Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Dangerous Lives

(Boys Will Be Boys)

There is an article posted on Red Dreher’s Crunchy Cons site, called “The dangerous lives of boys.” A rather lively discussion has been shut down there, noting that “a pretty sick threat has been made, implicitly, and the police have been called.” Fair enough, we live in a dangerous world. Dreher had cited at length from a Catholic writer and scholar, named Tony Esolen who "has some wise and astonishingly un-p.c. words about sexuality, the abuse scandal, and masculinity." I am all for un-p.c. words, no matter what their political point of view. We should all learn to argue with each other in un-p.c. words. The discussion, before its untimely demise, rambled through some predictable paradigms, but fell short.

Esolen is concerned about boys. He is mortified by the institutional record of his church, because “to seduce a boy, to corrupt his manhood while it is yet in the bud, is to sin against his nature, his essential created being.” Well and good. Then, Esolen takes a leap of logic, though hardly of faith, to observe “Governments and foundations shovel money into programs to teach math and science specifically to girls, but not a penny, not for any subject, devoted specifically to boys. Why is that? Nowadays in some places a boy growing up with a father is as rare as an orphan used to be. These boys need more than ever the male discipline of sports -- so what do we do about it? We cut their rosters. Sometimes, against common sense, against plain decency and charity, we force the boys to play on the same teams with girls, even when there are girls' teams available. Why that happy cruelty?”

Several comments responded that it is unfair to take money away from girl’s programs to compensate for the Roman church subjecting boys to sexual abuse. It was hardly the fault of girls presently still in their childhood that priests now in the fifties or eighties subjected boys who are now adults to unspeakable horrors. That is an obvious and entirely valid riposte. But don’t write off Esolen. He’s not all wrong.

“Now of all times, when fatherhood itself is under siege from no-fault divorce, from feminism, from a sneeringly misandrist educational system, from popular culture, and from our chase of the almighty dollar at the cost of sanity and order at home, in short from the manifold sins of men and women, now of all times we need a St. John Bosco. ... The boys are invisible, and now that our Church has caved in ever so slightly but ever so noticeably on the issue of homosexuality, it has helped ensure that men with vocations to work with boys will not be able to fulfill them. Did it never occur to our soft-minded leaders that one of the reasons why we cordon off male homosexuality as unnatural is to give boys the breathing room to develop such friendships as Jesus Himself enjoyed?”

I said he’s not ALL wrong. Several cynical commentators wrote off that entire line of thought. Others defended it tooth and nail. I would like to suggest that what Esolen offers, stripped of its pretensions to universality, is ONE PART of what the world needs, what our culture needs, what SOME boys need. Sort of.

I particularly appreciated the repartee between one Franklin Evans and his counter-point, Rich:

“How about programs, period? How about setting aside gender discrimination and judging children on their skills, merit and potential instead of first dividing them into boys and girls?”

“Because boys and girls are fundamentally different. The differences between the genders is not just a social construct, no matter how much people wish it so. It is a difference in biology. They behave differently because their brains function differently.

Franklin, since you seem worked up over sports, let's take Title IX as an example. It compels equal sports spending between the sexes. On the face of it this sounds fair and reasonable. But what if girls are just less interested in sports than boys? What do you do then? Well we know because we have a couple of decades of experience. You eliminate sports programs for boys and devote resources to recruiting girls into athletics. You make the numbers balance or else.

You mention vocational training. Are boys and girls equally interested in pursuing careers as plumbers or welders or mechanics or carpenters? Of course not. But most such programs are a thing of the past because our schools now assume that every kid should be on a college track. Now females outnumber males in colleges almost 60/40.”

Nomilk later responded to Evans “Typical liberal flight from reality. I take it you don't have children, but guess what? Boys and girls are different and need different educations.”

Now let’s really be real here. There are fundamental differences between boys and girls. There are also fundamental differences between one boy and another, between one girl and another. Some boys are urgently in need of “the male discipline of sports.” Other boys can do fine without it, or only wish to play now and then. Some girls are motivated by role models who are professional basketball players – and as a male who only watches occasionally, I find the women’s league is more interesting, because it shows more strategy and teamwork.

Let’s try a little un-p.c. diversity. Boys who do well in, or desire, an all-boys school, should not be denied such a thing just because some boys, and some girls, do well in a co-ed school. Some boys might even end up there because their parents decide it is best for them. Some girls, likewise, will do better in an all girls school. It is entirely possible that some fields will attract more women and some fields will attract more men. Larry Summers may have been right that there just aren’t as many women who want to be engineers as there are men who want to be engineers. (Disclosures: my mother was a very good industrial engineer, and she agrees. Every woman doesn’t have to follow in her footsteps.)

