Saturday, April 18, 2009

Article for JLK to pick apart

A recent blog post in the NYT talks about a lot of the stuff JLK and DuWayne are super into. I read it with interest.

Apparently, these days a boy being called a "fag" or "gay" in school is the ultimate kiss of death in terms of coolness, to the point that some kids are being driven to kill themselves once they've been pegged with these epithets. And that all that it takes to be called one of those terms is to care about school, your clothes, or have an ounce of effeminate characteristics.

While I am all for "girls can be anything they want," I've been a bit disturbed by the lack of progress in acceptable boy behavior as a society. They really do seemed to be trapped in a really monosyllabic note in terms of what's ok, and that sucks.

I read in "The Feminine Mystique" by Betty Friedan that American suffragette Lucy Stone's mother cried upon learning the sex of her latest child, "Oh dear, I am so sorry it's a girl. A woman's life is so hard." I wholeheartedly believe that was true before, but I think it is definitely less so now.

These days, I just think it's hard to be a kid. Every time I see a kid, and I think about having one of my own (thoughts about that here), I get paralyzed with fear that my kid will be teased mercilessly for one reason or another. It's a miracle I got through my childhood pretty unscathed, but I think that was a combination of 1) my personality, 2) my parents, 3) my community, 4) my particular school, 5) my particular combination of classmates, 6) sheer luck.

How can I make sure that same tenuous balance happens for my kid? I think it's really important to live somewhere that's diverse and urban, so that a lot more behavior is acceptable for both boys and girls, and there is a lot of shit to do besides gossip about someone.

My high school was over 3000 people. No one could ruin your life because at any given moment only 500 people even knew who you were, the other 2500 didn't know or care about you. You could only become a pariah in a small distinct group and it wasn't too hard to just...move to another. On top of that, there were so many people that in general, you could ALWAYS find 4 other people who were as unusual as you and be friends. Groups of dudes who played D&D and Magic all through lunch? Yeah - about 10 of them. Kids who cared about school and took lots of AP classes? About 60-100 of them. Cheerleaders? I didn't know who they were, and I didnt' care. Football players? Pretty much the same. Kids trash-canned and thrown into lockers? Never happened. A guy my year even catapulted to popularity for getting a leading role in a play with the Drama Club. Band kids weren't even considered lame. They were a good band.

Can I find a school like that for my kid and make sure it's a pretty healthy, functional place? Why do I wonder this even if I am sooooo ambivalent about whether I even want one, ever?

Because I overthink things and am crazy :).


Labness said...

I had the same experience. Also, my school had an intense gifted program, and the "coolest" kids WERE the kids taking AP classes.

I think Cold Country has more schools like this than the US - based purely on the opinions of others.

JLK said...

What this article deals with and the tragedy that sparked it represent the very essence of why I do what I do.

The latest variable that has been found to significantly contribute to this problem is socioeconomic status. It keeps getting more and more complex and, as a result, I find it more and more daunting every day.

What is not new, however, is the contrast to femininity that defines masculinity. "Sissy" used to be the derogative name of choice before "fag" entered the vocabulary of young boys.

This article misses that point. As I said in my post series on masculinity, when we raise boys who devalue the feminine in order to reinforce their sense of manhood, we create an enormous problem for society as a whole.

How can we fix that? I don't know. But I'm working on it.....

Mrs. CH said...

1) I think the "insult" of "gay" or "fag" is far more rampant in the US. We live in Canada, but had season tickets to an NFL team last season. The number of times some jerk called the players fags/gay or similar was absolutely appalling. The worst part is everyone else around them laughed.

What was interesting was, when some of the other season ticket holders around us found out we were Canadian, they would say "oh, watch the gay jokes around these two" - like it is widely known that Canadians are more accepting (and that this is a bad thing!).

