We’ve covered a number of episodes in the past that feed into this one, including Raising Emotionally Healthy Boys with Dr. Judy Chu (which focused on boys’ understanding of masculinity in the preschool years), and Playing to Win with Dr. Hilary Levy Friedman (which looked at the lessons children learn from sports…which aren’t really related to the sports themselves…).
And of course there are the two episodes on patriarchy; the interview with Dr. Carol Gilligan, as well as my conversation with listener Brian Stout about what we learned during the interview.
A few weeks ago listener Caroline and I interviewed Dr. Marnina Gonick on the topic of girls’ relationships, which stemmed from the question ‘why are middle/high school-aged girls so mean to each other?’ but became much broader in scope as we looked at the cultural factors shaping girls’ relationships. At the end of that conversation I asked Dr. Gonick if she knew anyone who was doing work similar to hers but looking at boys’ relationships, and she did!
In today’s conversation Caroline returns to co-interview Dr. Michael Kehler, who is Research Professor in Masculinities Studies at the Weklund School of Education at the University of Calgary. We discuss how masculinity isn’t something that boys are; it’s something they do, how the traditional interpretation of masculinity hurts our boys and girls, and what parents can do to support boys in engaging in alternative masculinities that allow them to feel more whole as people.
Dr. Michael Kehler’s book
Boys’ Bodies: Speaking the Unspoken – Affiliate link
Jump to highlights
(03:31) What does it mean to be a boy
(05:17) There is a type of masculinity that is perceived to be the most masculine
(06:21) The problem with the phrase “Boys will be boys”
(08:24) Understanding Masculine and Feminine binary
(10:09) How much influence do gender stereotypes or gender norms around masculinity have on boys’ relationships, particularly at school?
(16:27) How mental and physical affection have shown up in boys’ and men’s relationships
(21:37) Why do boys and men feel pressure to conform to traditional masculine norms?
(23:38) Ways that girls regulated men’s roles in society
(27:49) How can gender diversity be supported
(30:25) Boys seem to need action-based learning, rather than docile literacy-based tasks
(33:54) The importance of disrupting thinking in supporting boys in their resistance to the norms of masculinity
(40:07) Do boys desire close male-to-male friendships?
(42:29) Power of discomfort as a learning opportunity
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Kehler, M. (2010). Boys, books and homophobia: Exploring the practices and policies of masculinities in school. McGill Journal of Education 45(3), 351-370.
Kehler, M.D. (2007). Hallway fears and high school friendships: the complications of young men (re)negotiating heterosexualized identities. Discourse: Studies in the cultural politics of education 28(2), 259-277.
Kehler, M.D. & Martino, W. (2007). Questioning masculinities: Interrogating boys’ capacities for self-problematization in schools. Canadian Journal of Education 30(1), 90-112.
Kehler, M.D., Davison, K.G., & Frank, B. (2005). Contradictions and tensions in the practice of masculinites in school: interrogating embodiment and ‘Good Buddy Talk.’ Journal of Curriculum Theorizing 21(4), 59-72.
Kimmel, M. (2018). Masculinity and our common humanity: “Real” men versus “Good” men. In N. Way, A. Ali, C. Gilligan, & P. Noguera (Eds), The Crisis of Connection: Roots, Consequences, and Solutions (p.173-187). New York: New York University Press.
Kimmel, M. (2004). Masculinity as homophobia: Fear, shame, and silence in the construction of gender identity. In P.F. Murphy (Ed)., Feminism & Masculinities (p.182-199). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Mac an Ghaill, M., & Hayward, C. (2011). Schooling, masculinity and class analysis: Towards an aesthetic of subjectivities. British Journal of Sociology of Education 32(5), 729-744.
Mac an Ghaill, M. (1994). The making of men: Masculinities, sexualities, and schooling. Buckingham: Open University Press.
Martino, W., & Kehler, M. (2006). Male teachers and the “Boy Problem” An issue of recuperative masculinity politics. McGill Journal of Education 41(2), 113-131.
McCann, P.D., Minichiello, V., & Plummer, D. (2009). Is homophobia inevitable? Evidence that explores the constructed nature of homophobia, and the techniques through which men unlearn it. Journal of Sociology 45(2), 201-220.
Messerschmidt, J.W. (2010). The struggle for recognition: Embodied masculinity and the victim-violence cycle of bullying in secondary schools. In M. Kehler & M. Atkinson (Eds), Boys’ Bodies: Speaking the Unspoken (p.113-131). New York: Peter Lang.
Plummer, C. (1999). One of the boys: Masculinity, homophobia, and modern manhood. New York: Harrington Park Press.
Riechert, M.C., & Nelson, J.D. (2018). I want to learn from you: Relational strategies to engage boys in school. In N. Way, A. Ali, C. Gilligan, & P. Noguera (Eds), The Crisis of Connection: Roots, Consequences, and Solutions (p.344-360). New York: New York University Press.
Robinson, S., White, A., & Anderson, E. (2019). Privileging the bromance: A critical appraisal of romantic and bromantic relationships. Men and Masculinities 22(5), 850-871.
Rogers L.O. (2018). The “Black Box”: Identity development and the crisis of connection among Black adolescent boys. In N. Way, A. Ali, C. Gilligan, & P. Noguera (Eds), The Crisis of Connection: Roots, Consequences, and Solutions (p.129-148). New York: New York University Press.
Rotondo, E.A. (1989). Romantic friendship: Male intimacy and middle class youth in the Northern United States, 1800-1900. Journal of Social History 23(1), 1-25.
Ryan, T.A., Morrison, T.G., & O Beaglaoich, C. (2010). Adolescent males’ body image: An overview of research on the influence of mass media. In M. Kehler & M. Atkinson (Eds), Boys’ Bodies: Speaking the Unspoken (p.21-50). New York: Peter Lang.
Scholes, L. (2018). Boys, masculinities and reading: Gender identity and literacy as social practice. New York: Routledge.
Watson, A., & Kehler, M. (2012). Beyond the “Boy Problem”: Raising questions, growing concerns and literacy reconsidered. New England Reading Association Journal 48(1), 43-55.
Watson, A., Kehler, M., & Martino, W. (2010). The problem of boys’ literacy underachievement: Raising some questions. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy 53(5), 356-361.
Way, N., & Nelson, J.D. (2018). The Listening Project: Fostering curiosity and connection in middle schools. In N. Way, A. Ali, C. Gilligan, & P. Noguera (Eds), The Crisis of Connection: Roots, Consequences, and Solutions (p.274-298). New York: New York University Press.
Hi, I'm Emma, and I'm listening from the UK. We all want our children to lead fulfilled lives. But we're surrounded by conflicting information and clickbait headlines that leave us wondering what to do as parents. The Your Parenting Mojo podcast is still scientific research on parenting and child development into tools parents can actually use everyday in their real lives with their real children. If you'd like to be notified when new episodes are released and get a free infographic on the 13 reasons your child isn't listening to you, and what to do about each one. Just head on over to YourParentingMojo.com/subscribe, and pretty soon, you're going to get tired of hearing my voice read this intro. So come and record one yourself at YourParentingMojo.com/recordtheintro.Jen Lumanlan:
Hello, and welcome to the Your Parenting Mojo podcast. Today we are going to do a follow-up to the conversation that we had with Dr. Marnina Gonick a few weeks ago on the topic of girls' relationships. After the interview, I asked her if she knew of anyone who was doing the kind of work that she was doing but with a boy’s relationship, and she pointed me to our guest today, Dr. Michael Kehler, having now really dug into his work. I'm so glad he's agreed to talk with us about friendships between boys in the middle and high school years, as well as how boys make sense of the world around them and their place in it. And this conversation does build on the ones we had with Dr. Judy Chu several years ago on supporting preschool and early elementary-age boys as well as the one with Dr. Hilary Levy Friedman on how playing sports impacts our children in ways that we might not expect. And I will say that during the background reading for this episode, it left me with a really profound sense of sadness about where our culture is right now. And I'm hoping that we can get to a greater sense of hope by the end of this conversation. So, Dr. Kehler obtained his bachelor's degree from Queen's University in Ontario and then taught high school English both within Canada and abroad. He then studied for his Ph.D. at Michigan State University and taught on the faculty of education in women's studies at Western University in London, Ontario for 17 years. Before joining the University of Calgary, he worked with the school of education as a research professor in Masculinity Studies. Dr. Kehler's research addresses the intersection of gender and education and explores masculinity, schooling literacies, men as change agents, counter-sexist politics, body image, health, education, bullying, homophobia, and team sports. He's co-edited several books and has numerous book chapters and many journal articles on these topics. Welcome, Dr. Kelher.Dr. Kehler:
My pleasure. Thanks for having me.Jen Lumanlan:
Thank you. And also, here with us again is Caroline, who interviewed Dr. Gonick with me and also with Dr. Kehler because Caroline's own master's degree research was centered on girlhood but she is actually raising two male-identifying children, so as soon as she heard that Dr. Kehler had agreed to talk, she volunteered to read all of his research as well, and so she's here with us again today. Welcome, Caroline.Caroline:
Hi, thank you for having me. I'm back.Jen Lumanlan:
Okay, so Dr. Kehler, let's start with a super obvious question but having dug deeply into your work by this point, I know it really isn't. What does it mean to be a boy? And related to that, what is gender? How do boys do gender?Dr. Kehler:
On the surface, that seems like a very obvious question: what it means to be a boy, and how do you do gender in the same breath? It's pretty complicated. The fact of the matter is, being a boy and being a man involves a very strategic way of acting or performing various understandings of masculinity, and what I mean by that is that as we grow up, we are taught various less seamless lessons about how we should act, and how we should react, how we should demonstrate a sense of power and a sense of privilege, and so, for many boys, we learn very early on, and I say this both as a masculinity scholar and as a parent of a son and a daughter, and very early on, we introduce our children in talking specifically about boys, we introduce them to ideas of manliness or boyhood, and we do that through very concrete and, oftentimes, very subtle ways in terms of what we give boys to play with, for example, again, at a very early age, and what we don't give them to play with, and concrete examples whether we choose to give a child a truck, they seem very obvious to me. Go twos give your son a truck, or whether you give your son a doll, and allow your son to play with a doll, and learn about nurturing and caring, and being respectful, and or, you know, on the other end of the spectrum, give them the truck and let them go off and learn about the active process of play, and again, that gets all embedded in how we think about boys and boyhood as active participants as opposed to passively nurturing and caring, and so, I guess I'll say they seem very obvious or binary. They're the sort of narrative of masculinity and femininity in our understandings of gender across identities, in many ways unspoken and many ways unquestioned.Jen Lumanlan:
