Toronto was reeling after learning that the person arrested for sexual assaulting over a dozen women in a section of the city during the summerwas a 15 year old boy. For many young men and boys today, is growing up an ascent or descent into Manhood? Looking at the need to discuss the ways society sculpts boys into men, Jeff Perera looks back at an experience with two young boys and reflects on what he wishes he said to them.
I used to be a little boy
So old in my shoes
And what I choose is my choice
What’s a boy supposed to do?
Disarm – The Smashing Pumpkins
Rush hour at the end of a Friday is fascinating. People racing to escape a place they spend the majority of their waking hours in life, retreating into what they believe is their actual life. Sometimes we find ourselves running from our self, like a dog scared of its own tail, and from truths which we can’t outrun.
On one odd Friday after work, I found myself in a mostly-deserted subway car heading out of the downtown core. Sitting to my right was a woman wearing headphones lost in either the music or the textbook in her hands. She likely couldn’t hear (or didn’t want to hear) the two young boys sitting across from us.
Two boys, both no older than twelve, both holding smartphones in hand, both with their hair styled and wearing the latest fashions. Both trying so hard to pass for well beyond their age, I felt like I was watching a parody, part of me wanted to look for the hidden camera. They exchanged slang-ridden sentences loudly like they owned the joint, showing each other images on their phones with mimicked, carefully rehearsed body language.
“Hey, check this out!”
The other looks, then sits back, shaking his head with a matching cool sneer declares ‘That’s gaaay…..that’s gaaaaay’
I couldn’t take more of the charade, and suddenly reacted like I was kicked in the gut, bursting out ”Hey Guys, talking like that is not cool!!” Like deflated balloons, the tween-macho-bubble burst. Something was ripped out of their spines and throats. Their heads dropped as they sunk into their seats with the posture of jello, becoming twelve year old boys.
We just sat there. The three of us.
Maybe they were the young boys on your street, in your apartment building, or in your life. Trying desperately to find their way, forever lost on the subway of Life without a guide or a map. Instead of growing up to be Men, some boys grow up to be Adult Boys. The question we urgently need to ask ourselves is:
For our young men & boys today, is growing up an ascent or descent into Manhood?
The truth is that more young men & boys are lost than we want to admit. It has always has been this way, what other way could it be? The world we create for them is like a enormous mansion with endless rooms. They have the keys to every room, but most get lost and spend their entire lives trying to find their way home…a way out.
“When we teach our sons how to throw a ball or slap a puck, let us also teach them how to gently hold a hand. Teach them how to hug. Often, we think small things are irrelevant – they are not.
The general idea of how we create paths forward for children based on their gender, and create concepts of gender itself, are really depressing. Before you set foot in this world, say your first words or have any say in anything, decisions and a path forward is carved for you by others. It is a double-edged sword striking an impossible divide across one’s humanity, like using a knife to separate water in a bowl.
The way society as a whole sculpts out ideas of what it is to be a boy or to be a girl,
is like carving a statue out of stone.
Some artists will tell you they are simply freeing the art that is locked inside the medium they are working with, just removing the unnecessary excess to reveal the art. Michelangelo is quoted as saying “ever block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it”.
So you start sculpting a male child with that new block that is a person’s mind and soul.
When society sculpts a boy out of the block, hands chip away and discard pieces of their initial essence and humanity. Anything ‘non-masculine’ is discarded, such as sensitivity, emotional literacy and connection, empathy, and consensus decision-making connected to your heart as well as mind. We preserve the tough, unmoved, strong and silent core, void of a whole half denied him. Some of us have it all carved out. Some of us thankfully were carved to have partial access to our full range of humanity. Some of us are trying to hold onto those discarded pieces chiseled away by others to define who we are.
The portion of the block discarded to carve out young men & boys is what society deems to be reserved for women and girls. The reality is that opposite of ‘Man’ is not ‘Woman’, the opposite of being a ‘Man’ is being a ‘Boy’. While girls are wondering ’won’t I need to be assertive to take control, find my voice and make my imprint?’, boys are left searching as well.
We raise boys to be tough, be courageous, to take risks and damn the consequences.
We raise girls to be cautious and consider consequences.
We raise boys sheltered from their impact on others… “boys will be boys”
We raise girls to care what others think and define themselves accordingly “What will people say??”
We raise boys to become men stuck in time, thinking they are still their former self from decades ago.
We raise girls to become women that weigh the future and their mortality. “How much time is left, cause your body is aging, devaluing, ticking…”
If we will consciously, consistently teach our sons – regardless of our biological connection or their age –who and what women are, we will redeem ourselves as guardians of the next generation. “
Some young men are raised with a sense of entitlement. Messages everywhere remind them the world is theirs for the taking. If you want it, go get it. Pop Country superstar Carrie Underwood humoured a 12-year-old boy at a concert in Louisville, Kentucky who held a “Will You Be My First Kiss?” sign. So she bought up on stage to kiss him as he wanted. Why is this treated different than if a grown man were to kiss a 12 year old girl? I remember a mother telling me how her young daughter in Kindergarden came home complaining that a boy in her class won’t stop trying to kiss her. She tells him to stop and pushes him away. He doesn’t stop and the teacher doesn’t try to stop him.
Here is where it starts.
Lil’ Reese is a 19 year old rapper from Chicago. Here are some lyrics from his song Traffic ”We ain’t really with that talking, bitch we love that action/I lost so many niggas, turned into a savage…/Kicked your bitch to the curb, she was too dramatic.” The performance many people know him from is an argument with a young woman who wants Lil’ Reese and his crew to leave her house.
Here is how it ends. (TRIGGER WARNING: THE LINK CONTAINS EXTREME VIOLENCE)
It ends with this woman who dared speak up in her own home being beaten. Other men stand by and watch as Lil’ Reese defends the fragile house of cards that is his idea of manhood. This adult boy explodes into a fury, lost is value for her black sister, for black female bodies and souls. Lost is his own soul. The costs for carving out these warped ideas of manhood are internal break-downs and young men becoming shut-in’s or walking time-bombs.
This world rejects me
This world threw me away
This world never gave me a chance
This world’s gonna have to pay
Something inside of me has opened up its eyes
Why did you put it there did you not realize
This thing inside of me it screams the loudest sound
Sometimes I think I couldI’m gonna burn this whole world down
If I could have the moment back with those boys on the train I would have said something more. I would said “You know guys, you maybe old enough to travel alone, perhaps you have no choice, perhaps no one is too concerned, because you are boys…and you might know where you are going, but do you know where you are headed? I watched you both practice what you know, your truth. Riding a rush hour train, trying to be grown up but not grown at all. You are following the example of those who haven’t grown up themselves. Don’t be in a rush, the train will get there, there is no rush.’
Japan’s Kosho Sudo, on the right in this picture, is a master Buddhist sculpture craftsperson.
Here he and his students carve a statue of Buddha made of pine which was hit by a earthquake and tsunami. About 5,000 people have contributed to the carving of the nearly nine-foot-tall, six-foot-deep statue.
As with this statue, thousands of people together carve out ideas for boys and girls of what they can be, cannot be, must be, or must not be.
We do this. All of us. We do this.
What are you carving out, sculpting out for yesterday’s, today’s and tomorrow’s generation?
The tools are in your hands as they are in mine.
“Lost Boys” was first published on Higher Unlearning on November 5, 2012.