When parents steer their sons away from toy swords, guns, sticks, and other instruments that, combined with a little imagination, can be fashioned into instruments of make-believe epic warfare, are they civilizing their boys, or emasculating them?
Writing at Patheos.com on September 5, Simcha Fisher said it’s the latter, and that we all are paying for it:
Are we so afraid of the power of violence to overtake us that we are uncomfortable with its harmless expression in children’s play?
Yes, we are, and it’s making a mess of the world. It doesn’t make violence go away when we always tell boys, ‘Put that stick down.’ Instead, it’s making a world where people, boys and girls alike, have no idea what to do about unjust violence.
Boys playing with sticks is not a meaningless game. It’s something that little boys absolutely must be allowed to do, if that’s how they want to play. A boy who wants to pick up a stick needs to know that he can, and he may, and that his affinity for sticks is not a bad thing. He needs to know that a stick is a powerful thing, and that the world needs men who know how to use their sticks.
Obviously, a thin veil separates learning that “a stick is a powerful thing” from learning that, say, a gun is a powerful thing. But Fisher’s point isn’t about weapons. It’s about manliness–that now taboo concept, a holdover from past chauvinistic eras. Those primitive enough to embrace it (like Fisher, my wife, and myself) believe it to include nostalgic, sexist ideas such as viewing a husband as his wife’s protector; a father as his family’s provider; a brother as his siblings’ wing man; and a soldier as his country’s defender.
As Fisher explains, there is a vast and critical difference between cultivating our children’s noble warrior spirits, and either letting them run unchecked or (worse) “castrating” them:
Parents believe that there are only two choices: we can raise our sons to be quiet, passive, nurturing empaths who could easily slide into a princess dress without making a ripple — or we can raise them to be swaggering, slavering beasts who exist only to give orders and mow down anything in their path.
There is, of course, an in-between. There are men who are strong and tough and in control of their strength, and these men were once boys who grew up with both weapons and rules. But it’s become impossible to talk about that kind of boyhood, without being accused of trying to turn boys into one extreme or the other. When I say that my son carefully carried around caterpillars when he was a toddler, I hear that I have a secret desire to castrate men. When I say that my husband protects our family, I hear that I’m perpetuating rape culture and the myth of female victimhood. When I say that there is a difference between men and women, I hear that I am the problem – I’m the reason there’s violence and unhappiness in the world – I’m the reason we can’t all just get along. I hear that if only we would all agree to put the stick down, we’d be fine.
Yes, well. When your daughter is the one who’s lying barely conscious on the front yard of some frat house, my sons will be the ones who will know enough to charge in, swinging sticks to chase the brutes away. They’ll know because we let them have sticks, we let them find out what sticks can do, and we told them what sticks are for.
Violence doesn’t take over when boys are allowed to have sticks. Violence takes over when no one tells boys what sticks are for.
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