Yeah, for sure. And it's not like this is a value-neutral exercise, right? There's a certain type of masculinity that is perceived as the most masculine type. Can you tell us what that is?Dr. Kehler:
Yeah, again, your listeners, much of this may seem like common knowledge, and but when you think about traditional masculinity or heteronormative masculinity, we think about a stoic, a man who lives by notions of toughness, non-communicative, or silence, non-expressive about their emotional well-being, and who wants to be in charge, take control, a man who's in the center and dominating, a man who oftentimes is associated with being aggressive and assertive. So those are kind of the very traditional notions, you ask, what is our dominant understanding, or dominant narrative masculinity, and those are again, very tried and true sort of notions of the right way of being a proper man.Jen Lumanlan:
Yeah, to add another layer on to that, it's almost certainly white, right? And almost certainly heterosexual. And we sort of used phrases like, "Boys will be boys. It's the hormones," and as a way of telling yourself that this is natural, normal, and inevitable. Is that right?Dr. Kehler:
Yeah, that's a really good point, Jen. And thanks for making me just a little more of a nuanced understanding. You are right about heterosexualised masculinity, and the way in which we nurture boys to play with girls and boys. I mean, oftentimes, yes, we'll say, “Boys, play with boys,” in that way, boys can just be boys but we also operate from the framework that our son will grow up to marry a girl. In doing so, we actually discount the many possibilities for how our sons will grow up and with whom they might partner in their life. And so, it's very restrictive, and in many ways very damaging and limiting, and so again, along those lines, I think you point to the heterosexualised masculinity is the whiteness in terms of how we draw on these prevailing images. To be fair, we're inundated with images through media constructions, as he's flipped through, for example, magazines, and there has been a shift, and there has been certainly a more public understanding about the need to acknowledge diverse masculinities. The fact of the matter is, we are in powerful positions as parents, for example, or as educators, as teachers to be able to introduce different concepts and ideas about masculinity and what it can be while also interrogating what it has been, and I'm sitting here wondering, “Did I answer the question that you just asked? or I just go off on a tangent.”Jen Lumanlan:
I think what was coming to mind, as you said, was that basically what it means to be a boy is to not be a girl, right? That being a girl is I need to distance myself from that as much as possible. It's not even so much being a boy is essential to who I am. But as long as I know I'm not that, then I'm okay.Dr. Kehler:
Yeah, and again, we're all very familiar with the binary of masculine and feminine, a boy, a girl. And oftentimes, when we're parenting, and when we're raising children, and when we're educating, I keep saying when we're educating because I am an educator, I’m a high school teacher, and I know the influence that we can have in these different capacities to actually acknowledge a much more fluid understanding of masculinity, much more fluid understandings of femininities and ways that we can actually enrichen students' understandings of identities rather than limit them, and we do find or tend to sort of fall into that either or, and never shall we wait within the gray zone because the minute you sort of allow, for example, going back to the earlier, it's about your boy to sit and play with dolls, especially if they're girls, or there's this nurturing made cooking, or very traditional, or non-traditional activities going on, the minute we wade into there, then there's others who will pass judgment and pull it back to raise questions about their identity, because it often gets thrown out too. Are you confusing your son about what it means to be a boy or a man? And those are ways of reinstating traditional normative masculinity, ways of some people trying to ensure that the gendered identities of our use are not complicated, and in fact, they're just much more rigid and non-forgiving.Caroline:
So many questions come up for me, Dr. Kehler, when I'm listening but one, in particular, is a concern that I hear sometimes from fellow parents, which is the idea that boys who don't abide to their codes of masculinity will get teased at school. How much does that play a role? Or how much does gender stereotypes or gender norms for boys around masculinity play a role in their relationship, especially at school?Dr. Kehler:
Again, a good question. And we, as parents, educators, you know, we see that on a day-to-day and we think that's our fear or our worry about how will our child want to demonstrate their identities, how will they be received by others, and those others are often more powerful than more powerful to pass judgment to dismiss or degrade, for example, the way that I might represent masculinity, others will try to discount my representation of masculinity because it doesn't adhere to those norms as you're pointing to, and we do worry about what if my son is teased, what if my son comes home having been bullied for not adhering to traditional norms of masculinity? And for me, as an educator, we need not only to worry about the safety and well-being of that individual, but we also need to address the much broader social context in which we find this kind of bullying and harassment going on, we need to address those understandings so that there's greater safety, and so I think it's a bigger issue. Yes, it's around gender. And yes, I would argue it's ultimately around power and it's ultimately around the privilege that some individuals have to push their youth back into these boxes, and we ask the question, why? Why