Some juvenile delinquents will shape up with the discipline and role model of a he-man adult male who will challenge them to “be a man.” Devotion to feminist paradigms should not deprive them of the experience. (Incidentally, done right, the he-man adult male role model COULD include being respectful to women – if we go down this road, let’s make sure that it does.) Some perfectly well-balanced boys will retreat into themselves and become anti-social if forced to endure the he-man treatment. Let’s not try to force anyone into stereotypes, but keep lots of options available. The hard part is, can we do this without ending up giving 90% of the money to boys-only activities, 9% of the money to co-ed, and 1% of the money to girls-only, while 50% of each sex is in single-sex mode, and a full 50% of each sex is in co-ed? We don’t want to go back to the “good old days,” because as Moms Mabley said, “There wasn’t any good old days.”

Then Charles Foster Kane, who may be signing in as himself, offers this challenge to Esolen:

"Did it never occur to our soft-minded leaders that one of the reasons why we cordon off male homosexuality as unnatural is to give boys the breathing room to develop such friendships as Jesus Himself enjoyed? In poisoned air the most salutary meal will smell sour."

“I hope the fact that nobody's eviscerated that remark yet doesn't mean that gay readers are finally abandoning this blog. Memo to Rod: If you don't like being called out for homophobia, maybe think twice before endorsing remarks that label homosexuality as "poison," and that use the word "boys" to mean straight boys only. I mean, that's Bigotry 101.”

Once again, let’s try a little un-P.C. diversity. Fixation on homosexuality really does infringe on perfectly healthy friendships and mentoring between heterosexual males. If I give a young man a hug, am I being “gay”? No, it can be an important reassurance, nothing sexual about it. But concern over certain men in positions of trust who did perform unwanted sexual acts on vulnerable boys casts a pall of suspicion on perfectly appropriate non-sexual affection from a man to a boy.

Kane apparently is standing up for homosexuality being healthy, as did another commentator earlier, who challenged Dreher about “the healthy masculine instinct toward homosexuality that exists in those men or boys who are gay. Or indeed healthy instincts - masculine or feminine, gay or straight - toward sexuality in general.” I don’t buy that. Assuming that a certain percentage of young men, and young women, will develop a natural sexual affection for their own sex, rather than the opposite sex, even so, most of us do not. No matter how it makes individuals of a formerly persecuted and now pampered minority feel, their hormonal responses are NOT the norm. They never will be.

There is nothing wrong with offering boys companionship and adult role models based on the heterosexual norm, which is precisely what most need. If they seek out homosexual role models and mentors, I wouldn’t steer them away, but, I would remind everyone concerned that adult sexuality with a child is a crime, whether heterosexual or homosexual. Complicated? Sure it is. Life is complicated. Here is another complication: there is no reason a homosexually inclined male can’t teach a normal heterosexually inclined boy about math, science, woodworking, or coach him in rugby – the only thing said adult should not do is flirt with the young man. Neither should an adult woman teacher.

Dreher threw in a comment about pedophilia in the church: “Tony hits on something that to me, was one of the most astonishing mysteries about the whole foul business: why almost nobody, when learning what molester priests were doing to boys, acted like a real man, and stopped it. Not bishops, not brother priests (for the most part), and not laymen. You may hate me for saying this, but if some men of the parish had taken Father Pederast out back and beat the hell out of him, and run him out of the parish, a lot of this evil wouldn't have happened. But rightful Church authority was deployed to neuter healthy masculine instincts at every level.”

Some people objected to the “vigilantism,” or to Dreher’s reference to “healthy masculine instincts,” but several professedly gay commentators said they had the same “healthy masculine instincts.” A member of Dignity (for those who don’t know, that is an organization of gay Roman Catholics) recounted efforts by Dignity to bring priestly pedophilia to the attention of a bishop, who ignored them.

Let’s stop pretending there are simple answers, much less pretending that “what works for me is the simple answer for everyone else in the whole world – or at least everyone who shares my sex.” My way or the highway is the essence of political correctness. Human beings are extremely complex, and varied. It takes incredible hubris to say we understand exactly what any human being needs. It takes the same hubris to say either that all boys should make the football team, or that all boys should play with dolls, to say that girls are just going to spend their lives cooking and cleaning house, or to say that all girls should want to be astronauts. Some will. Some won’t. Solutions are individual. Gender differences are real. Solutions are individual.

No comments: