Raising A Non-Violent Boy In A Violent World

Last year I wrote a piece on raising a girl for HelloGiggles. Raising a girl has always been something that has scared the crap out of me. It’s an endless worry of mine…. As mother I find that worry is now my middle name. For my beloved girl I fret over how to raise her as strong, confidant, empowered. I worry about how she sees girls represented in the media and larger culture. I endlessly wring my hands over the message I may send her with my love for feminism, but also for glamour & femininity. I worry, I worry, I worry…

I am also the mother of a beautiful, sweet boy. Granted, he is young, still a toddler, but I admittedly worry less about the messages he receives from popular culture. I worry less about his empowerment and sense of self. I worry less about who his role models will be or what his toys look like. I worry less because I imagine that as a white, privileged boy, he has the world at his fingertips. Too much so. I worried less until last Friday. With the Newtown massacre, I was hit with the harsh reality that our boys are in trouble. That I’ve been essentially living in total denial about what it means to raise a boy in our society. That messages being sent to him are as equally crippling as those being sent to my daughter… and possibly more dangerous.

This weekend, a fact was haunting me. For the most part, men generate violence. Yeah, this is a sweeping statement, but wholly true. And one real, active, thing I can do as a mother is use every fiber of my being to raise an gentle, non-violent, feminist man. Aside from this personal mission, it seems that it is high time to resurrect a movement for non-violence.

The advertisement for the weapon used by Sandy Hook perpetrator shows a picture of a semi-automatic gun with the quote “Consider Your Man Card Reissued”. This is what we are teaching our boys. To be men, you have to be tough, violent, gun-toting. To be a man, you have to engage in violent acts. Gun regulation and better health care for mental illness is an enormous step in ending gun violence, but until we acknowledge that the bulk of this violence is at the hands of men, we are not seeing the entire picture.

I know that I’m writing this as part of processing my own emotions about the mass shooting in Newtown, and that I don’t have too many (if any) answers. I do know that the best we can do to honor the children and lives lost is to take our sorrow, heartbreak, confusion and anger and transform into action. We have to do more than pray, send good thoughts and sign petitions. We need to have a national conversation. We need to take to the streets in non-violent protest. We need to hold our representatives feet to the fire. We need to come together as families, as neighborhoods, as towns, as cities, as a country, as a planet.

My heart hurts for the burden we place on boys. My heart breaks for my sweet boy who loves dressing in his sister’s clothes as much as he loves trucks. I ache for him and hope he can balance his absolute devotion to his big sister and her dolls with his devotion to Thomas the Train. My heart breaks to think that his freedom to show his emotions now will systematically be stolen from him as he is told that it’s not okay to cry. “When the only emotion that a man can legitimately express is anger, how can we be surprised that many men turn to violence in response to emotional issues?” – Crates & Ribbons

It’s all connected. Violence is bullying, it’s rape, it’s war, it’s media, video games, it’s violence against women, it’s poverty, it’s education, it’s anti-gay sentiment, lack of social services, it’s racism, it’s how we treat mental illness, it’s health care, it’s prison culture, its films, TV and video games, its personal, it’s political and the onus is on all of us to agitate, take to the streets, talk and listen.

As Cara Hoffman puts it so succinctly, “If we are genuine in our desires to find solutions, we need to develop a system of screening that will identify potential problems in boys early enough to help them and to save the lives of others. We need to teach empathy in our schools. We need to use common sense when it comes to exposing children to attitudes and images that equate power and masculinity with violence and killing. We need to help men transcend the cultural and biological burdens of their gender or resign ourselves to paying in children’s blood.”

In the great tradition of Non Violence Activism, I hope to see peaceful protests on the street, a day of action, a march on Washington, whatever it takes to keep current the momentum and energy we are seeing now, and translate it into legislation, change and greater love and tolerance for one another.

A few great resources on the topic: (please add to this list in the comments section)

A Great Documentary on the subject: “Tough Guise: Violence, Media & the Crisis in Masculinity”


Peace and Love,

Sarah Sophie

PS: Special thanks to my awesome feminist man friend Nathan Larson for bringing Cara Hoffman’s article to my attention!

Image via Shutterstock.

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