are some individuals so compelled and so driven to push those little people for not adhering to the restrictive ways of being? And you need to ask the question, “What are they fearful of? What is their uncertainty?” So much that they feel like they need to control, and they need to oppress others just because they don't act and behave or conduct themselves in the same manner. And those traits, those ways of being a boy, are not necessarily ones that we want to promote. We want to serve and elevate as the right way of being a boy and a man. We've had a long narrative of those kinds of traits and I think we can sit now and reflect on maybe we need not be rearing children, boys who are so aggressive, dominating, and oppressive. And there are I think we're in a very, and I know, Jen, you start off saying that there's an element of sadness out of it specifically to my research, but around the larger context, and I guess, I come at it with a level of optimism that we're in a really rich time and socio-political context. Where Yes, yes, I see the bullying and harassment, but I also look at the #MeToomovement, and I think there is a real opportunity here for men to be activists, for men to be unlike the rest of the boys, and for boys and men to be able to find their voice to speak up. So again, I guess I tried to sort of look at what are the possibilities while I, also acknowledge the violence against women, the sexism, and misogyny. Those are long, long stories. And I think for me, with my research and looking to add masculinities, university-aged men, I think there's real potential for us to shift the dialogue.Jen Lumanlan:
And let's see if we can get there.Caroline:
I really appreciate your optimism, and I think, I noticed in your work that sort of theme around ways that we can resist the counter-narratives to masculinity. One other question I have come up with is, you know, there's the safety aspect in schools. Do you think that more talk around greater social context and around the codes of masculinity would help with the "boy problem" or bullying in schools if that discussion was more normalized?Dr. Kehler:
Most definitely that I've been out in schools, and I've spoken with classrooms of youth, and I remember this one situation was in a classroom just in a local school and chosen in the grade seven class. It was really interesting because I asked everyone to raise their hand and show me if they'd been marginalized or pushed to the fringes or felt they had been because they didn't adhere to the rules, the majority of the students put up their hands, they said, when we start talking about it, it gave them a chance to really say, "Well, I didn't want to join in the joking or I didn't want to join on some chatting they're talking about,” and when they choose to sort of step away from those rules, so to your point, Caroline, I agree, I think the more we have these conversations the more we talk about gender diversity, about respect, about acknowledging privilege, and how power manifests itself in the day-to-day interactions, the more I think that we're going to be able to normalize a more respectful and safer communities in which students are learning that those rules that, in my case, you know, I had to navigate as an adolescent boy, I mean, they're not keeping the stranglehold the same way they did 20-30 years ago, and so I agree with you, I think that greater conversation and more honest and public dialogue, and I think you've probably seen from some of my research and some of the work that I do in communities, these are the opportunities when you actually have an open public dialogue, where it helps to allow people to sort of express what their concerns are or uncertainties are, and also, it allows us to shift and grow our understandings around gender identities and masculinities, plural, and you'll see a lot of my work are referred to as the plurality of masculinities as opposed to the singularity.Jen Lumanlan:
I absolutely agree that dialogue is needed, I think every part of me and what you said about the boy who doesn't want to go along with the teasing and the put-downs but does it anyway because the consequences of not doing it are too scary. What I want to acknowledge to kind of pull us back a little bit, is that masculinity hasn't always been this way. This hasn't always been what it's like to be a man and I actually didn't know this until I started researching for this episode that a couple of hundred years ago, men used to have deep friendships with each other, they used to sleep in the same bed as each other and sometimes, write letters to each other, referring to each other in the most loving, vulnerable terms. Can you talk a little about how mental and physical affection have shown up in boys' and men's relationships?Dr. Kehler:
Yeah, you bring in a broader historical context. I think it's really useful because I think it also points to the intersection of class and socioeconomic status, and today, I mean, you'll see, for example, some men will be going to the opera, or they will be doing ballet, and but which men are they? And would working-class boys be able to perform ballet? And what are the complications again? So that's the intersectional part of this. And so to your point, Jen, I think, you know, what we need to be aware of is how do we nurture and support while acknowledging that there are class, race, and sexualized-based understandings of gendered identities, and so we need to, as individuals, parents, and teachers, acknowledge, and be aware of how those various contexts can inform and form certain masculinities. And I say that having done my research across different schools and looking in different countries about what and how are men able to shift the narrative and what kinds of privilege, for example, I'm doing some research in the UK right now, and looking at athletes and addressing homophobia, and the ability to address homophobia in a team sport, and we need to acknowledge the fact that some men are in privileged positions because real athletes can take that lead, but the fact of the matter is that we need to acknowledge how we can actually leverage those positions to reconfigure power arrangements, reconfigure those gendered contexts in which we operate, and that goes for the workplace, as well as in the sports context, as well as in the informal context, the spaces in which men are able to, and you have to pull me back Jen to your question because it does go to how this narrative of masculinity, and the ways in which we understand masculinities have emerged and evolved, and we might even say they regressed in many ways because of the kind of misogyny, and the kind of sexism that we, for example - might see on university campuses and this kind of dismissiveness of it is only a joke, we need to look very carefully at the kind of power dynamic that exists there because it's not only a joke, because we know the ripple effect, and we know how these kinds of moments in time can really demonstrate a much longer and much bigger problem. So, sorry, Jen. Please pull back because I know we're talking about the historical content.Jen Lumanlan:
