Boys in Search of Manhood
By Hwaa Irfan
Most of a child’s life is cuaght up in a cultural model of what constitutes ‘education’ in a schooling system that contributes little to the most important attribute than any person can have througout their life – self knowledge and within that self respect. Instead, most children go through a long drawn out process that demands that a child becomes someone they are not. That vacuum is then replaced with what is called ‘education’, a misnoma as education means to bring to fruition the very potential fo what lies within. And instead one’s sense of self worth is replaced with uncertainty, low self esteem/fraudulant ego, and a level of competitiveness that strips away the ability to live in harmony. It is rarely, if ever explored that the thousands and thousands of children who truant from school do so in an unconscious recognition that the schooling factory system of education is not the place for them. This is echoed in Christina H. Sommers The War Againsy Boys focusing on the realities of U.S. ‘modern’ educaton:
“Boys also dominate dropout lists, failure lists, and learning-disability lists. Students in these groups rarely take college-admissions tests…”
As much as the so-called ‘developed world’ likes to look down on so-called ‘developing’ or ‘underdeveloped’ countries, there are still some remaining benefits to being a child growing up in those environments, which to a great extent no longer exists in the so-called ‘developed world’ and communities where a vaccuum exists to the extent that the idea of ‘manhood’ has been reduced to the sexual organs – in other words the God-given gift of ‘choice’ has been removed leaving the animalistic nature to take control.
Nature vs nurture can be seen in countries where there still exists rural communities, and note the difference in maturity between a city boy and a country boy – a country boy is more likely to reach manhood sooner, and it can even be said that a growing number of city boys never reach manhood. Here, what we mean by manhood is not a series of dehumanizing experiences that makes one tougher, more aggressive, more monsyllabic, and less respectful of the female sex, but a process of being able to take one’s place in the world without stepping on someone else in the process – a process that enables a man to have control over his life, and with that, the responsibility that goes with it.
The choice to do so is exampled by 16 year old Mojalefa Molikoe, a boy from Lesotho, Africa. Mojalefa is not unusual in that regard for a growing number of Lesotho boys, who take up the gauntlet of the “Laws of Nature” over what school seems to offer. Not following the path of the education system, as presented by modernity, globalization, and thus the West, Mojalefa hose instead to escape the path of uncertainty that delays his right to adulthood until 18 – graduation, a path that would leave his adutlhood to a matter of chance amidst a river of stereotypes that never quite seem to fit. Instead Mojalefa chose the rites of adulthood as bequeathed by tradition that guides one to become a productive individual, a productive member of society, and responsible for one’s own life.
Once Mojalefa went through the initial rites, Mojalefa considers himself to be a man enough to take the decision to drop out of school. Mojalefa told IRIN News:
“Things were not going so well for me at school; I was bored.”
Free primary school education was introduced to Lesotho in 2000, which witnessed an 80% of boys, and 84% of girls attending school. Since then, the number of boys who instead enrol in the traditional Sotho initiation schools with 4 months spent in a boys paradise, the mountains in preparation for the rite of circumcision. To return to school is a bit difficult if culturally speaking one is deemed a man. Of course this is looked down upon by those in society which deem the modern education that the current crumbling global economic system is based upon for far too many are still blinded by the current global system and see it as the only way to progress and development.
The issue of masculinity has become a feature of Australian, British and U.S. studies, an issue that seems to evade them. This is no less apparent in a study of 14 Australians who were asked when did they become men. Aged 20-26 and 35-45 years they were all middle class heterosexuals with 4 divorced men, two were single, and one was separated. The question was not an easy one for them despite choosing where the interivew could took place.
Haha, hmff. I don’t know. I don’t know if I’m one yet! I don’t know. That’s an interesting question ’cos you hear ’grow up be a man’ and all that. I don’t really know when that comes. I don’t really know. People go ’do you consider yourself a man?’ I don’t really think about it, its sort of question where you go ’I don’t know’. Just never really thought about it a lot though! I wasn’t really looking for anyone to show me when I was younger, like. I didn’t really think about it, just sort of grew up. – Toby aged 22.
