It all started back in 1979, when I was around five years old. My next door neighbor, Toby, was my best friend at the time, and I recall a conversation he and I had on the long staircase leading up to his kitchen sliding glass door. We were having a serious discourse that both boys and girls could do and be whatever they wanted to be. We were trying to come up with some things that could disprove our theory, but we were coming up short. Suddenly, as he bit into his snack, Toby piped up,
“Wait, I know something you can’t be if you’re a girl!”
“What?” I asked quizzically, eager for the sake of our game that a possibility for further examination had been found.
“You can’t be a daddy.” Toby suggested proudly.
I thought for a moment as I scratched the annoying New England mosquitoes out of my ear canal. Then, I realized I had an idea, too!
“Wait!” I exclaimed loudly, my entire body readying for my unintentional witty quip, “I know something that you can’t be if you’re a boy!”
“What?” The little five year old boy asked innocently, his full head of straight brown hair shining in the the sun.
“Well,” I began, as my blond curls became mixed around my ear while I scratched at the mosquito bites, “You can’t be a mommy.”
Toby thought for a moment, chewed sweetly as five year olds do, then he swallowed and agreed: “Yeah…”
We looked at each other and then we both nodded our heads and agreed, “Yeah…”. We felt so grown up in our insight. We had both realized in that moment that boys and girls could grow up to be and do anything we desired- with minimal exceptions. More importantly, we concluded that girls and boys were both equally valuable and alike in so many ways.
Sadly, over the years to come, I would be increasingly perplexed and shocked as I watched boys being treated in a harsh, aggressive, inhumane and restrictive manner by adult society while girls were empowered, celebrated and nurtured. This seemed to run contrary to the seemingly obvious insight that Toby and I had come to that warm day, an insight that matured over the years into an understanding that girls and boys equally need to be empowered, nurtured and celebrated. My close friendships with boys from early childhood through adolescence allowed me to appreciate how tender, sensitive and compassionate boys are and how deeply wounded they are by society’s ignorance of their needs.
As a youth I had also observed with glaring horror that many girls and women were just as violent and aggressive as boys and men could be, but girls and women were not held equally accountable for acting-out, aggression, emotionally tormenting, dating violence, date rape, domestic violence, child abuse, child neglect and even child sexual exploitation and rape. I didn’t understand this double standard, but I realized as a rebellious teen that I could exploit the adults’ sexism to my advantage when I acted-out in school or fought with other girls- or the occasional boy- who mercilessly harassed me and my friends.
As I came into young adulthood in the early 1990’s, I was appalled at how hostile and negative our culture was becoming towards boys and men, as if the only way to empower and serve the needs of women and girls was to disempower, pathologize and ignore the needs of men and boys. As I became involved in the next several years with children’s rights work, providing childcare and mentoring and then working professionally with youth of all ages, the more I learned, the more serious I saw the gender bias against males was becoming.
For example, in my previous work in social services, when the charts of violent teen girls came across my desk, their histories of being victimized by sexual and physical abuse were prominently stated on the front page and repeatedly stated throughout. When the cases of violent teen boys would come to my desk, I would often need to read ten or more pages of history in these charts before I could locate one passing sentence indicating that a boy was raped by a woman or severely abused by his family. Sometimes, there was no mention of boys’ severe abuse history at all, and many times, boys had not revealed their sexual abuse histories in any assessments. In my later work as a mental health counselor, this pattern continued. In the human services and juvenile justice fields, a girl’s acting-out or violence is viewed as a symptom of her being abused; a boy’s acting-out or violence is viewed primarily as a behavioral or neurochemical problem for which he is solely accountable.
By the turn of the 2000’s, I realized it was becoming a political agenda, an educational paradigm and a pop-cultural and mental health goldmine to push a diva-ish “girl power” persona onto girls- and to ignore, shame and pathologize boys.
I am passionate about raising awareness to the rights and needs of all children, girls and boys, from pregnancies and the youngest babies to the oldest teens, and all of the ages in between. In 2008, I released my first book, Instead of Medicating and Punishing: Healing the Causes of Our Children’s Acting-Out Behavior by Parenting and Educating the Way Nature Intended. The intention of my first book was to compile the research from science, anthropology, psychology, neurology, trauma healing, child development and learning theory to support natural parenting and learning, or Attachment Parenting and unschooling, for children of all ages. My book also covered in depth how to heal the emotional, behavioral and learning trauma that children sustain by being raised in a mainstream cultural manner.
However, it has become increasingly urgent and clear to me, being the mother of an adolescent boy, that adolescents as a group and boys of all ages need special protection in our culture right now, from an Attachment Parenting and natural learning perspective. I realized this past summer that two new books were in order and had already been forming in my mind for years, all while I have been compiling a library of research, unreleased commentary and notes. I decided that I would focus first on the book about boys, and then write Attachment Parenting Our Adolescent Children, as my third release.
This is the official announcement of my second book, and its working title:
Nurturing and Empowering Our Sons: Healing and Celebrating Our Boys Through Attachment Parenting and Unschooling
My book will cover as many issues as possible pertaining to the suffering and harm of boys in our culture today, especially overlooked issues such as Male Genital Mutilation, the shaming of boys, their maleness, their bodies, their emotions and their sexuality; the dangers to boys of public school, the mass labeling and drugging of school-age boys, the trauma of corporal punishment and other forms of child abuse; sexual abuse of boys by men and women, derogatory portrayal of boys in the media; violence, behavioral and emotional problems suffered by boys; gender identity struggles, and the political lobby to block awareness of and funding for male victims of trauma, abuse, sexual assault and domestic violence. The book will focus on the attachment needs of boys, their developmental and holistic needs, the need for boys of all ages to learn through freedom, play and physical activity (unschooling), the critical need for nurturing and affectionate mother-son and father-son connections, the natural empathy of boys; healthy sexuality, body image and gender identity formation; positive boy empowerment; the need for a cultural paradigm shift to heal and meet the needs of boys and… so much more.
This book is obviously for parents. However, it is also for grandparents, aunts, uncles, mentors, educators, mental health professionals, social workers, researchers, attorneys, child advocates, community members and anyone who cares about boys. If you have only daughters, this book is also for you, as it will help you help your daughters to understand their male friends, future partners and spouses better- And who knows, you may have a grandson or nephew someday! As of this blog post, I am nearing the end of writing what is now the lengthy Chapter One. I hope you will share in the journey by sharing any relevant stories or resources you have about the harm done to boys in Western culture, including media that is derogatory towards boys. I will be doing a few short interviews with people as well. As you await this book, please read Instead of Medicating and Punishing, as my new book, Nurturing and Empowering Our Sons, will build upon and greatly expand from the foundation of basic principles covered in my first book.