Yeah, I guess I want to try and pull those two ideas together and connect them. I'm thinking about awareness of homosexuality in the 20th century, and how men started to be constrained in the way that they presented themselves because I can't be female, or girlish, that's really bad, and if I'm gay, then that's pretty much as bad as being feminine. And so you were then talking about the privileged people who are socially economically advantaged, and also who are elite athletes, they have sort of proven themselves in a way to not be gay, right? Because if you're at the top of that heap then you've sort of demonstrated that you have to prowess to be a real man, and therefore, even if you are gay, you've distanced yourself enough from that idea, and so we have this real tying of masculinity and sexuality, and all of a sudden, it is not acceptable to be physically intimate with another man, to be mentally and emotionally intimate with another man. I guess that would be how I would connect those ideas.Dr. Kehler:
Excellent. Thank you for doing that. I really appreciate that. It's really helpful because of two things, one thing is that you remind me of the fact that sort of emotional connectedness and that kind of tension for many boys and men, and for educators is, how do I encourage and promote, for example, boys, to be expressive to be able to find different ways to express, for example, frustration, to express disappointment in themselves, that don't fall into what we have been taught, which is put your fist through a wall, strike out at someone, and again, this is what we've been taught so you know, for me, this involves re-educating, re-engaging, and not only boys but because we do boys do feel pressure from others to behave certain ways, there is this assumption that girls want me to be manly, girls want me to take control, and there's again, these are misunderstandings, and while I'm not dismissing the fact that perhaps some girls and some women do want that, we also need to ask the question, “Why is it that we need to adhere to some of those very traditional ways of being a man?” And where are the pressures coming from? And so what I'm trying to point to is that we need to acknowledge and better understand those pressures, rather than and I think you mentioned that nicely earlier, don't just assume that this is very natural because as my research argues, there are more purposeful ways that we, as teachers, parents, promote and nurture specific ways of being, because again, as you mentioned, we know the consequences of not adhering to those traditional notions of femininity and masculinity. So again, thinking about expressiveness, and how we navigate that sense of their wellness to how we're able to express ourselves, I have a son, who is 19, and his ability to be able to say, “I love you,” publicly, and whether he is pulling back a bit or not inside, there is no fear that I see, he's quite confident, and one might actually say courageous, to be able to publicly express that kind of love and investment in our relationship without worrying about how he's going to be judged as less than a man.Jen Lumanlan:
Yeah, I think that points to the importance of girls in navigating all of this, right? Girls to some extent, are the ones who are doing this policing of boys and their roles, and in a number of the papers I read, there were boys who had formed close relationships with other boys, and who had said, you know, I can tell my and it was the paper was about bromance, “I can tell my bromance anything, I have to present a certain view of myself to my girlfriend, otherwise, she won't give me sex,” was basically what it seemed to be that she was the gatekeeper of sex and that, “I'm going to present this image of myself that she wants to see, I'm going to be lovey-dovey and nurturing, not saying that I'm going to be leaving next year to go traveling, and not tell her I'm taking drugs or whatever it is, because then she will police my behavior and say, That's not acceptable. And then I won't get like.”Dr. Kehler:
Along that line, I mean, you bring up the idea of policing and I think that's a really useful term. I engage with that in my research, there's bodily surveillance, how boys monitor other boys’ bodies, and for example, locker room spaces, and we are constantly turned on by the gender police, and those other people who are watching how we express ourselves, how we talk about sports or don't talk about sports, our inability to engage in conversations, for example, about mechanics - for example. And so, there's this kind of calling out someone; they’re not able to act like the rest of the boys, and again, as you mentioned, this happens both within single-sex gatherings, boys among boys, but also across gendered settings where there's an assumption or an expectation for boys to conduct themselves in certain ways, and again, I think this is part of the hard work of shifting those understandings or allowing us to interrogate and ask ourselves, “Why do you expect that boy to be that way? Why do you expect that boy not to be able to cry? Not to be able to care so deeply about a dog,” for example, and those kinds of things, so don't go off to farther. But this does, I think, shed light for many of us on the ways that we either perpetuate or hold up certain models without really questioning and goes back to, “Is this really biologic?” Or do we actually have a hand in sort of changing how we want our youth to engage, and it's also about that issue of power, it's also about changing the conversation where your son or the man in the boardroom doesn't need to be that center of attention, he doesn't need to be the one leading all the time, and I'm not saying don't be a leader, I am saying, “Think hard about the turn-taking when you show respect in those spaces because it doesn't make you any less of a man if you're not the one who's the center of attention, and not the one having to demonstrate your authority over knowledge or others,” for example.Caroline:
