The title got your attention, right? According to an essay published in today's New York Times, "queer" and "fag" are some of the most harmful epithets boys hurl at one another.
In the words one of teenage boy: “To call someone gay or fag is like the lowest thing you can call someone. Because that’s like saying that you’re nothing.”
The implicit homophobia is one thing. (If hearing those words make a straight boy feel like "nothing," imagine how you'd feel if you were a gay teenager hearing those words.) But this issue is bigger than homophobia; this name-calling touches on the very definition of masculinity.
Despite all our so-called advances in recent years, boys and men are still expected to conform to the Boy Code. Doing well in school and showing emotions are STILL considered female traits, and if a boy should exhibit either (or both) of these characteristics, he's ridiculed by other boys.
The essay asks, "It’s weird, isn’t it, that in an age in which the definition of acceptable girlhood has expanded, so that desirable femininity now encompasses school success and athleticism, the bounds of boyhood have remained so tightly constrained? "
Some commentators have speculated that this narrow, decades-old definition of masulinity is a reaction to our current world. The idea is that men and boys, denied their usual roles of protector and provider, are reverting to almost stereotypical behavior. (A recent Newsweek article about out-of-work men touched on this phenonmenon.)
The NYT essay quotes C.J. Pascoe, author of “Dude, You’re a Fag: Masculinity and Sexuality in High School.” Her comments are most interesting:
“These kids experience a loss of masculine privilege on a day-to-day level. While they didn’t necessarily ever experience the concrete privilege their fathers and grandfathers experienced, they have the sense that to be a man means something and is incredibly important. These boys don’t know how to be that something. Their pathway to masculinity is unclear. To not be a man is to not be fully human and that’s terrifying.”
That's exactly what Michael Gurian, author of the just-published book, The Purpose of Boys, is saying: With the old-guard gone, too many of our boys have no idea what it means to be man.
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