Boys Will Be Boys: Breaking the Link Between Masculinity and Violence / Edition 1

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Editorial Reviews

Boston Globe
Excellent. A strongly argued indictment of our cultural stereotypes of masculinity.
LA Times
A powerful book.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Miedzian's provocative report, which is stronger in its diagnoses than its prescriptions, contends that a ` `masculine mystique ' ' contributes to domestic, criminal and international violence. (June)
Library Journal
Why do some boys become violent men? Miedzian's research indicts absent fathers and the "culture of violence" that promotes war toys, violent films and music, brutal sports, and bigotry. Includes tested school programs for changing the "male mind-set." (LJ 6/1/91)
Kirkus Reviews
Here, Miedzian (scholar-in-residence at the Center for American Cultural Studies at Columbia Univ.) presents an exhaustively researched analysis of the inflammatory effects of contemporary American culture on what, she argues, is man's innate predisposition toward violence. Miedzian's position is radical: Nothing short of toppling the male mystique will save us in this nuclear age. As she defines it, that mystique is tough, without empathy, equating action and adventure with bloodshed and destruction, hypercompetitive, woman- scorning, and frequently xenophobic and racist. She addresses all the usual objections—mainly that that's just the way men are, and that trying to change them will create rampant homosexuality, take the piquancy out of male/female relationships, deny men expression of their natural attraction to risk and excitement, create a nation of wimps, and put us at risk for international aggression—and refutes them convincingly. Some of her suggestions for change may strike readers as extreme: abolishing football and boxing, for instance, or denying children access to any TV other than programs on a to-be-created children's public TV network, or all but prohibiting the rental or sale of heavy-metal and rap music and videos to kids. But other proposals seem unarguable: Give boys early and ongoing education in parenting and family life. Instruct boys in nonviolent conflict mediation. Encourage fathers to take a more active role in parenting. Raise people's awareness by any means possible of how pervasive, false, and dangerous is the media's glorification of violence. Covers the same territory as Deborah Prothrow-Stith & Michael Weissman's DeadlyConsequences (reviewed below) but with much greater depth and scope. Sure to be controversial, this is a major contribution to contemporary thought.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781590560358
  • Publisher: Steiner Books
  • Publication date: 9/28/2002
  • Edition description: New
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 386
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Read an Excerpt


In recent years we have grown more and more aware of, and concerned with, violence in our streets and in our homes. The women's movement has focused our attention on wife-battering, child-battering, sexual abuse of children, and rape. In some urban centers the evening news begins with a tally of the dead and wounded in local "war zones." The young Brooklyn boy set on fire by a thirteen-year-old and the Central Parkjogger raped and beaten by a group of boys out "wilding" have become symbols of nightmarish urban violence.

Our suburbs and small towns, too, are often settings for outbursts of rageful, gruesome acts. The late 1980s brought us machine-gunnings of schoolchildren and coworkers, massacres of parents by their sons, endless vengeful killings of ex-wives, and increases in racist and anti-Semitic acts of violence. We hear increasingly about crimes committed "for fun" or out of curiosity--like the boys in a small Missouri town who wanted to see what it would feel like to kill someone, so they bludgeoned one of their schoolmates to death. Homicide rates have gone up by 100 percent between 1960 and 1990.'

It is a major thesis of this book that many of the values of the masculine mystique, such as toughness, dominance, repression of empathy, extreme competitiveness, play a major role in criminal and domestic violence and underlie the thinking and policy decisions of many of our political leaders.