It does seem to me Dr. Kehler, that a lot of conversations around boys, whether that's in schools or in other peers are really limited to a very black-and-white or reinforced a gender binary, right, and are very black and white and are related to those biological understandings of boys and girls, as you know, biologically different. How much does that play a role in their friendships? What can we do to expand that? That's where I get stuck as a parent, and seeing how young it starts to happen, that socialization, the gendering, my son is almost six and so him being school age, now I see it happening so much more, and it's definitely like curious as a parent who grew up as a girl, and is very aware of the codes of femininity, and I'm now just learning about this other side of the coin, but then trying to think about it in a more fluid way. So I'm thinking about, you know, how I can extend my own thinking to support him but also how other people can as well.Dr. Kehler:
It's a lot of work when we think about gender, and we think about gendered identities, and when we think about how do we support diversity, it's a lot of work because it involves risks, It involves courage, I say that when I think about whiteness when we talk about whiteness and privilege, that's a lot of the work, and that's a lot of discomforts that some people don't want to engage with. Similarly, the parallels with masculinities, it's more work for us to interrogate being a boy, being a man, whether it's in formal, or informal settings, or to interrupt those conversations because they create discomfort. As a pushback on the patriarch, and people oftentimes take offense. Well, this is the way it always has been so why do we have to change it? But this doesn't necessarily mean it's right, it just means that it's been comfortable this way and no one's ever questioned it. And so, to your point, Caroline, it involves work, either way, what we're not acknowledging is how seamlessly advertising has contributed to this binary unquestioned our experiences are when we go into shops, and they have a blue aisle and a pink aisle, and no one looks for where's the gender-neutral aisle, we just go. Well, that's the way it's always been, and our say, nappies, diapers, you know, they're decorated with feminine images or masculine images, and when we just adhere to those, we very quickly go too. Well, I've already got my son, the one with the Bob the Builder on it, we tend to just accept that as well. It's always the way it's been. So it is work, but I would argue it's work, however you want to whichever aisle you want to walk down, you know, I think about my own children, thinking about their gendered identities and what I wanted to support in terms of my daughter's independence, my daughter's willingness to engage in a range of very active activities. That was a lot of work. And I do recall distinctly having a teacher say in a passive way, “Well, your daughter is very active,” as though that was a negative. I did say to that teacher, and this was earlier on when she was about eight or nine years old, and I did mention I said, “Would you have made that comment if my daughter was a boy? She paused and she said, “You're probably right. Right. I wouldn't have.” And I said, “Something to think about, isn't it?”Jen Lumanlan:
Yeah, you can’t have these assumptions about what children are like based on this natural hormone-driven process, and I'm just thinking, actually, I have opened a page on my notes from one of your papers, “Boys seem to need action-based learning, rather than docile literacy based tasks.” You were analyzing some guidelines from, I think, the Ministry of Education in Ontario, and that makes it into a government paper, and so of course, it's right. And so the teachers have to follow it, and it's everywhere. It's everywhere all around us, isn't it?Dr. Kehler:
Yeah, and again, I think that's where on our shoulders, as researchers, as educators, as parents, you know, in the day-to-day interactions, to really sort of question about, what are we supporting? What are we promoting here? And, you know, it's very easy to fall into that trap of only providing certain kinds of books for your children, again, you think about in terms of racialized identities, you know, look at the stories that you're providing, and what are the narratives in those storybooks that you give to your children? Who's visible and again, invisible? And what does this tell us about what we are valuing in the day-to-day so when our children go, I never saw black masculinities, but they would say, I only saw white boys, or I always saw white girls in those conversations, so again, that's binary. So I think we do need to really acknowledge our active role or active ways in which we engage or disengage, the ways that we look to the boundaries, and the ways we see who's still on the fringes and why are they there, because it's not just by chance, it's on purpose, we have to take remains on the center, we still have misogyny, we still have patriarchy, and we still need to continue to raise these questions in order to sort of shift the narrative.Caroline:
I noticed it in the book and that's my thing, I love to analyze text and specifically children's books, but I also noticed it in television, and just again, the aggressive messages that are geared toward boys in terms of those action-based messages. Do you have any tips for parents who are trying to navigate this and, you know, in their own lives, but also to support their boys and maybe their resistance to those norms, and to those messages?Dr. Kehler:
