Time has changed and so should be the cultural pressures for men to behave in a certain way. The idea that men need to act tough and reject anything that is considered to be feminine, such as showing emotion and not engaging in necessary skills can be harmful to their mental health and could have serious consequences for a society that glorifies unhealthy habits.
The word ‘virtuous’ is often attributed to women and girls, especially for those who look at it from the Biblical context. However, the true meaning of ‘virtuous’, according to the Oxford Dictionary, among many things include: good, upstanding, honourable, trustworthy, law-abiding, noble and respectable, which, on the other hand, are words attributed to accomplished men in many societies. So the question is: Why are families not raising their sons along those qualities as well?
In my line of work, I have seen many boys who were mandated for counselling by authorities or agencies because they are short-tempered, aggressive, immature, entitled and/or inconsiderate. In almost every one of the situations, I found their behaviour to be linked to parenting style, family dynamics, peers, environmental influences, and the culture at large. Discernibly, parents must serve as relational anchors, grounding their sons to virtue, because proper behaviour and good citizenship (being respectful, responsible, and caring about others) start at home.
Judging from current trends, including incompetent leadership, violent crimes and youth restiveness, it has become obvious that something is wrong with the values impacted on young men by their parents. Instead of parents raising independent, self-confident sons, they are focusing on directing the energies of their male children to brute domination and the unchecked ego. Parents and the society feel comfortable imposing headship and leadership on men who are not prepared for independent life and strong executive functioning. Indisputably, parents are responsible for impacting and nurturing their children, during which process they are imbued with the lasting values they carry into adulthood.
Sadly, families tend to raise male-children with a supreme sense of entitlement, as such reinforcing male supremacy becomes the only tool of personal power and accomplishment to them. Male-children are raised to see life from an absolute entitlement mentality, and they are easily socialised and/or coerced by society into exhibiting toxic masculinity and tough “guyism” as a show of strength. Families support their male-children’s lack of empathy and encourage a narrower range of emotions in boys than girls, which can be harmful in the long run.
This indoctrination causes sadness, frustration and isolation. What the world needs is a generation of men who can express their emotions, who respect other people’s boundaries and human rights and who can help nurse society back to a halfway healthy place.
Men who are raised in the harmful way often possess a predatory and entitlement mentality to women’s bodies. It is time to help boys and men understand that a woman is the sole owner of her body and believing otherwise might result in committing a crime against a woman, which would likely make them felons. Parents pressure their obviously irresponsible, mannerless and underachieving sons, who will be bad for another person’s mental health, into getting married, because the society sees marriage as proof of being responsible. However, they have continued to turn a blind eye to the fact that this Stone Age mindset is no longer relevant. So, while parents want their sons to appear responsible and give them grandchildren, they must raise them to understand that showing emotions and engaging in domestic chores are not synonymous with female children. Most responsible sons have to leave home first and become independent, during which time their domestic skills serve them well if they were raised to acquire them or they suffer if they did acquire them. Gender roles are socially constructed and doing chores are not something that women are born with. Therefore, parents who cook should not keep their expertise to themselves and their female children. They should share this with their male children too if they want them to live successful and independent lives. Engaging in household chores such as cooking, making the bed, washing laundry, cleaning the kitchen does not diminish their masculinity; instead it lets their humanness shine.
If parents truly love and value their male-children, they must aspire to blur the gender lines to avoid their male-children having rigid emotional repertoires, with long-term psychological consequences. Because while the traditionalist generation and baby boomers might have internalised the socially constructed gender roles, there is no excuse for anyone in the generations X to Z to tread the same path as their parents did. Time has changed and so should be the cultural pressures for men to behave in a certain way. The idea that men need to act tough and reject anything that is considered to be feminine, such as showing emotion and not engaging in necessary skills can be harmful to their mental health and could have serious consequences for a society that glorifies unhealthy habits.
This was evident in the mismanagement of the COVID-19 palliatives across the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory. Markedly, Nigeria does not have a female president or a single female governor, as such the lack of empathy for the poor masses can be traced back to a gender known to mostly strive for power and status but which lacks in service leadership. Of course, the most important leadership qualities, such as emotional intelligence, empathy, kindness, active-listening, humility, passion, problem-solving skills and so on, are seen as feminine.
In the current global dispensation, fathers must remind their sons that they will be dealing with women who are not like their mothers, while mothers must teach their sons that all women are not the same. Gone are those days when women were 100 per cent house wives and men were 100 per cent breadwinners. That your family did not empower their female children does not mean the other families did not. That a male child watched his mother endure physical and emotional pain, hardship, infidelity and more and then grew up attributing that as being a model wife and virtuous woman, does not mean his wife would do the same. In this current generation, women know their worth and are opinionated, hence what constitutes goodness differs and modern women are not looking forward to being like your good mothers in the aspect you expect them to be.
Parents should teach their sons that they may encounter girls and women with stereotypically masculine personality traits and behaviours; females who are endowed with unmatched physical abilities and are willing to unleash this without reservation. Headship is not an ego trip, it is about service. Thus, loving your male children and raising them to be virtuous is good for families, communities and the society in general.
Chinna Okoroafor, a psychotherapist and internal family systems therapist, writes from Colorado Springs, CO, USA.