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Raising Boys

Home » The Search for Masculinity »

Hiding Their Tender Selves

Emotional Literacy

Emotional Literacy

"I worry about boys who disapprove of having feelings. For example, if they have contempt for their own normal fears because being afraid doesn't seem masculine, then they will deny or chop off aspects of their own emotional lives. As a result, they may become emotionally illiterate unable to recognize feelings in themselves and others."

Michael Thompson, Ph.D.

Co-Author, Raising Cain; Host, PBS documentary, RAISING CAIN

Boys who subscribe to a very narrow definition of masculinity, who empathize only with toughness, stoicism, and physical and sexual prowess may hide those parts of themselves that they perceive as too tender and even too smart.

Many boys hide their feelings. Boys often think it's OK for girls to get upset and be sensitive, but not for strong boys. As a result, boys may act less empathetic, less supportive, and less close than they actually feel or want to be. "Crying is a roadblock to being accepted and identified as a strong male. So one of the first things people do is teach boys not to cry," comments Geoffrey Canada.

Some boys hide their intelligence."Boys may also choose to do less well in school, because they think that learning and homework are something that girls do," notes Thompson. "For some boys (and this depends a lot on social class and context), doing well at school is incompatible with being perceived as adequately masculine," adds Joseph Tobin. "If a boy gets praised for good academic performance in front of classmates, he may then misbehave to earn back their respect for his masculinity."

Boys hide their compassion as well."Boys live in fear of being identified as soft so they self-correct," says Canada. "A nice girl comes up to you and compliments you for helping her little brother, but other boys say, 'You did what?' So, as leaders, we try to get boys away from this group, so they explore what they feel and care about but they won't do this in front of other boys."

Many Ways to Be a Man

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