Boys restricted more than ever?

In this week’s Boston Globe Magazine there was a story about the failure of anti-bullying efforts in schools, along with the observation that the next step might be to mobilize the bystanders.

Buried in this article was an interesting tidbit worth further exploration:

Girls now vigorously compete with boys in sports, academics, and other pursuits, so the definition of being female and the range of gender-appropriate behavior for them are wider than they’ve ever been. But sociologists Barbara Risman and Elizabeth Seale have found that the range of socially acceptable behavior for boys among their peers is narrower than ever, perhaps because they’re more motivated to protect their remaining turf as a result of the increased competition from girls. And boys who don’t conform to those standards of masculinity are likely to be labeled gay. Homophobic-fueled bullying is the most devastatingly effective tool that boys use to enforce these restrictions on one another.

This reminded me of the thesis in “Packaging Boyhood,” which addresses the ways that media and marketing reinforce stereotypes that force boys into some fairly narrow standards. The authors, Lyn Mikel Brown, Sharon Lamb and Mark Tappan, say boys are “besieged by images and messages that encourage slacking over studying; competition over teamwork; power over empowerment; and being cool over being oneself.”

And if you’re not cool, well, you’re gay. Whether boys are subject to the worst of bullying, or just have a little piece these messages lodged somewhere in their brains, hardly seems fair to kids who are trying to grow up and figure out who they are and who they want to be.

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