The masculine mystique manifests itself differently in different environments but the end result is the same. For a poor ghetto youth, proving that he is a man might involve a willingness to rob, assault, or kill someone. (Homicide is the major cause ofdeath among young African-American males.) For a group of middle- or upper-class boys, it might mean participating in a gang rape, or going on a hundred-mile-an-hour joy ride. (Automobile accidents are the major cause of death among young white males.) For the men in our National Security Council, proving manhood might mean showing how tough they are by going along with a military intervention that is not really necessary for our national security. (In the case of Vietnam this led to the death of at least fifty-eight thousand Americans and well over one million Vietnamese.) For the men in our nuclear think tanks, it might mean making sure we have at least as many nuclear warheads as "they" do, regardless of whether we need them or not. (We have enough of them now to destroy the Soviet Union hundreds of times over.)

Men are still the most frequent victims of violence. From 1980 to 1987 about three times as many men as women were murdered per year. More men than women continue to be killed in wars.

It is far beyond the scope of this book to analyze how the masculine mystique manifests itself in other cultures. Suffice it to say that it will tend to take somewhat different forms and different degrees of intensity in different societies. For example, in England and Italy some young men prove their toughness, express their desire for dominance, through "soccer hooliganism." In the United States gang warfare is more common.

In the United States adherence to the values of the masculine mystique makes intimate, self-revealing, deep friendships between men unusual. In the Soviet Union such friendships seem to be quite common, although Soviet men's preoccupation with dominance and toughness is apparent in other areas.

The role that obsolete male modes of thought and behavior have played and continue to play in perpetuating the nuclear arms race has been recognized by an increasing number of people of differing ethical, political, and religious views.

Such disparate figures as retired Vice Admiral John Lee, a forty-two-year veteran of the U.S. Navy, and Cornell University astronomer Carl Sagan tell us that our nation can no longer relate to foreign powers the way boys relate to each other in the school yard. Whether it be Admiral Lee reminiscing about how the biggest and strongest boy in the yard was always able to dictate to the other boys which games would be played and how, or Carl Sagan describing boyhood snowball fights in which the winner was invariably the one who could make the most snowballs the fastest, the conclusion is the same. In Admiral Lee's words, "We have an obsolete psychology swirling through our system . . . if the Soviets had half as much or double the amount of nuclear weapons they have now it would make no difference." But while the calls for a new way of thinking in international relations are numerous, little attention has been given to how that new way of thinking can be brought about.

Analogously, while there is a growing clamor that something be done about violence in our streets and homes, there has been very little systematic analysis of what it is that reinforces violent, reckless, self-destructive behavior in boys and what can be done to change it.

This book represents a first attempt at both understanding this psychology and making concrete recommendations as to how the socialization of boys might be changed in order to decrease violence.

The question of change can only be dealt with effectively if we achieve some understanding of the psychological resistance and the intellectual objections to it. These are dealt with in Part One.

The first chapter examines the resistance to change that results from the sociocultural assumption, often unconscious, that male behavior is the norm and constitutes a paradigm for human behavior, female behavior being viewed as deviant or defective. This assumption makes it considerably more difficult for men to question the masculine mystique than for women to question the feminine mystique.

The second chapter deals with the view that giving up traditional standards of masculinity is both foolhardy and utopian, since it would leave us weak and "emasculated" as a nation, vulnerable to attack and takeover by foreign powers. I argue that it is in fact the adherence to the masculine mystique by men in power that contributes to the serious endangerment of our national security.

The third chapter deals with the idea that "boys will be boys" regardless of how we raise or socialize them, for they are naturally aggressive and violent. An overview and evaluation of sociobiological, hormonal, psychoanalytic, and social learning theory research on male violence are presented. The prevalence among males of problems (most often genetically based) that have a high correlation with violent and criminal behavior is discussed. About 40 percent of prison inmates suffer from learning disabilities and close to 30 percent are mildly retarded. While there is some overlap between these two groups, these figures are still very high. The main thrust of this chapter is that while there appears to be some biological base to greater male violence, this potential can be reinforced or diminished depending on socialization. An underlying thesis of the book is that it is precisely because many men have a strong potential for violence that we must do everything possible to discourage it and encourage the development of empathy and other qualities which are inversely related to violent behavior. Violence can be significantly reduced. It is never claimed that it can be completely abolished.

