Boys will be boys

Ever thought about how dangerous a phrase that actually is?

Often, when it comes to discussions on the commercialisation of childhood, we tend to focus on the girls – the anti-princess movement, the #activegirls twitter trend, encourage girls into science and technology, the list is endless, and rightly so!

But what about the boys? Although of course boys are directly affected by these issues too, in how they may perceive girls and behave in relation to them, but do we feel we are doing enough for them as individuals?
You may think, oh men don’t need any help on that front – every door is automatically open to them! This may be true when it comes to career and lifestyle choices, but what about their emotional and psychological well-being? Arguably a higher priority.

You will remember we previously featured the wonderful new film The Mask You Live in, from The Representation Project. Highlighting research which shows that boys in the U.S. are ?more likely to be diagnosed with a behavior disorder, prescribed stimulant medications, fail out of school, binge drink, commit a violent crime, and/or take their own lives?, it asks this very question “As a society, how are we failing our boys?”

In the article Stand Your Ground, Be a Man, Imran Siddique writes ?

“From birth we teach boys to dominate their surroundings, but do far less to teach them empathy for others. And in the case of race, we do even less to promote understanding. This leaves men with a limited set of tools with which to deal with real human interactions, including conflict. And rather than creating a system around them which might deal with this societal problem, we instead build laws to protect (certain) flawed men from the consequences of their violent actions. It?s a vicious, self-propagating cycle.”

As boys find themselves ?within this narrow definition of masculinity, relating with toughness, stoicism, and physical and sexual prowess, they may hide those parts of themselves that they perceive as too tender, and even too smart. As a result, boys may act less empathetic, less supportive, and less close than they actually feel or want to be. Crying is a roadblock to being accepted and identified as a strong male. So one of the first things people do is teach boys not to cry. (Geoffrey Canada)

The subversive issues surrounding the expectations of boys and young men will not be solved by inaction. Joseph Tobin, author of Good Guys Don’t Wear Hats and Professor of Education at Arizona State University says:

“Gender expectations are socially constructed, ruthlessly enforced and powerful, we should talk with boys about the reality of gender expectations, and help them brainstorm about how to negotiate this problem. If a little boy is struggling to feel adequately masculine by acting tough, it’s not helpful to criticize or mock his interests. The fact is that all men struggle with this issue and none of us has it figured out.”

It is a different challenge that we face when it comes to boys, and it is one of emotional literacy. If we do not temper this message of contempt for normal ?non-masculine? fears that the media perpetuates, the fall out we face is the continued denial of boys emotional lives ? making them unable to recognise feelings in others and perhaps more importantly, themselves.

Back in 2011 we spoke about the UK government releasing a report into the sexualisation and commercialisation of childhood. We said:
One of the reasons for beginning Tootsa MacGinty was to create an alternative to the glitzy, beauty focused, princess themed products aimed at girls. However boys also face many stereotypes and these stereotypes can be just as damaging. Camouflage, skulls, sludgy colours and slogans like ?I?m trouble? or ?little monster? dominate the boys wear market; designs which value toughness and aggression or bad behaviour and reinforce the negative stereotype of boys as brats and trouble makers. It is no wonder then that girls are generally considered better behaved than boys!

The response to our first range from retailers and parents was huge. We received wide praise and lots of great feedback. Many commented on how refreshing it is to see colourful clothes boys can wear with gentle, child like imagery. It would seem that what we believe to be just plain common sense is actually quite hard to come by on the British high street!

Another trend Tootsa MacGinty is attempting to buck is the portrayal of boys in fashion photography. In general boys are only seen amongst other boys and usually depicted in active, aggressive or cheeky poses. Rarely will you find images of boys behaving in a kind or nurturing manner and, due to the gender divide in toys and clothing, it is very disappointing to find that boys and girls are no longer photographed together.
In each of our photo shoots we attempt to show a more realistic view of children.

boys in photos

For further reading on this topic we recommend Crystal Smith?s The Achilles Effect (blog and book) which explores gender bias in the entertainment aimed at primary school boys, focusing on the dominant themes in children?s TV shows, toy advertising, movies, and books. It examines the gender messages sent by pop culture, provides strategies for countering these messages, and encourages discussion of a vitally important issue that is rarely talked about?the impact of gender stereotypes on boys.

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