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 terrain?
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?
Nothing's all 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 you say
Children will listen
Careful the things you do
Children will see and learn
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"
Children will listen
Careful the wish you make
Wishes are children
Careful the path they take
Wishes come true, not free
Careful the spell you cast
Not just on children
Sometimes the spell may last
Past what you can see
And turn against you” Into the Woods soundtrack
Carolyn Johnson Ed.D. is a graduate of Fordham University and the Founder of Not So Common Application https://notsocommonapplication.org/