Two news stories appeared this past week that together, send an interesting message about men.
The first was a report in a variety of newspapers of a survey commissioned by Nickelodeon UK, a children’s TV network. The survey confirmed the stereotypical view that males are perpetually immature buffoons who delight in humour related to flatulence and other bodily functions and fail to mature until they are at least 43 years old.
The survey results were derived from questionnaires completed by women who were asked to reveal all the things about men that they disliked: they play video games too much, hate books, snicker at rude words, play practical jokes, can’t cook, etc.
Reaction to the survey results has been swift. News outlets broadcast the survey results to the four corners of the earth proclaiming it to be proof that men are swine.
As well, various outraged men (and some women) responded vigorously that such broadcasting of stereotypes is offensive, sexist in its own right and does nothing to help bridge the divide between the sexes. All of which misses the point.
Of course a random survey of opinions is going to reflect a stereotype; that is what stereotypes are, commonly held opinions that generalize about groups of people.
The more important aspects of the survey are that 1) the survey’s description of male behaviour is unfortunately frequently accurate, and 2) a very large percentage of the male population reading about those behaviours would wonder what was wrong with any of them.
The message in all this comes more into focus when we look at the second news report this week that stated that, for the first time, women outnumber men at post-secondary institutions. We already knew that there were more women than men in medical school, in law school, and teaching at both the elementary and secondary level, now they outnumber men in university in general.
Where does this leave boys? For a long time boys have been told that girls mature faster physically, emotionally and intellectually.
But boys were also told explicitly and implicitly that they were of crucial importance to the fabric of society, that as men they will be the protectors of their families and be responsible for their welfare. That if they are diligent and work hard they will be able to carve out a good living for themselves and find work that is rewarding and satisfying.
Women are now in combat roles in the military and in the police. They are frequently the sole bread-winners in families and can adopt children on their own.
Boys are having a hard time finding any work, let alone that which is rewarding and satisfying. If women cannot find a good career, they often have the alternate opportunity of taking on the role of mother and nurturer. Boys generally do not see that as an alternate possibility.
The problem then is how to raise boys to see themselves and their role in society as having any importance. If as a nation we can’t do that, then once they see that those careers society tells them are important have proven unviable (becoming an NBA star, rock musician, skateboard wizard or mixed martial arts champion), they may well continue to decide that their proper role is indeed a flatulent eater of taco chips and player of video games.
– Jim Holtz is Weekender columnist and pinch-hitting reporter for the Grand Forks Gazette