Sometimes within a group, the focus can be so intense on events within its own immediate focus that it can miss an event that constitutes progress, especially if there is no direct nexus to the group and its idioms.
As we busied ourselves battening down the hatches for the 20/20 assault starboard, and simultaneous Daily Beast port side approach, we can be forgiven for missing the neutral merchant boat behind us, willing to provide us much-needed supplies if we only asked. That boat was the release of Rosalind Wiseman’s book, Masterminds and Wingmen, and more importantly, the tone of the discussion about our boys it demands.
On October 17, on the Al Jazeera-America program Consider This, educator and author Wiseman and host Antonia Mora discussed the book, which centers around how parents, siblings, teachers and educational staff (3 of the 4 being mostly women) miss opportunities to meaningfully communicate with our boys, in favor of simplifying them as “simple creatures” who just “move on” from emotional trauma and daily difficulty, thus isolating them to their own “deeply emotional lives” that certain sectors of society presume don’t exist. She points out, among other things, that we “box boys in” to always looking for a sexual angle with women (predator paradigm), and that we erroneously label almost all taunts and calls for physical tests as “bullying” behaviors, when they are usually bonding exercises that boys should not be shamed out of. Many of the same bullet points are discussed in an interview by Hope Reese in The Atlantic and this piece by Bonnie Miller in the Chicago Tribune.
The most impressive part of Wiseman’s method? In compiling the research, she took a revolutionary approach. She actually sat down with 200 boys and listened to them, even allowing them to vet her information for accuracy.
The part of the Al Jazeera interview that left me most impressed was when Wiseman observed that while we have armed girls with the vocabulary to combat toxic messages, we have not similarly armed boys. Of course, we have been endeavoring for years as a movement to create and foster that idiom, particularly how to combat shaming language, so we share common cause and common ground there.
This is not to say that the pieces were not without their hiccups. Like several Al-Jazeera shows, Consider This has interactive element, and the junior co-host Hermela Aregawi repeated a nugget from the comments section of the Atlantic piece, from a male sycophant named David, trotting out the well-worn “in this male dominated society, its hatred of women, not of men, that inhibits boys” trope.
Rosalind Wiseman is, of course, not affiliated with the MHRM. Indeed, as an accomplished martial artist, she wrote a book entitled Defending Ourselves about defense tactics from, and recovering from, date rape. Her book Queen Bees And Wannabees, which took on the problematic social dynamics of teen girl culture, was the basis for the 2004 film Mean Girls. She approaches her subjects from the perspective of an educator, counselor, and most of all, a mother of two sons approaching adolescence. But therein lies the pleasing paradox; some of our most valuable allies are those unaffiliated with our movement, whose research or experiences independently reinforce the basis for our advocacy. We don’t have an “industrial complex” churning out rubber stamped clones and hacks like Mary P. Koss parroting our party line. Folks Professors Denise Hinds, Emily Douglas, and Sonia Starr, Researcher Elaine Zahnd, Justin Vacula, John Quinones ( he who hosted the 2006 “What Would You Do” piece on how we respond to public displays of female-on-male violence) and others who do not self-identify as MRAs come to their conclusions independently, and thus are anodized to a large degree (though not completely) from ad-hominem attacks on their findings and views.
You can read the pieces and the book and judge for yourself what she gets right and wrong. What can’t be denied is that Wiseman has poked a new hole in Pandora’s Box, and the discussion on our suppression of boys’ basic humanity is now part of the popular discourse. Let’s help it spread, by both encouraging host Mora and Ms Aregwani to expand the discussion, and thanking Ms. Wiseman for her contribution.