Raising boys to be men

All Woman

GENDER norms have been entrenched in our culture for decades — for instance, women have been told that they need to be submissive homemakers while men should not show emotions, be strong, tall, self-assured and physically imposing. And while we have seen many women escaping these stereotypes, what has not gone unnoticed is that hypermasculinity remains a dominant feature of how boys are raised.

This, clinical psychologist Dr Pearnel Bell says, remains a major concern because not only is it unfair to boys, but it is toxic.

“Hypermasculinity, while it is a common thread in all ethnic groups, we find that it is a common feature of many black families. It is a way of enforcing in our boys a hardened state of being — they are expected to be domineering and strong and showing emotion is often met with words like 'be a man' or 'grow some!',” Dr Bell told All Woman.

Consequently, Dr Bell said that when boys are raised with this stereotypical tunnel view of what it means to be a man, it makes it almost impossible for them to be true to themselves.

“Statistics show us how these enforced masculine behaviours have over time hurt our boys. We forbid them from crying and we see where this pent up anger fuels unhealthy behaviours, they are more likely to be violent and more likely to consume alcohol and abuse other substances such as marijuana and even cocaine as a way of coping,” Dr Bell reasoned.

She said that it is high time we abandon these primitive stereotypes because this is the only way we will have a shot at breaking this unhealthy cycle and open a new way for a less toxic generation of men.

How exactly can parents achieve this? Dr Bell breaks things down below.

Help your boy to become emotionally aware

“Our God-assigned emotions are for boys and girls. When parents stifle these they allow the child to suppress their emotions. This leads to emotional issues — it is why we have so many angry, violent men who are out of touch with themselves because they are less inclined to show love and softer emotions like excitement,” Dr Bell explained.

She said that discouraging boys from showing their emotions creates an imbalance, robbing them of their emotional intelligence. Helping them to be emotionally aware on the other hand will help them to understand that it is okay to be vulnerable, to show softer emotions such as sadness and excitement, they become more human, and this helps them to better engage with their parents, peers, partners and children.

Stop being so fixated gender roles

There has always been a fixation on what men and women can and cannot do — a parent will lose it if their son takes up a doll, for example.

“This has to change. Nothing is wrong with cooking for your wife, doing the family's laundry, being a stay-at-home dad, or helping out more with the children,” Dr Bell said.

Boys need to learn that they are equally responsible for completing of household tasks as their sisters — it will teach them not only responsibility, but other stellar qualities such as being supportive, to love, to be helpful and to be kind.

Help them to have a healthy understanding of sex

Unfortunately, we live in a time when many men still believe that they have rights to a woman's body; they undress us with their eyes, grab onto intimate body parts, and especially in relationships, some men believe that they should be able to engage women sexually even without consent.

“Sexual dominance and a poor understanding of sexuality are also side effects of hypermasculinity. We must teach our boys to respect women, that the way they dress shouldn't be an excuse for them to touch or grab them, that women should be approached with respect, and that when a woman says NO she means NO, even if she is your wife,” Dr Bell reasoned.

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