Should We Be Telling Our Sons To “Be A Man”?

How does gender stereotyping affect children’s behaviour? There’s a question to consider when you’re in the early years of parenting.

It’s very easy, isn’t it, to fall into expecting your kids to conform to the traditional gender roles which were the accepted ‘norm’ back in our parents’ and grandparents’ day.

But when you stop and think about it, the polarisation of certain behaviours between male and female is no longer automatically acceptable.

Ieuan Hobbis -
6 year old Ieuan

When Ieuan has a strop about one of the many things that annoy a typical 6 year old, we have caught ourselves telling him to “man up”.

Which got me thinking.

What exactly does “being a man” mean these days.

In the 1970’s (when I was in my teens), the archetypal bloke was a mix of John Wayne, Clint Eastwood and Sylvester Stallone.  Real men did not cry, or dance (much) or eat quiche.

If they did exhibit any ‘softer’ behaviours, we said they were “in touch with their feminine side”, a supposedly humorous allusion to the traditional ‘girly’ behaviours, we women exhibited at certain times of the month or when the safety of a kitten was threatened.

The reverse side of the coin, of course, is that ‘being a man’ meant being handy with your fists. Fighting was a form of drink-fuelled recreation which could garner secret admiration from other ‘blokes’ and the girls who fancied them.

“He knows how to handle himself”.

“I wouldn’t mess with him”

“He’s a real ‘man’s man'”.

Key skills in those days for a bloke were holding your drink, eating the hottest curry possible and driving like an idiot with the thumping backtrack of Meatloaf pounding your ears.

Real men chased the women too.

And it was automatically accepted that, if men earned more and got more breaks in their career, well, that’s just the way it was.

So now, when we tell Ieuan to man up or to be a man about it (in jest I hasten to add), what exactly are we asking him to do?

Should we be defining our kids with gender stereotypes?  The answer must surely be no.

But should we deny them the pleasure of enjoying the perceived strengths and weaknesses which accompany each gender?

As a woman, I don’t want to be able to build a dry stone wall or wrestle a sheep to the ground (when in Wales…) but that doesn’t mean I want to be thought of as weak either.

What kind of men do we want our sons to be?

As a woman, it’s a bit of a struggle to answer that without comparing today’s men with those we grew up with and who are still part of our family today.

It’s no longer a man’s world and it’s never been a woman’s world.

So where do we go from here? How does gender stereotyping affect children’s behaviour?  I don’t think you will see the results for many a year but it’s a question we should start asking – and probably far earlier in our children’s lives.


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