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Raising a Man

The Law of Pizzaplicity
Lance Armstrong, you owe me an apology.

I’m trying to raise a man here, and you’re not helping.

Raising a human being is daunting enough, let alone nurturing a compassionate, expressive, confident boy. Now that I have a son and have started to tune in to some of the issues and trends that affect boys today, this task seems even harder.

This past summer, I was watching our female athletes — Missy Franklin, Misty May-Treanor, Kerri Walsh and Gabby Douglas, to name just a few — kick ass in the 2012 Olympics. The program cut to commercial and a Nike ad came on featuring women discussing the obstacles they overcame in order to participate in sports. They spoke of being spit on and beaten up, insulted and dismissed, just because they wanted to play the sport they loved.

The ad and its message moved me to tears. In that moment, I felt thankful to be a woman in this time and in this place, and my heart swelled with feelings of hopefulness and pride.

The ad ended and — in an abrupt departure from the moving commentary on women’s rights — the screen shifted to three doofuses discussing “The Law of Pizzaplicity.” I found myself thinking, And … here’s what our boys have to aspire to.

Thanks to Oprah and Lifetime TV, we’re finally talking about the troubles facing our young women. Everywhere I look, I see strong, inspiring role models for our nation’s girls: Michelle Obama. Malala Yousafzai. Tina Fey. Hilary Clinton. Jodie Foster. Marissa Mayer. Lena Dunham. Betty White.

But what about our boys?

Lucky for us, my son is blessed with a strong male role model at home and in both of his grandfathers. But it scares me when I look at some of the men our society idolizes. Before long, my son will idolize them too.

So many of our boys’ role models showboat on the playing field; they lie, cheat and boast of accomplishments they did not earn. They objectify women and tear down people and ideas that scare them. They put monetary and political success before their families. And, possibly most concerning, they’re portrayed in TV and movies as lazy, helpless idiots while their competent female counterparts shake their heads and smile condescendingly.

Lance Armstrong. Tiger Woods. David Petraeus. Brett Favre. Chris Brown. Roger Clemens. John Edwards. Mel Gibson.

Granted, there are plenty of women out there doing harm, as well: Honey Boo Boo’s mom, those harpies on “Dance Moms,” Ann Coulter, Lindsay Lohan. Even Courtney Cox has let our nation’s girls down now that she’s had more plastic surgery than Chandler Bing’s dad.

The difference is that society has shined its collective light on the plight of our young women, and the increase in awareness seems to be working: According to the Pew Research Center, not only do women greatly outnumber men in college enrollment and completion, but women also have a more positive view of the value of education. This disparity is only projected to increase substantially in future years.

And if we can’t agree there’s reason to worry about our boys in light of the frightening increase in school shootings we’ve seen, I don’t know what it will take. Every single one of these horrific events has been perpetrated by a man. Every. Single. One.

When it comes to our boys, we’re turning a blind eye to some disturbing trends: violent behavior, emotional immaturity, low self-esteem. According to Dr. William Pollack, author of “Real Boys”:

“Many boys today are struggling either silently, with low self-esteem and feelings of loneliness and isolation, or publicly, by acting out feelings of emotional and social disconnection through anger and acts of violence against themselves or their friends and families. While academic performance and self-esteem are low, the rates of suicide and depression are on the rise.”

As a society, we need to stop championing athletes who never grow up, celebrities who debase women or minorities, politicians who lie with no ramifications. We need to agree that a change in how women are portrayed in movies and on TV doesn’t have to come at the expense of men. We need to speak out against a company who rewards an 18-year-old kid for skipping college and entering the NBA draft with an endorsement deal worth over $90 million.

Perhaps, if we start to change what we value, we can stem the tide of male role models falling from grace. Lance Armstrong is not solely to blame. Nor is Tiger Woods or our most recent athlete to publicly embarrass himself, Manti Te’o, whose father recently defended his son’s poor judgment by saying, “He’s not a liar, he’s a kid. He’s a 21-year-old kid trying to be a man.”

Soon enough, my boy — my precious baby boy — will be on his own journey toward “trying to be a man.” I see how closely he watches his dad. I know that, in time, he’ll widen his idolatry to include the athletes and celebrities we hold up as heroes, but who are really just men. By that time, I hope our society will be doing better for him than we are now.

10 responses »

  1. Wonderful post Stacey, I have one son and 5 grandsons, this really resonated with me….I do worry about “role models” for young boys growing up now..The poster on my son’s wall growing up was Archie Griffin, I’m very proud to say that….Keep up the good work, Judi F.

  2. Do you raise your child or does Society? Raise him in a manner in which he realizes athletes, movie stars, etc. are not infallible, he’ll have a grounded set of expectations and realize that humans of all types are prone to make mistakes. He should never hold anyone above his father/grandfather if that is instilled in him. Those parents who allow flawed public personas to be their moral compass are not doing their job. It is fine to allow the Lance Armstrongs of the world to serve as athletic role models, but to expect more; to expect them to serve as an example of “how to be a man,” is an injustice to children and society. Lance and Tiger are perfect examples of my point in that anyone who took any real interest in them before their public fall from grace knew what sleazy characters they were already. They would discourage their children from holding them revered in any manner other than as extreme competitors and would educate them as to why.