Haha, (chuckle). I probably haven’t yet! I don’t know how to define a man going from a kid to a man, maybe puberty, when hair grows in funny places – that’s the physical. In one way I’d say 15-16 when my views started changing, with a more grown up approach to things. And in another way I still haven’t yet. Like the people who are telling me to grow up and be sensible. If that’s what growing up is like I don’t want to. – Terry aged 26.
Haha. Oh I don’t know, ha. Don’t know if I am? Umm, being a man wasn’t something you really thought about, it just was, know what I mean. – Wes aged 24.
I don’t know! In some ways I’m still not I suppose ’cos I still like being a boy and mucking around. – Darren aged 26.
I still think of myself as a late teenager, even though legally I’ve been an adult for four years
I’m still living the lifestyle that kids coming out of high school do, and that makes me feel like I’m still stuck with that age group. – Dominic aged 22
I don’t think I can actually put a chronological time on it. I think it’s an evolution from a point, and I’m still evolving as a man. I don’t think I’ll ever stop evolving as a man!
Maybe that’s when a man is ready to call himself a man, when he can move … I’m just thinking this. When he can finally move from the physical … as the most important criteria for a partner! – Ashley aged 38.
The Truth Always has a Way of Resurfacing…
Despite the endless attempts at manipulating, coercing, and redefining manhood there seems to be no getting away from the determining manhood as a status that evolves around having families as demonstrated in the Australian study as follows:
- That’s a hard question. That’s a hard question. In all honesty I’d have to say, on the birth of my daughter. Why? Unlike a lot of new born babies who spend their first minutes on this planet with their mother, haa, she spent her first three hours with her daddy. – Patrick aged 42.
- (Long Pause) I don’t know how to answer that. Probably in the early part of my marriage, when I had more control over home matters. I don’t know … probably when your first child is born … Knowing that you’re a father, you are now a dad, that hits home. – Glen aged 42.
- That’s a difficult question. I don’t know. I wonder if it was when I had my first f..k, ha, but I don’t think so! I ’spose it would be sometime after the birth of my first son, I began to accept that I am a man, in some degree
it’s not something that happened at a particular time. It been more a process. – Noel aged 45.
- Going in Army, I thought I was a man at 18
I say I really became a man when I saw my daughter getting born. – Jon aged 39.
Acquiring a Male Identity
Does one feel like a ‘man’ when he has reached 16-18, drink alcohol, have sex, get a driver’s license, graduate, get a job, take up a violent activity, play sports, have kids, or even get married! This is essentially what constitutes the guide to manhood. From boys to men is a process that today is thwarted with labels and no substance:
“More and more I have become concerned with what boys think they should be, with what they believe it means to be a man. Our beliefs about maleness, the mythology that surrounds being male, has led many boys to ruin. The image of male as strong is mixed with the image of male as violent. Male as virile gets confused with male as promiscuous. Male as adventurous equals male as reckless. Male as intelligent often gets mixed with male as arrogant, racist, and sexist.” – Geoffrey Canada
There are still embers of traditions that understand more about the human nature. Amongst the indigenous of Australia, there are still those who remember that manhood is more than a station in life that one ‘arrives’ at if one boarded the right train. Approaching the rough sea of puberty, some calm is established through a series of initiation rites, which begins where the upper class British boarding schools got it wrong. Indigenous Australian pubescent male leaves the family home where his identity is as a child to spend time amongst his peers. The male bonding sought after increasingly in developed nations is facilitated by uncles who provide discipline, guidance, and the process of initiation. The Indigenous Australian pubescent male is taught the rights and obligations of adult males, and the scared law in which is imbedded the Law of Nature. Manhood is not an automatic process because the Indigenous Australian pubescent male is tested for worthiness, courage. Then he is also tested for obedience, discipline, self reliance and the ability to cooperate. If the pubescent boy succeeds, it is only then that he under goes a ceremony that is held in his honor. As a novice, the boy-man is tested yet still by attending meetings where the men gather, learning to be respectful and to sit in silence. He is subject to further tests, and gradually he is entrusted with more of the sacred law as he grows into his manhood.
