The Plight (and Opportunity) of the Young

Once I’m awake in the morning, I’m awake for the day, regardless of the time.  In that regard, being forced up so early in the morning with baby can have it’s advantages.  Eventually she’ll go back down for her first nap of the day, and I’ll be up for some blessed quiet time while hubby crawls back into his blanket cave for some extra zzz’s.  But me?  I find it a particularly inspiring time to ingest the niche tastings of the online Open Letter.  Todays find was by David Cain, author of the awesome blog, entitled ‘Dear Young Men’.

Given my lack of experience at being a teenage boy, and thinking back to being 14 and trying to navigate the social & sexual minefield that existed in the pit-hole that was High School, I was intrigued by the male point of view on the subject.  As it turns out, 29 year old non-male me found the kind of advice she never expected but always wanted.  To me that’s always the best kind of knowledge, where the experience of others teaches you things about yourself you didn’t realise were there to even discover. I wanted to find something in this article in particular to quote and comment on, but it really is most fantastic as a whole.  There are 2 things I will say though.  Firstly, the conclusion of this letter addresses something I think a lot of stories of this type fail to point out – the fact that the playing field of men and women as equal humans presents a very new game for society.  We have existed as a species in our current form for c. 200,000 years and only in the last century has there been an attempt at a global shift to gender equality, in the first world at least.  We have 10’s of thousands of years of ingrained and instinctual behaviours which we are now attempting to over-write, and each generation is handing the responsibility of that action to young men and women in an increasingly sexualised and public world.  I agree that young people are where the change needs to be in order to create a new norm, however giving tweens and teens, people who don’t know who they even are, the responsibility of changing the psyche of an entire species without context and guidance feels like handing them a gun that randomly fires and telling them not to kill anyone.  Defining what that norm should be is in itself a coat of many colours, most of which are explored in David’s article.  The battle of becoming and being a man is best articulated in this article for me in the following paragraph:

You have a responsibility here, whether you want it or not. Some of the very normal expectations that will be placed on you as a male – to distance yourself from femininity, to be tough and stolid, to laugh at certain jokes, to use words like “slut” without irony, to deride ambitious or non-traditional women, to dominate and emasculate other males – are keeping even the most enlightened parts of this world less hospitable for women than for you. Learn to recognise and violate these expectations. Don’t be another dead billiard ball, passing this nasty energy on to your peers, and eventually your sons. We need new norms, and creating them will take the help of defiant and thoughtful young men. That’s you. The problem of sexism isn’t a women’s issue. It’s a matter of ensuring personal freedom for everyone regardless of sex.

I’ll use this to work into my second point, which is something I’m sure everyone can recognise from their own experience of teenage life, regardless of societies agenda.  Teenagers have a difficult time thinking bigger than themselves.  Asking them to progress the attitude of a generation who are only able to loosely define who they in the pack-mentality of the eat-or-be-eaten high school experience needs a lot of thought.  I don’t mean this in a negative way – what I mean is that fostering a new way of thinking in an ever-changing social landscape (special mention to social media, couldn’t have done it without you) requires attention from us all.  We can talk amongst ourselves about the changes we wish to see in the world, but without talking directly to the people who will be shouldering the weight of this change, and in ways that they can understand the benefit of to themselves and the pack as a whole, we are going to be fighting a very tough battle.

I absolutely believe in what David has put forward here, an open letter to the young generation of men who will need to be a strong catalyst for the change we hope to continue progressing throughout the world.  How we do that – for my part, I will educate my own children and hope that the parents of the people they will grow up with will educate theirs.  As a society… questions like that seem destined for minds greater than mine.  I feel like that is a real let down of an ending, but I guess like the teens I’m discussing here, I’m looking for a whole lot of camaraderie and a little bit of guidance.


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