This was written some time ago, and I always hope that some things might have changed over the years.
However, I overheard something a few days ago that made me wonder if anything had changed at all:
Sitting on a bus. Opposite me there is a young couple probably in
their twenties with a little boy of about two years of age. He’s
just been passed from his mother’s lap to his father’s and he
seems to be upset about it. He reaches for his mother, she
brushes his hand away snaps at him and turns her back to him. He
starts to cry. Father slaps the boys thigh and hisses at him to
“shurrup!” More crying. Another smack on the thigh and an almost
imperceptible pinch, probably just hard enough to hurt without
leaving a bruise, and just to re-inforce the message another
hiss, “shurrup or I’ll give yer summat ta cry about!” (how many
times did I hear that in my childhood, have we progressed at all
in 40 years?).
Mother decides to chip in and sneers, “yer cryin like a
fukin geerrll!” (is this an example of a woman reinforcing
All this, it seems to me, is a perfect example in
microcosm of the socialisation of males. A male infant reaches
for reassurance from the first person he had any connection with
emotionally, his mother, and is rebuffed. Then instead of getting
that reassurance from his father he gets punished for expressing
his feelings of loss. To cap it all his mother then gives him the
message that there is something inferior about girls.
Thus he learns that women will ultimately reject him.
That men cannot give him what he needs emotionally. That men are
aggressive and inflict physical pain. That sensitive feelings are
something that only women have and that for this reason women are
somehow inferior to men.
Wind forward more than twenty years and I heard this in the changing rooms at my local pool. A young father was helping his 18 month old son get dried and dressed. They were chatting away quite happily. The toddler was gabbling away and daddy was patiently working out what he was trying to say, and I was thinking what a charming little domestic scene this was. Except… the boy suddenly started to whimper a little and daddies response was;
“Hey, what’s all this about? Remember son, boys don’t cry mate.”