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5 Ways American Society Dehumanizes Boys

Mocking boys for doing "feminine" things forces them to lose essential parts of themselves and leaves them ill-equipped for life.

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Rigid gender rules and polarized sex segregated ideas about everything from  preschool playgroups to workplace dynamics come at great cost to everyone. And when parents, teachers, coaches, religious leaders and  pop culture all insist on the importance of  a exaggerated and binary gender dichotomy it is hard to see how children can resist. It’s not as though Julia Serano’s “ Whipping Girl” has made it to many mainstream lists of parental how-to books.

And restrictive boy codes turn into restrictive man codes. Forcing boys to reject all “feminine” aspects of themselves means not teaching them to be fully human. It reduces their ability to be flexible, adaptable and nimble when encountering new situations. It reduces  their opportunities for happiness.

Empathy is essential to changing this. Boys with sisters in households where gender roles are stereotypical are far  more likely to grow up to be conservative men with a similar reliance on stereotypes. They end up, often, as  benevolent sexist out of sync with the reality of women’s lives, but, worse, actively involved in making sure they are not successful in the workplace.  One of the things that challenges their beliefs as adults, interestingly, is having daughters, something researchers call a “ warming effect.”

People who to claim have egalitarian ideals while wringing their hands about a boy crises in education, are all the while advocating the exact course of action that limits boys in the first place: a greater emphasis on sex segregation and  debunked, essentialist ideas about brains, gender and roles in life.  The boy crisis we should be focusing on is how “boys will be boys” ideas and sexist media leave boys ill-equipped to function in diverse societies.   School aren’t emasculating boys, American masculinity is dehumanizing them.

Soraya L. Chemaly writes about feminism, gender and culture. She writes for the Huffington Post, Feminist Wire, BitchFlicks and Fem2.0 among others.

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