    Because of that simple premise, Lance Armstrong does NOT owe you an apology. It is not his responsibility to be anyone but who he is. It is your responsibility to know better and to raise your kid to know better.

    Furthermore, for you to need to see the 2012 women Olympians to feel hopefulness and pride as a woman…seems like a disingenuous and transparent attempt to manufacture a point. Clearly you are an educated woman. You know women are stronger and more empowered now than at any time in the history of the country. I too am proud of those women. I am also proud of the male athletes who overcame incredible odds to reach success. Oscar Pistorius anyone?

    There are a couple of particularly baffling themes to your article. First, where you are basically describing the complete breakdown of morals, ethics, and values amongst choice grown men in society (an epidemic in the ENTIRE American society – yes women too), you chose to raise up some women who are questionable at best. Lena Dunham? A casual racist who acted like voting for Barack Obama is like getting laid for the first time? Hillary Clinton – remember her husband? She was treated like trash and stayed in a relationship because of the political ramifications, then signed on to serve with another man she disagrees with in nearly every way for the same reasons. Way to own your life. Jodie Foster? Because she came out? REALLY? Etc & etc. And to be disappointed because Courtney Cox had plastic surgery? What are you focused on?

    The second flaw is that while you chose clowns as female examples of disappointment and some questionable at-best positive characters, at least you chose to try to play both sides of the coin on the female side. For every Tiger Woods, Lance Armstrong, or David Petraeus, there is a Peyton Manning, Robert Griffin III, Tom Hanks, Bono, etc., and you completely overlooked it. Maybe the public celebrities aren’t the problem at all.

    The point is that the general fabric that kept society civilized has been torn. People don’t care about each other as much. They don’t take the time to help one another as often. They don’t have manners. And possibly most concerning is the indigestible lack of responsibility and personal accountability. Yes these are generalizations, but they are alarming and consistent trends, and they ALL START AT HOME. Boys tend to be more physical than girls in general, so it stands to reason that their frustrations would be more likely to manifest physically. I bet you find far fewer boys suffering from bulimia and anorexia. These trends are cyclical in that general America feeds the celebrities, and the celebrities feed the public back. But when you have a society where it is so widely considered okay to make the decision about life AFTER it is created rather than being responsible beforehand, what do you expect? We all have to hush our thoughts to respect others because we might not agree. Can’t offend anyone after all. And now everyone is entitled to their “fair share” whether they worked their asses off for it or not…the spirit of the country has changed and this is the sad result. I won’t even go into the incredible breakdown of the family unit in America, the associated causes, and how responsible it is for these changes.

    Raise your boy to be thoughtful & contemplative, considerate, aware of others, cognizant of right and wrong – things that people woefully ignore today as they look up to athlete role models – and he’ll do and be just fine. Maybe he can even champion a trend reversal before it is too late.

    • You make a lot of great points here. You’re right, we’re all responsible for our children, no matter what they see in the media. And you’re also right to point out that there are some exceptional role models for boys mixed in amongst those who let our kids down. Both those who have positive character traits and those who represent themselves poorly are all human, and we need to remember that when they don’t live up to our lofty expectations.

      I was glad to see this post evoked such a passionate response, regardless of whether we agree or disagree. That tells me I’m doing something right.

      Thanks for reading!

    • That’s a posting full of intshgi!

  3. Thanks Stacey for bringing the boy issue to light. We at the School for Young Children have fought for boys for years!! Mommy Jan

    • Indeed you have! SYC provides an environment where boys are encouraged to talk about their feelings, to be sensitive, to use their imagination and to be comfortable with themselves. It is truly a wonderful place and you should be awfully proud of the work you’ve done there!

  4. Great post and I agree with many of your perspectives here, with the exception of your representation that this is a male/female issue. Don’t get me wrong, I agree that the wonderful trend of powerful, dynamic female athletes is moving in the right direction. However, you grouped Lance Armstrong and Tiger Woods with celebrity psychos Mel Gibson and Chris Brown to make your point. I was a bit surprised OJ wasn’t included. I would also add that Marion Jones, formerly one of my favorite athletes confessed to doping, relinquished all of her medals, and did time for purger y – – all of which broke my heart. I think it comes down to the balance of values and morals vs. “doing whatever it takes to succeed” in a society that loves the “super hero”. Is the problem the athlete who doesn’t like school and forgoes wasting his/her time college (when their spot could go to someone else) to take a shot at a 90 million dollar contract, or is there a deeper issue with a society that actually constitutes the market that will support such a contract? I’ve never seen Honey Boo Boo, or her Mom outside of web-clippings, but I know that enough people are watching them (laughing or not) to make the network that airs their show money.

    I hope that more parents raise their children so that they have a grounded sense of right and wrong, so that they know where the line is when it comes to “fair” competition, and so those in the position to be role models are actually role-model-worthy. However, I think nurturing the next generation so that they won’t support a television and media market that is based on “airing the trainwreck” (e.g. Bald Brittany attacking the cab, all things Lohan, even the “CCN Special: Fall of Lance Armstrong) will be a positive sign that the values are moving in the right direction.

    Any post that generates thought and debate, is wonderful, so thank you!

  5. I’ll not delve into the debate – I’ll just say that you’ve written a really wonderful piece here. Nicely done.

  6. Great post! And so much grace in your response to some of the comments!!


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