This analysis is more anecdotal than
scientific, but as an educator and mother of teens, I am concerned about the deteriorating
boy culture I see in the New York/New Jersey suburbs. The Don Draper “Mad Men” vision of manhood my teen students, daughters and neighbors have shared with me is no
longer a passing phase, but has taken root and is flourishing in our current
climate. It is no longer entertaining.
In the two-year election
campaign cycle, and in the wake of the election, many middle and high school aged girls who dared sport Hillary pins or SWAG, or voice divergent
opinions in class or online, were publicly ridiculed by loud individuals or
mobs of pro-Trump boys.
This taunting and teasing has been relentless
and exhausting: it sucks the life, enthusiasm and creativity from hearers. I
know a self-possessed young woman who gave up a beloved extra-curricular
activity in her last year of high school because of the harassing taunts of a
few boys about her support of Hillary and feminist issues. Even at her progressive
private high school, the Sanders and Trump supporters bullied Hillary
supporters loudly, and used misogynist, foul language, e.g. “choke on a (male
body part).” It is pervasive: in the classroom, lunchroom, gym, hallways,
buses, social media, forced small workgroups, football games, and Main Street,
boys can be seen chanting with an in-your-face loudness that diminishes anyone
who disagrees and threatens their voices at a critical developmental age. These
young boys march in the town parades in their “Make America Great Again” hats
and sweatshirts, and are seen stealing dozens of opposing lawn signs from
neighbors after school. They are emboldened daily by their role model world
leader. He bullies immigrants, people of color, and women; they follow like
toddlers in parallel play.
On November 9, boys chanted at Hispanic students in their
school during lunch, "Trump won. You are getting deported, you are going
back to Mexico." These matters are taken seriously in many well-run high
schools filled with mostly well-meaning people. Yet, how do we learn to be
respectful humans, citizens, friends, and partners?
This boy culture appears to be
fostering a greater divide between the sexes ... a phenomenon of less dating,
romance, intimacy, and love in a country where campus rape is normalized, as is
racism and sexism, and other biases. I know of a brown-skinned boy
who reads Breitbart, shaved his black hair, and tries to blend in with the
white skinned boys at school. Otherwise he'd likely be scapegoated, or alone,
which is death to a high schooler. A girl of Palestinian descent was called a
terrorist as she rode the bus to school. To counter this daily onslaught of toxicity,
a group of girls asked a teacher to start a club to support each other. They're
looking to create a safe space for themselves and their voices.
Politics is dividing people by
gender because many girls don’t feel comfortable being with boys who are so
pro-Trump and its associated “grab her by the pussy” behavior. Many boys don't seem
to know how to coexist with empowered women, so they end up diminishing girls
to enhance themselves and hide their own insecurities. How do feminist and other boys navigate this
I asked a few large closed Facebook groups I belong to if they
noticed this trend. A teacher responded:
“Absolutely. Last year, I heard an 8th-grade boy shout at an
8th-grade girl, ‘Feminism is a cancer.’ I'd never heard any boy in my school
say anything like that before, and I've been there 13 years now. I was also
told by a group of girls that when they made and wore shirts that read, ‘Girl
Power,’ they were mocked by some boys and called (among other things) 'feminazis.'
This is an affluent, left-leaning town. Please don't use my name.”
Other women who had shared similar stories declined to comment
publicly. If adult women are forced into hiding in secret Facebook groups,
imagine how hard it is to speak up if you are a teen.
The media is covering this
President 24/7 because he is Commander in Chief yet his behavior befits more
the Spoiled Boy in Chief. The ubiquitous coverage of his every tweet and rant
has made him a role model for our youth whether we like it or not. Before we
disregard his behavior as the fleeting attention-grabbing antics of an
entertainer as president, perhaps we should pay mind to the words of Stephen
Sondheim from “Into the Woods:”
“How do you say to
your child in the night?
black, but then nothing's all white
How do you say it
will all be all right?
When you know that
it might not be true? What do you do?
Careful the things
Careful the things
Children will see
Children may not
obey, but children will listen
Children will look
to you for which way to turn
To learn what to be
Careful before you
say, "Listen to me"
Careful the wish
Wishes are children
Careful the path
Wishes come true,
Careful the spell
Not just on
Sometimes the spell
Past what you can
And turn against
you” Into the Woods soundtrack