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Confusion About Masculinity and How to Raise Boys

Bestselling author Peggy Orenstein recently spent two years speaking to boys across America. In a lengthy piece for The Atlantic, she cites a survey of 1,006 ten to nineteen-year-olds, on a variety of youth issues. Orenstein writes:

The definition of masculinity seems to be … contracting. When asked what traits society values most in boys, only 2 percent of males in the survey said honesty and morality, and only 8 percent said leadership skills. When I asked them what they liked about being a boy, most of them drew a blank. “Huh,” mused Josh, a college sophomore. “That’s interesting. I never really thought about that. You hear a lot more about what is wrong with guys.”

As part of her research, Orenstein interviewed those knowledgeable on the history of Western masculinity:

The ideal late-19th-century man was compassionate, a caretaker. But such qualities lost favor as paid labor moved from homes to factories during industrialization. In fact, the Boy Scouts, whose creed urges its members to be loyal, friendly, courteous, and kind, was founded in 1910 in part to counter that dehumanizing trend. ... Today there is much confusion about masculinity and the proper way to raise boys.

Then, during the second half of the 20th century, traditional paths to manhood—early marriage, breadwinning—began to close, along with the positive traits associated with them. Today many parents are unsure of how to raise a boy, what sort of masculinity to encourage in their sons. But as I learned from talking with boys themselves, the culture of adolescence, which fuses hyper-rationality with domination, sexual conquest, and a glorification of male violence, fills the void.

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