t like it, but we expect him to kill things – insects, birds. Later we teach him how to do it effectively by making it into ‘fun’ with shooting practice and hunting.
  • We encourage his loyalty to his friends (never ‘rat’ on a friend) even if he has to lie to protect a friend’s dangerous or immoral behaviour. No parent would consciously want their son to support unethical behaviour – but we may nevertheless be giving him that message.
  • We send him to boarding school or scouts to re-enforce what we want him to be – and to bond with other boys rather than girls. (Please keep in mind that at no point do I say that there are no differences between boys and girls).

Moving to the second list, there are a whole lot of characteristics that we don’t accept in a boy – that we don’t want him to have:

  • We don’t like him to show sensitivity or vulnerability.
  • We praise him if doesn’t cry.
  • We make him ashamed when he shows that he is afraid.
  • We know he won’t be popular if he’s introspective, so we push him ‘out there’.
  • We don’t take any time to teach him how to care for and nurture others.
  • We suppress his gentleness by pushing him towards rough play.
  • We belittle him if he does not violently defend himself against bullies.
  • We mock him if he plays with the wrong toys or if he plays with girls.

We pretend that there are characteristics that ‘real’ men don’t have and things that ‘real’ men don’t do. And then, if the boy doesn’t behave in the ‘proper’ way, we accuse him of weakness, of being like a girl. One of the tools parents frequently use is shame. We shame boys into the acceptable ‘male’ qualities. Fathers and mothers, teachers and friends all force these lessons onto boys – often causing them great personal pain.

All this indicates that boys have to undergo training to be men. A boy has to endure emotional and physical ordeals to simply ‘become a man’. Either he must rid himself of the non-acceptable male characteristics – or learn to hide them. As Goldstein* says, “men are not men automatically”.

 Are there men who have not been raised in this way?

If and when I stick my neck out on this subject among acquaintances, mothers of sons always seem to reply: “No. That’s no longer true. Young men are different now.” They say that their sons express their emotions and their thoughts. Their sons love playing with their own kids. Their sons would never be violent. And I believe these mothers. I’ve met many young men who are gentle, communicative and caring. There does seem to be a growing number of such men. From my experience, they tend to come from homes that are more financially-secure, more highly-educated, less conservative and traditional. Their mothers tend to be women who are aware, questioning and independent in thought. Hopefully their numbers are growing. Unfortunately I don’t think these young men are very representative of the majority of men.

In my following post, join me in trying to understand how it started – why we are training our sons to be fodder for war. And if we are training our sons in the attributes of a soldier, is it still necessary nowadays.

The discussion continues on

2 Responses to Be a Man, my Son

  1. Nikki SWanepoel says:

    Thanks for this.

  2. This is a really nice blog.

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