Recently they gave me a book called Why Gender Matters by Leonard Sax. As I have with so many parenting books I've received over my parenting years so far, I thanked them and put it on the shelf - until last night, when I was fresh out of new reading material and needed something, anything, to put me to sleep.
That book was not the right choice. It scared the bejeebers out of me: I railed against the mismatch between kindergarten teachers and their boy students (virtually all K teachers are women and have been trained to do things like speak gently and encourage kids to use lots of color and to draw human figures; boys physically do not hear as well as girls, and their retinas have more "motion-detecting" cells and fewer "identification" cells, such that they tend to draw relatively monochrome pictures of things in motion rather than nice families in their pretty gardens). I boggled at the difficulties of keeping boys interested in art and music, the girls in athletics, math, and science, when a "gender-neutral" approach is the norm. The chapter on teenage sexuality was so horrifying that when I finally fell asleep, it was with my "self-esteem script" for my daughter running through my head. I'm shuddering right now. As Dr. Sax terms it, the teen sex paradigm has changed from the female to the male: even as recently as ten years ago, the female paradigm was more common, in which the girl demanded, and got, at least a verbal and time commitment from the boy before she'd have sex with him (and of course this was back in the day when "having sex" included oral sex, which this book scarily informs me is now "second base" or "equivalent to kissing" to today's teens). The new male paradigm is, as my husband said this morning, a teenage boy's dream: sex with not only no explicit or implied commitment but actually designed and planned to mean a lack of commitment. "Hooking up." Fear it, if you're a parent.
Fear it for your daughters because any fool knows that it isn't all that fun for a girl or woman to perform sexual acts on a boy or man who doesn't give a tinker's damn about her. Fear it for your sons because this is all the warm-up they get in the desperately important "finding a surrogate mother" sweepstakes - let's face it, wives, that's what we are in one vital respect: we are typically our husbands' only truly intimate emotional connection and support besides their moms. And as Dr. Sax points out, single heterosexual men are sicker, unhappier, and shorter-lived than their counterparts with wives or partners.
I'm perhaps halfway through the book so far, and am growing increasingly nervous about the next ten or fifteen years with these kids of ours. How do we teach our daughter that she's "above rubies" and need not "drop to the broadloom" in Mark Steyn's humorous formulation for anyone unless she gets what she wants - love - beforehand? How do we socialize our sons, foster young men who respect women and have an appropriate outlet for their natural aggression?
As one guidance counselor says in the book, you may not be able to turn a bully into a flower child, but you can turn a bully into a knight. Affirm the knight, she says. I'd add that you may not be able to turn a flower child into a truck driver, but you can turn a flower child into an emotional Rock of Gibraltar for all around her.
I want my sons to be manly, my daughter to be womanly. I want them to have courage, to know when it's time to stand up and be counted, to feel deeply but to know when their feelings are not the most important factor. How can I affirm the knight in my sons? I sure hope there are some answers later in the book, because my confidence is at an all-time low right now.
On the other hand, there's this story, courtesy of Instapundit:
When their homes began to sink in Katrina's floodwaters, elders in the quarter here known as Uptown gathered their neighbors to seek refuge at the Samuel J. Green Charter School, the local toughs included.
But when the thugs started vandalizing the place - wielding guns and breaking into vending machines - Vance Anthion put them out, literally tossing them into the fetid waters. Anthion stayed awake at night after that, protecting the inhabitants of the school from looters or worse.
In the days after the storm, the Samuel J. Green school also served as their base for helping others in the neighborhood.
They waded through filthy water to bring elderly homebound neighbors bowls of soup, bread and drinks. They helped the old and the sick to the school rooftop, so the Coast Guard could pluck them to safety by helicopter - 18 people in all.
The knight was in the ascendant at that school. There's hope.