From pre-school onwards in ‘developed societies’ a boy is emotionally shocked into separating from the nurturance of the family, and continuousl measured in terms of some artificial barometer of success or failure. It is not unusual that in struggling to cross the bridge over to manhood that the Western/Westernized male fails increasingly in a world that is constructed by men who never really made it across that bridge. Addictive behavior is far more common than not, midst bouts of anger, depression, and lack of motivation. Writes one male:
“These symptoms are not acknowledged even to ourselves because we, men, have been taught to numb ourselves to any feelings that will keep us from our objectives We are taught to be warriors until we die, gloriously, anonymously, or somewhere in between. We are taught that the mission is more important than life itself, our life.”
“The truth is that we have been betrayed by the very men who have trained us. Our bosses and generals, our political and spiritual leaders have unknowingly betrayed us. The modern way of achieving manhood in our society is not working for us.”
This anger is apparent in an environemnt that seemingly provides no alternative with often dire consequences as framed in Knights Without Armor by Aaron Kiplis: four time more likely to commit suicide Kiplis found that men’s suicide rates increase with age as men suffer more burnout and have less capacity for joy and spontaneity…thus suicide is the ultimate symbol of men burying their pain. It is either this, or a world led by men who are under the delusion that they have made it as exampled in the case of the over-sexed former IMF head Dominique Strauss-Khan. These men do not want to see the men who have not chosen the abusive path of power as a semblance of manhood.
As the male movement grows to address the problem, one wonders how much can be achieved through a process of sitting down and metting with other men when the minds involved have been stripped of all experience of anyhting ‘other’ than what has betrrayed them. Most traditional rites of passge for boys to men are centered in physical activities for ‘being’ is not just a construct of the mind, but engages the physical, the emotional, and the psychological to give brith to the reality that “I AM.” The body akes control of the life force and turns it into sexual addiction becuase the rest of the person has shutdown from expressing the life force as a more constructive and creative process.
The state is never wrong. It is perceived that the U.S. ‘boy crisis’: low levels of literacy, high levels of truancy, demand for special education, increasing mental health problems, suicide, and criminal activity is that there is somethign wrong with the boys, not that the problem is the education system itself. Instead is it not more correct to say that the Amercian education system or more correctly, the modern schooling system fails boys simply becuase it is a dominant feature of a child’s life that is remiss of the very factors that helps a boy to be more comfortable with himself thus free enough to learn. Boys need physical and practical activities to aid their cognition, and this need becomes trapped when faced with the only outlet offered, sports. This is after all the main obessison that boys-to-men have around sports, which in turn is full of stereotypes.
The desired male-male contact becomes caught up with the need for love, and when one reads what many gay men have to say about how they became gay, it is a combination of both that gets wrongly labeled in order to make sense of the separation from self. It s not understood that from time, older men do in deed guide younger men as obsevred in the initiation rites of traditional practices.
“One of the greatest impacts a father has on his children, especially a male child, is the imparting of identity. This identity impartation takes place throughout the life experiences of the male child. The impartations are noted at key passage points. The most notable impartations being the passage from boyhood into manhood. This is one of many passages and is known as the puberty Rites of Passage, which is a maturation process for our boys. The end result is to produce men who are members, guardians, leaders and pioneers of our communities”. – Geoffrey Canada
Mercenaries might have set out as modern day knights, but have ended up without even themselves as historians have neglected the untold stories of the knights of old. Knights of old were born into families, received and gave love, and set out to fufill their purpose with moral guidelines and without the self deceit so prevalent today; and they fought for causes greater than themselves not less.
In everyday life, both genders have ways of enacting their archetypes without realizing it, simply because those true archetypes arise from the Laws of Nature that is encoded in our very existence. By ignoring/rejecting those true archetypes, an ongoing inner struggle will continue to daunt the person until they embrace who they really are for it is from that the human spirit rises above the human animal to reach one’s potential.
“Aspects of Traditional Aboriginal Australia.” http://www.aija.org.au/online/ICABenchbook/BenchbookChapter2.pdf
Crawford, D. “Becoming a Man – The Views and Experiences of Some Second Generation Australian Males.” Electronic Journal of Sociology (2003) ISSN: 1198 3655
“ Lesotho: Boys Quit School To Become Men” http://www.africafiles.org/article.asp?ID=25960&ThisURL=./gender.asp&URLName=Gender
“Towards Manhood.” http://www.christoscenter.com/archives/manhood/toward_ch1.html
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