05: Fatherhood cont’d

with 2 comments

The Problem

The primary problem with these two books is the expectations they outline. For example, James and Thomas are developmentalists, which means they expect boys to develop through distinct phases on their journey to adulthood. Certainly, they at least pay lip service to the fact that not all boys will go through the same stages of development at the same time, and that the stages are fluid in nature. However, there remains a clear assumption that in general boys develop in certain ways. The problem here, of course, is that such assumptions establish a norm, and if boys do not adhere to it then they become, by default, abnormal.

The other thing to notice about these developmental stages is that they themselves are constructed via the lens of conspiracy assumptions about masculinity. We read of the Explorer, the Individual, the Wanderer and the Warrior. Note how all these are typical conspiracy-like signifiers for masculinity. Now, the logic of the conspiracy will tell us this is because that’s the way masculinity is. But even if we acknowledge that there are distinct stages in boys’ development, my feeling is that if you looked at the range of behaviors demonstrated in any one of those stages there would be other ways of describing them that did not employ such explicit “masculine” assumptions. For example if instead of “Explorer,” we had “discovering connections between things” we have something that works along similar lines, but with a less mono-gendered nature (connections typically being considered a “feminine” trait). In a similar way, the “Individual” could be “discovering self,” the “Wanderer” and could be “developing intuition.” I’m just thinking on the fly with these examples, but no doubt there are a variety of different ways such stages could be described if we think creatively, and many of them would not feed into those assumptions about masculinity.

And, of course, those stages may just not exist with the certainty these authors suggest. Just like the problem with Venus and Mars, when we come to expect a certain thing, we tend to start seeing it, whether or not it’s really there. It is a useful exercise to consider this on a continual basis with all things: am I seeing things the way they really are, or am I seeing them the way I am being told to see them? Keep that in mind the next time you watch the news, have a meeting, go on a date or even shopping. You might be surprised how easy it is to scratch away the veneer of consensus reality and expose the “real” world beneath. This is where the great explorations of the 21st century will be: not in distant and extraordinary places, but in our immediate and everyday surrounds, but viewed minus the conspiratorial blinkers.

If these stages are problematic then so, of course, are the suggestions offered by these authors about how to best serve them. Certainly, if a stereotypically masculine stage is identified, then all those suggestions about outdoor activities and watching movies about cowboys and Indians seem appropriate. But if a stage is defined in altogether different ways, then equally different suggestions are required. You might need activities that engage emotional rather than spatial intelligence, and movies the feed aspirations to be a designer or priest rather than a forest ranger. Instead of following a prescriptive path about boyhood, it will be necessary to actually get to know the boy in question and respond to rather than shape his characteristics. The alternative, as suggested by the conspiracy, is a self-fulfilling prophecy: either typical masculine traits are mapped on to the boy to the point where he feels these are “natural” interests (thus perpetuating the conspiracy), or the boy is alienated by this process and becomes one of the less powerful men who are dominated in the conspiracy (and given the conspiracy requires such people over which to assert power, this also perpetuates the conspiracy).


Written by Joseph Gelfer

June 14, 2011 at 1:38 pm

2 Responses

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  1. You should refer to this site on natural masculinity written by an Indian. Kindly give your views on this blog,it is interesting as it exposes a lot of masculine facades.

    Tom Jacks

    April 9, 2013 at 1:30 am

  2. You should refer to this site on natural masculinity written by an Indian. Kindly give your views on this blog,it is interesting as it exposes a lot of masculine facades.

    Tom Jacks

    April 9, 2013 at 1:29 am

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