2) I think everyone was teased in school at some point. I remember, a few years after high school I ran into a girl that was really popular in junior high (grade 7-9 for us). We got to talking and she said how much she hated that time because she got made fun of all the time! It's really amazing that no one is safe from the wrath of adolescence :P

I think kids/teens are really resilient - most get through all that BS with little scarring. The best we can do (when we are parents) is to make sure they're going to a decent school, have a good social life (whatever their social status/group is), and to let them know things get better! :D

PhizzleDizzle said...

@JLK, just real quick, the article did mention something about how the derogatory term of choice use to be "girl", but now it's "fag."

@Labness, lucky us....lucky us.

@MCH: you're right, I do think kids are resilient...MOST of them. my irrational fear is that a vortex of bad stuff (a sensitive kid, a bad environment, ONE bad classmate infecting others, ONE incident beyond anyone's control pegging them SomeEpithet for the rest of their life.....) will occur to make things really bad...of course, the statistics of this occurring are low, but it can happen, because some kids do get that kind of bad luck. Sigh. I really do think about this too much.

Mrs. CH said...

:) Yes, sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and realize that a) the worst will rarely happen and b) if it does, you (or your loved ones) will get through it.

It's hard thinking of bringing up a child - what all could go wrong right from implantation through their adulthood. It's important to be prepared for bad things to happen, but to not let them take over our lives and direct our decisions. Prepare for the worst but hope for the best and all that :D

Curious Computer said...

Totally irrelevant to your post, but PiT pointed me to your blog and I'd just like to say how happy I am to find another computer scientist. With all the blog reading I was doing, I started to feel I was very strange to not know what a Western blot was.

PhizzleDizzle said...

Hi CC!! Welcome to the blog, I hope you like it :).

I don't know what a Western blot is either, but now I know it's a common thing in bench science! Heh :).

DuWayne Brayton said...

Because I overthink things and am crazy :).I wasn't going to say anything, but now that you mention it...

I will definitely write on this one, but it will have to wait until I am finished with the end of the semester crunch...

I do think it's interesting to note a certain amount of regression from when I was in school just a decade and a half ago. Not to say that there weren't issues like this, but it was definitely something very different then and I don't believe that where I went and the number of students was the issue. Mainly because there are problems similar to these there now.

At the same time, I don't think it's total regression, because when I talk to some of the kids, they seem to be far more aware of the impact that that sort of thing has on others.

Hard to just drop a quick comment on this - especially as there are several different issues here, that I want to go into. I also think I'll talk to a couple of guys I recently came into contact with (facebook rocks for that) who engaged in this sort of mockery in school (that sort of thing just pissed me the fuck off) and have actually been really trying to make amends for it for about ten years now.

Way to add more shit to my plate PD!!! (it's all good, there are just a lot of things and more keep getting added)

PhizzleDizzle said...

My pleasure DuWayne - and I await your post! :)

Jazinator said...

I myself graduated with over 1100 kids and I know what you were saying. There was always a click (sp?) for pretty much anything you wanted to do. I was a geek (and now proudly one but not always so) so I hung out with the geeks. On a side note my best friend from high school I always called "woman" because he was rather effeminate growing up. Well it turns out that that "woman" tag was a little more true than I originally thought.

Cath@VWXYNot? said...

Man, I wish I'd gone to your highschool. At mine I was a) the only girl in my maths class, b) one of only 5 students who took chemistry, and c) crap at sport. (This was in the final 2 years (16-18), which are voluntary, so allegedly only the most academic kids stayed). Social death... I was bullied for years. There's a really nasty anti-academic streak in the UK such that the kids getting the best grades get the hardest time. My younger sister got equally good grades, but was in all the school and county sports teams, so she was left alone.

Jazinator said...

That sucks. I was in all of the AP classes and such and there was a pretty even splt from girls to guys. Even our valedictorian was a girl and I think prolly most of the top 20 students.

Candid Engineer said...

Appalling. I, too, hate to think about what my potential kids might have to deal with. I was teased constantly through grade school and high school- because of my last name, because of a short haircut, because I was super-smart. It is absolutely horrible to feel rejected by one's peers. And the thought that today's kids are projecting this image of undesirability on 'gays' and 'fags' makes me sick.