The second part of the book deals with the kinds of changes in child-rearing and socialization that represent first steps in the direction of raising significantly less violent male children. One of the main purposes of this book is to stimulate more research and discussion of these issues.

The first section addresses the question of what kinds of changes we must make in how we rear male children--from infancy--to discourage character traits and values conducive to belligerence and violence, and more generally to the acceptance of violence as a legitimate way of resolving international conflicts. This section draws heavily on research in psychology, sociology, and anthropology indicating that a father's nurturant involvement in rearing boys plays a major role in discouraging violence in them. Undoubtedly, many parents will be concerned that if they act in accordance with some of the recommendations made in this book, they will be increasing the likelihood of their sons becoming homosexual. I argue that in fact, the present narrow definition of masculinity and the ensuing socialization encourage homosexuality. The kinds of recommendations I make would, if anything, have the opposite effect.

The second section deals with changes that must be instituted in our schools. Existing classes in child-rearing and conflict resolution in public and private schools are described. I recommend that such classes be made mandatory in all schools. Innovative social studies curricula that emphasize critical thinking and self-examination with respect to racism, ethnocentricity, and xenophobia are described and discussed. I recommend that such classes become the norm.

The third section focuses on those activities that occupy a major part of most boys' free time--playing with toys, participating in sports, TV viewing, listening to music. The main thrust of this section is that instead of treating our children as our most precious national resource we have allowed them to be treated as a commercial market. A major part of their enculturation is now in the hands of people whose primary interest is in profitmaking rather than in the well-being of children. I argue that this intolerable situation has much to do with our extraordinarily high rates of violence. Because of technological advances boys are being raised in a culture of violence of unprecedented magnitude; a culture which is qualitatively and quantitatively different from that in which their fathers and grandfathers were raised. This, in spite of the fact that on the basis of over two hundred research studies on TV and film violence there exists an overwhelming consensus among social scientists that the "catharsis" hypothesis has been disproven and that viewing violence encourages violent behavior!

We have a long tradition of laws for the protection of children. They must now be extended to encompass many areas of sports and entertainment. In the case of television, where regulation would interfere with the First Amendment rights of adults, I recommend that we create a Children's Public Broadcasting System dedicated to top-quality pro-social programming for children. Its creation would be accompanied by an educational campaign directed at parents and mandatory lock boxes enabling them to block out all other channels.

In researching the influence of the media, toys, and sports, I have repeatedly encountered an objection, from men, that in essence runs like this: "I used to play with war toys but now I work for the peace movement," or "I love boxing but I've never committed a violent act in my life."

One response is to point to the escalation of violence in toys and entertainment. But these men's argument gets to the heart of another very important issue which I shall address briefly here in order to make clear what is and what is not being said in this book.

It is not being said that any one of the factors described as reinforcing violent tendencies in boys will, by itself or in combination with any of the other factors, be either a necessary or a sufficient condition to lead a boy to commit an act of violence. For example, a boy may very well play with every conceivable war toy, be addicted to the most violent films imaginable, grow up in an extremely violent home, and still never commit an act of violence; while another boy, who has been exposed to the most minimal violence may commit violent acts. This is analogous to a person smoking three packs a day, eating a cholesterol-ridden diet, and living to be eighty, while a nonsmoker on a low-cholesterol diet dies of either a heart attack or lung cancer at age forty.

In the social sciences, as in the medical sciences, the concern is with statistically significant trends. The boy who is addicted to violent films and toys and the person who smokes three packs a day and eats a high-cholesterol diet are at a significantly higher risk of acting violently or dying prematurely. No further claim is being made.

In the case of illness as in the case of violence, genetic factors and personality play a role in the effect that interaction with the environment has on a particular individual.

Part Three, the conclusion, outlines some of the basic premises upon which any serious long-range attempt to curtail violence must rest.
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