Tonight the country’s attention will once again be on Charleston, South Carolina. This is intentional because tomorrow we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day and many will remember the horrific murders at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, the oldest AME church in the South. The murderer facing charges is a young man. He is scheduled to go to trial July 11, 2016.
Research released as long ago as 1978 confirmed the dangers in believing boys are not socialized differently growing up than girls are. The biggest danger is in our society not acknowledging that males, while a minority of our population, are facing a serious crisis in 2016. Among the risks are not just depression and the very real possibility of suicide, but the increased likelihood that a man is more drawn to violence. While FBI statistics show that levels of violent crime in the United States, including murder, have steadily declined since 1991, acts of murder and non-negligent manslaughter still claim about 15,000 lives a year.
This increased likelihood could be influenced by boys’ socialization as a young child. Things like emphasis on achievement and competition, as the message to control their affect, are reinforced by parents, by peers and by even video games and popular combative sports such as football.
According to the American Foundation for the Prevention of Suicide, which sources its data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s Fatal Injury Report for 2014,
“For many years, the suicide rate has been about 4 times higher among men than among women. In 2014, men had a suicide rate of 20.7, and women had a rate of 5.8. Of those who died by suicide in 2014, 77.4% were male and 22.6% were female.”
The CDC also reports that in 2014, firearms were the most common method of death by suicide, accounting for a little less than half (49.9%) of all suicide deaths.
In their 1978 research paper, titled, “The Influence of Sex on Parental Reactions to Toddler Children,” Beverly I. Fagot wrote that fathers were stricter with sons and less tolerant of aggression directed towards themselves, while mothers expected sons to conform to “external standards.” Fagot goes on to say that both parents reported that they had “greater confidence in their daughter’s trustworthiness and truthfulness.” They encouraged her “ladylike behavior.” In other words, they discouraged rough-and-tumble play and encouraged “cleanliness.” That is a great deal of pressure on boys and differentiated parenting that only increases as children became school-age.
The point of looking at this research and better understanding how important it is to understand the dangers facing males in America is best explained by Australian journalist and political activist, Clinton Barnes, of Edith Cowan University, who wrote on June 28, 2015,
“We could speculate as to why masculinity is traditionally more violent. Perhaps violent cultures required it. But the question for today is: should we keep this anachronistic, unnecessarily violent tendency? Or should we put it under the microscope and propose a new masculinity, and check in with what women are doing that makes them so substantially less inclined toward violence.”
He continued, “Traditional masculinity is a monster. Often we hear what women can do to prevent violence against them. But it’s got nothing to do with women; they’re just collateral damage caught in the path of this destructive beast that is hurting itself as much as anyone else.”
Families have the power and responsibility to not differentiate how they parent their boys. All of us have the power to advocate for equity for both genders and support the men and boys in our lives in demonstrating their masculinity in whatever way makes them feel true to themselves.
“The three most destructive words that every man receives when he’s a boy is when he’s told to ‘be a man,’” —Joe Ehrmann, coach and former NFL player