“You have to be taught to be afraid of people whose eyes are oddly made. Of people whose skin is a different shade … . You have to be carefully taught.” Those words from South Pacific ring as true today as when they were written. They apply not only to racism but any ideas instilled by parents on a young impressionable mind. I’ve thought lately about this issue and have come up with a few theories about improving our parenting skills.
First, we need to change the way we raise our boys so they don’t engage in unacceptable behaviors such as raping, groping and demeaning others, especially women. We need to change our definition of manhood – what makes a man a real man. Let’s start with what is probably a strict dictionary definition – an adult male of the human sort. I don’t see anything in that definition about how many oversize muscles a guy has, the size of his jewels, the amount of chest hair, the number of females he can seduce, the number of offspring he can sire or how many fist-fights he can win. Why then, do so many men define their manhood or manliness by those standards? It makes little sense to me.
Next we come to the definition of adult. My collegiate dictionary says a person, animal or plant that has reached full maturity. I think our society further defines it as emotional or behavioral maturity. By that, I mean adults have reached the level of maturity when they act responsibly, keep their promises, conduct themselves in an socially-acceptable manner with good manners, trying to be as self sufficient as possible, doing one’s assigned work as well as possible, admitting and correcting and atoning for mistakes effectively, and the like.
If we are going to change the predatory male’s ideas of manhood, we need to change the way we raise them. We need to start young and teach them respect for the feelings and wellbeing of others, especially women. Fathers and celebrity role models need to teach this by example as well as words. Women have a role in this as well, by choosing a better set of criteria for what is sexy. Too many women give an unfortunate impression of what is important by glorifying the macho image. I’ve been fortunate. The men in my life – my father, husband and one grandfather were gentle, sweet, kind, respectful of all others. They felt no need to engage in behaviors designed to prove their manliness. They were sure enough of it, that they felt no need to prove it yet none were the sort defined as macho he-men. They didn’t flex their muscles or brag about their prowess either on the battlefield or in bed.
On another related issue, I’ve recently read a number of articles on the way we are raising our young to be too dependent on parents well into the years usually considered adulthood. One article theorized the main cause was over-protecting them as youngsters. Instead of teaching them at an early age how to safely cross a street, they drive them to school – and everywhere, instead of making them walk or take the bus. They are afraid of letting them make mistakes, rather than having them learn from them and learning that most mistakes can be corrected. I was fortunate to have a daughter who was sure enough of her abilities that she thought she could do some tasks without being trained. My difficulty was deciding which lessons she could learn that way and where I should draw the line. For instance, she, at about age 10, thought she could use a sewing machine without instructions – I took exception to that.
It is obvious to me that we need to discuss these issues, and, as a society, come up with new and more effective methods of teaching our youth how to live responsible, confident lives.
Lenna Harding lived her first 20 and past four decades in Pullman. A longtime League of Women Voters member, she served on the Gladish Community and Cultural Center board. [email protected], ljharding.com
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