Rigid question. As an educator, I'm very reluctant to say here are some tips do this, because someone will come back and say, “That didn't work with this one, or that didn’t work with that one,” rather than it really helped you sort of question and think. I'll steer away from given tips. I will say that even I used to be a high school English teacher, I think just in terms of the kind of narratives, the kinds of stories, the kinds of active engagement that I would promote in my classroom or encouraged outside of the classroom, that I really did try to think hard about workgroups who's working with whom, and I think I took more of a disruptive kind of approach because we know what the tried and true patterns are of, “Oh, the cool boys all gathered together, or this cluster of girls will always go together,” and they dominate those spaces, and so my responsibility as an educator was really to think hard about what's at play here, and coming back to what I said earlier, it is a lot of work. It does involve some disruptive thinking, some disruptive play, for example, to challenge those assumptions, I think, as Jen has mentioned, to whether we think these are just biological, and it's just hormones at play here, we know that we can shift that conversation, so for process educators, before we just immediately go to the boy books, maybe this will date me, but I know some industries talk with chick lit, and they girls literature, I think those are really problematic kind of ways that industry subscribes to this notion of what is femininity, and it doesn't do anything to disrupt, well, actually boys would like to read about relationships, that's another way that they actually learn how to have healthy, respectful relationships, but if we put the bro books over here and the chick lit books over there, I mean, we're already setting ourselves up for failure, because we're all smart enough to say I think it's safer to go here because that's to me, I see myself there, especially if they're white privileged, and we don't look at the racialized narratives, that's my no tips, maybe just sort of pushing back on some of the sort of history and the ways that we have these rules in place that, you know, for far too long, we've not questioned, and I would say that becomes that optimism part again, we are in a time where we can actually raise our voices to push back on what we see as industry type, well, that's just the way it is, and I say that when I think about, for example, there are lots of campaigns out there, I mean, you may recall the Gillette commercial around “be the best that you can be” sort of thing. I mean, there's a lot of uptake on that Gillette commercial and lots of uptake in terms of how people thought that was painting all boys was the same broad stroke. The fact of the matter is, I mean, those who push back to say, “This is an unfair representation of boys,” it's really interesting because that's a very defensive response and what we ought to be thinking about, it's a fair representation because that actually does demonstrate how we've moved along as boys and men in these relationships, and I think it's useful again, going to what you're asked about earlier, Caroline, those are the kinds of moments where you can have conversations and debates about what that demonstrates, and you know, there's many campaigns around violence against women, and we really need to engage with boys and men as activists because more agencies are acknowledging boys and men are a part of the conversation. They're not just the problem. The problem is a societal understanding and so its search traverses all spaces, and it's up to us to invite dialogue with boys and men to allow boys and men to see that you don't need to be that way.Caroline:
And that kind of reminds me that there is no real answers here. Just to reinforce your point about tips, like there is no real answers, and also that there's agency in negotiating gender there is a lived experience along with that, and it sounds like you're saying that it's important to sort of point that out and talk about that.Dr. Kehler:
Yeah, it's a really good point. I mean, my research shows that the boys are willing to do other than what the other boys’ do. Boys actually have agency to be unlike the rest of the boys, and also points to what I was just as being a bit courageous. It's a bit ironic, right? And I think a TED talk that I do, I ask the question, “Why don't we change the rules? We know what the rules are as boys and men, but why won't we change those rules? What does it take for boys and men to say, I will not be that boy?” And so having that agency and having the courage, and shouldn't we be encouraging our youth to have the courage to be unlike the rest of the boys? And because we already know what some of those boys have done, we already know what some of those boys have done to damage other people's lives, for example, the circulation of sexually explicit images, you're just because you're part of the boy’s group, and maintaining your own safety in those spaces, and being among the boys, we know how hurtful and harmful those acts are, but for many boys, they haven't been encouraged or supportive enough to say, “I will not be that boy.”Jen Lumanlan:
I think for me, that speaks to the biggest opportunity we have as adults in this situation, I really see this whole thing instead of a crisis of caring, and that if boys know that somebody deeply cares about them and that it's okay to deeply care about other people, then a lot of this other stuff seems to sort of melt away, right? In the research, there's a strong theme of boys not knowing if anybody cares about their fathers spending evenings at the pub with, you know, with his mates, and he's never said, “He loves me, it seems like my sisters can have good conversations with my mom but I've never been able to do that,” there's a real theme like I am on my own, and then that gets reinforced as they policed that again, with other people, you need to be on your own, you need to show that you're big enough, strong enough, good enough at sports, all the rest of it. And so when I see research that says, “You know that the answer here is to have a no-bullying policy.” To me, that's like, “Well, isn't that just kind of saying, you know, let's push the problem down here and pretend it doesn't exist anymore?” But if instead, we were to have real relationships with children, where we really care about them, then that would provide the model and not just in, “Oh, yeah, they're my kids and they're my greatest joy kind of way,” but in a way that actually demonstrates what it means to care for them and to show them how to do that with others. Is that heading in the right direction do you think?Dr. Kehler:
Yeah, most definitely. And again, another researcher Niobe Way surrounded by male friendship, and she talks about the need, and we know through our research within masculinities scholarship about boys yearn for close male-male friendships, close intimacy, but have been so schooled in masculinity, that there is again, I go back to what I said earlier, that fear of forming that close bond because the fear is that homophobia gets operationalized, and there must be something wrong with you, or you're less than a man because that's not what boys do, and there needs to be a much more conscious a louder voice to say, “That may not be what boys have done in the past, that may not be the way boys have had friendships in the past, but it can be the way boys can form a relationship now and in the future.” So I agree with you Jen, I think that there is a need to against reconfiguring this kind of relationship that we have with other boys, as well as the relationship that we have with ourselves, the ability to actually sort of look inwardly and be reflective, as boys, and to actually use that as a starting point to say, “This is how I want to change the kinds of relationships I have, not only with myself but with others around me,” and when you think about gendered identities, I think this is a really powerful starting point, but we also need to give our youth the license to have those conversations. And I think that ties back to what you said, Caroline, about having dialogue because we all known for too long that silence has been a powerful source of restraint, if we don't talk about it must not be there. You can say about violence, if you don't talk about it, there must not be any domestic violence, you know, just because the numbers don't show it doesn't mean it doesn't exist, and just because those sexually explicit images are being spoken about by youth, we know what's happening, and we can't hold back on. It's just a part of the stage or a part of the culture because we do have opportunities to change that culture.Caroline:
And I think that also involves just to go back to something you said Dr. Kehler, sitting with discomfort as a parent, and maybe as an educator as well, and having the courage to sit with discomfort.Dr. Kehler:
Yeah, and Bell Hooks talks about the Power of Discomfort, I mean, if you just think about how often we sort of rely on if everything's comfortable, that's right. Just comfort can be a powerful learning opportunity.Jen Lumanlan:
Yeah, I totally agree. As we wrap up, I want to push it back just a little bit on this idea of comfort because yeah, in a way, it's comfortable, because I'm doing the same thing everybody else is doing, right? I'm looking around, “Yeah, this must be the right thing to do. This is what everybody else is doing.” And also, it's hurting me so much. There's still discomfort there, right? It's just in a different way. It's an internal discomfort, even though everybody else around me is telling me, “Yes, you're doing it right. This is what it's supposed to be like,” I see it as sort of a different form of discomfort, where I'm looking around, “Oh, yeah, everybody else is doing it different. I'm gonna be kind of out there by myself that's not comfortable.” And yet, in myself, it feels more right.Dr. Kehler:
And we need to start saying that discomfort can be better managed and the more other people, for example, they respect what you say, where you disrupt some misogyny, the more we start seeing that people say, “I really appreciate that you said that, in that meeting, I really appreciate that you spoke up,” the more we see the communities growing where others say, “Thanks for saying that,” you know, the silence is deafening, and the silence is damaging, and just makes me think about like body image issues with boys, just because we don't talk about them doesn't mean boys don't have body image issues. We've got many boys who fear and struggle internally, and it's up to us to be able to say, “I hear you; I see you. And I want to make this a conversation that we can have. So we can address these issues.” And you know, again, I think that goes back just to that other examples like you can continue on saying, “I should have spoken up, I should have said something.” But until we shift that group dynamics have those situations where it's respected and not only respected, but it's looked for other people to speak up, and that's why I said earlier about, I think we're in a really rich, rich socio-political time where we have opportunities to raise our voice and be organized or unorganized, be formal or informal, where we can create and we should be nurturing youth to have a voice to see the injustices, to see the effects of heteronormative masculinity, and also to see the possibilities that we can change those consequences of consequences can actually be validating, and valorizing different forms of masculinities, rather than maintaining those privileged notions of what it means to be a man that we know for far too long, has allowed for a lot of hurts, and a lot of unspoken pain for someone.Jen Lumanlan:
Yeah, thanks for that you're teeing up beautifully an interview I have coming up in a couple of weeks with Dr. John Wall at Rutgers on the topic of Childism, and how we can instead look to our children as useful sources of information about what we want the world to be like and what they want the world to be like. And we can look at them when they're so young before our culture has sort of got its hands on them and manipulated them into being a certain way, but isn't necessarily the way they want to be, and that we can look to them as a source of truth on that. Yeah. Thanks for that. Thank you so much for being here and sharing your ideas with us. We didn't get to half of the stuff we wanted to talk to you about reading and practices that happened in school, but it was a really rich conversation, and grateful for your time.Dr. Kehler:
My pleasure. Thank you for having me, it’s a real joy made most of you.Jen Lumanlan:
And Caroline, thanks so much for digging through all the research again, and coming back and asking great questions, so it’s good to see you.Caroline:
Thanks, Jen.Jen Lumanlan:
And so listeners can find links to Dr. Kehler's work and all of the papers that we've discussed today at YourParentingMojo.com/masculinities.Emma:
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