Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Boy Box and the Objectification of Men

"Objectification is the process by which people assign meaning to things, people, places, activities, (or, in the case of self-objectification, themselves), and thus become part of cultural constructions which inform and guide behavior. This term also refers to behavior in which one person treats another person as an object and not as a fellow human being with feelings and consciousness of his or her own. "

I founded Girls on the Run to provide girls with the tools to, in spite of our culture’s constant objectification of them, intentionally seek people, activities and circumstances that celebrate who they are rather than how they look.

My son Hank was only 11 months-old when I piloted Girls on the Run. Lately, I've been amazed by his incredible sense of empathy for girls and women. I knew he would "get it" eventually, but the fact that he "gets it" now, at the start of adolescence, has me quite amazed. I've thought a lot lately about how Girls on the Run plays out in my son’s life. He is a fabulous 13 year-old `who has grown up in the culture that Girls on the Run is creating, where all spirits thrive and no one is judged on pre-conceived or stereotypical ideals.

The question that keeps coming up for me is this: How do the systems, businesses, media and institutions that use the objectification of women to garner power demean men? Watch an NFL or NBA game, read a Sports Illustrated or any other men's magazine and you will see the blatant objectification of women in each and every venue and publication.

Hank is 13, just on the edge of adolescence where he cannot mention a girl’s name without some kind of blush to his face. There is a curiosity of the unknown, the physical side of a relationship that until now hasn’t really been of interest to him.

I recall, as I write to you now, when several months ago, he called me into his room. Tears were rolling down his cheeks. "Read this," he said.

The book is entitled, "Voices of Sudan" and on page 42, the chapter is entitled "Sudanese Women".

I settled in next to Hank, put my arm around his shoulder, the book was positioned on his lap and I read the following. "With so many men being slaughtered Sudanese women are often left behind to protect and provide for the children. Caring for their families keeps women close to their villages, making them easy targets for the Janjaweed. Thousands of women have been raped and sexually abused. Once abducted, the women's legs are broken to keep them from escaping, and their breasts are cut off to keep them from feeding their babies. In refugee camps the women are frequently attacked as they go to the river to collect water or to the bush to collect firewood. The social effects of this abuse cause even more pain. The children and their mothers have to bear the community's sense of shame. Husbands abandon their wives after they have been raped, and women are branded as "unworthy of marriage."

"Their babies...their babies die," he said...this more of a statement rather than question.
"Yes, their babies die," I said with despair.

Hank’s willingness to be held by me is not as welcomed as it used to be. But right then, the two of us, sat there. My arm around his strong, muscular body, the book gently resting now across both our laps and the silence that comes with feeling powerless...and somehow oddly I felt empowered with him there next to young man-son.

I lost myself for a minute...and then I noticed my tears. Hank's radio was on and the voice of a very perky woman was letting listeners know that Hooters restaurant was currently expanding and many job opportunities were available.

I reached over and with my whole body fully embraced Hank.

And on this day, in that moment, my son realized how important it was, to just...let me.

Yes, even Hank gets it. Manipulating men to pay money for overpriced wings at Hooters to get a glance at a woman in revealing attire is assuming these men have the intelligence of a dog and the awareness of a rock. Hooters and every other establishment, system, advertising strategy and institution that caters to this shallow and one-dimensional view of men is, in my mind, just the flip side of the objectification of women.

I expect more from my son Hank (and the men in my life) because he IS more. So are the men who sit in the booths at Hooters. Maybe they just don’t see how they are being manipulated by a culture and an establishment that only wants their money.

I am examining with open eyes how men are stuck in the "boy box". I see clearly that men are objectified in our culture in four main areas: how much money they make their authority over others, their sexual conquests and their athletic prowess. The problem, however, is that although they may be objectified in these ways, they still remain in positions of power, whether it be in the corporate, political or religious sectors. To stray from the norms of this box would counter everything that gives them power as currently defined by our culture. It's a crazy never-ending circle.

I'm coming to realize that my role as an empowered woman, on a mission to break free of my own Girl Box, is to have a compassionate understanding of how our culture boxes in both genders...and that the best way I can help others liberate themselves from the constraints of their "gender box" is to push my expectations of them to higher I have done with Hank.

He has experienced at an early age the power that comes from helping others, being his authentic self and having true and "real" friendships with both genders. I have gently led him down the halls of my life, showing him in a non-threatening way, the challenges that girls and women face every day. He has wonderfully and openly received a view of them that not only lifts him to his greater Self, but in doing so, lifts me as well.

1 comment:

  1. Hey Molly!!! All I can say to you is, "WoW!!!" This article truly brings tears to my eyes. It is EXTREMELY rare that I comment on blogs that I read but this God be with you as you raise your son to be a different man in a society that has the essence of manhood all wrong!

    You are a phenomenal woman!!