Letting Boys be Boys

A modern mother of a son (or sons) might feel a mixture of horror, sadness and anxiety when reading the recent WSJ essay, “Where have all the good men gone” by Kay S. Hymowitz. After citing multiple statistics demonstrating the ascendancy of women in today’s information and service based economy (more college degrees, higher GPAs, higher earnings, more confidence and drive), the author suggests that young men today live an extended adolescence in which they sit around watching the Cartoon Network, in dirty apartments filled with empty take-out containers, while their sisters are making strides in careers, climbing the corporate ladder, building an adult life.

Sigh. So this is how it all ends up? A mother works diligently to raise her son to be a caring adult, a responsible contributor to society only to find him playing video games at the age of 28, shirking responsibility, and reading “lad” magazines like Maxim?  Really?

While stewing about this article, this mother went shopping for little boys clothes, taking note of what exactly is available: the size 4 black ACDC shirts, the skull covered onesies, fatigues for toddlers, shirts that say “slacker” or “rebel” or "look mom no hands!"

*All of these clothes are sold in size 4 or smaller. Sources: The Gap, CWD Kids, The Gap.

After wading through these visions of masculinity, she wonders about the messages they send to the boys who are supposed to wear them.  Skateboarder, sports star, rock star, military man all in navy blue, gray, black, brown.  Does this limited range of images and colors reflect more limited aspirations for boys?  Do they suggest that even young boys should already be cynical and wild; that they won't like school? It's as if we're pushing them to grow into the slackers which Ms. Hymowitz argues their 20-something counterparts have become. 

Many of these clothes and the images seem better suited to an adolescent than to the preschoolers or first graders for which they are sized. Is our culture afraid of letting our boys be children before they grow into hip, slacker teenagers? Are we afraid of letting them be vulnerable and earnest? Is it OK for a 2 year old boy to wear his older sister’s snow suit? For a 5 year old boy to like pink?  For a 9 year old boy to bring a stuffed animal to a sleep over? 

Thankfully, for dressing her son, the well mannered mother can always fall back on that basic polo shirt or plain t-shirt available practically anywhere. She could also head straight to Papo d’ Anjo and dress her son in better clothes than she buys for herself.  The challenging part, of course, will be enabling him to grow up at his own pace, letting her boy be a boy before he hits adolescence, and cross her fingers in the hope that her son doesn't grow up to be a case study for Ms. Hymowitz.


kayce hughes said...

I have a strong feeling that you are not raising a slacker.

Megan said...

Well thought out.

Capability said...

I sympathize - these boy clothes are slacker-in-training gear but how about the clothes for girls? Trying to dress young girls in modest clothing is a huge challenge. The low-ride jeans and provocative sayings on t-shirts? All too much.

Anonymous said...

ok... I get the objection to the "slacker" message [notwithstanding my gut feeling to cut Snoopy a little ....err... slack], but the other two shirts? I'm not an AC/DC fan, but not sure exactly how it is so terrible that a kid might be a fan [or more likely, might like the tshirt because his parent(s) are fans] and the skull & crossbones onesy is just plain funny. [for boys or girls]. I am particularly interested in the idea that a shirt with the slogan "rebel" is objectionable. Don't we want our kids to have a certain amount of rebel in them?

I do totally get the argument about the color palette, though. I'm a firm believer in colors not having genders and vice versa.

EHP said...

Thanks for reading, Anonymous. Agreed that when a 2 year old is wearing an ACDC shirt it is the parents who are fans. Perhaps they like the idea of their young child singing along to the song Problem Child:

What I want I stash
What I don't I smash
And you're on my list
Dead or alive
I got a .45
And I never miss

I wonder what this says about our expectation of and collective cultural aspirations for boys.

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