Raising Boys to Become Men Who Aren’t Dicks

The World Health Organization reports an epidemic of violence against women. How to respond?

The thing that worries me most about raising a boy — the thing I seriously give the most thought to — is how to make sure he doesn’t end up being a dick.

That’s not entirely fair to my four-year-old son, who is exuberant and sweet-natured and as selfish as all kids his age tend to be: “Dick” isn’t the word that immediately comes to mind in my day-to-day dealings with him. (And his grandparents will, ahem, most assuredly object to my phrasing here.) But someday this boy is going to become an adolescent, and then he’s going to be a man, and the temptation toward dickishness is going to be a powerful thing at some point.

How do I steer him right? How do I get him to choose the non-dick way?

I ask this, because a report by the World Health Organization on Thursday just how pervasive and damaging dicks can be: About a third of women worldwide have been physically or sexually assaulted by a partner. Forty percent of women who are murdered are killed by their (male) partner. As a general rule, women face far more danger from the men in their lives than they do from any kind of “stranger danger.”

It is, literally, an epidemic of the worst kind of dickishness.

“The report findings show that violence greatly increases women’s vulnerability to a range of short- and long-term health problems; it highlights the need for the health sector to take violence against women more seriously,” said Dr Claudia Garcia-Moreno of WHO. “In many cases this is because health workers simply do not know how to respond.”

As with all health threats, the place to start is probably with an ounce of prevention. That means all of us who parent young boys have a responsibility to work extra hard to teach them respect for women, for everybody, regardless of whether they’re strong or weak.

In turn, that means looking at the odds and refusing to flinch from the idea that there’s a good chance that your sweet boy might one day — against everything you hope for and teach him — become the kind of entitled man who feels to treat the woman in his life without respect, without love, without tenderness. Because the men who are beating their partners, assaulting them, murdering them? They were all somebody’s son, once.

And to be clear, this isn’t just a class thing that we can turn our noses down against: Witness this week’s murder-suicide involving a Pennsauken doctor and her soon-to-be-ex husband. The dangers of dickishness are unbounded.)

For me and my wife, that means being on guard (sometimes, perhaps, overly so) against the times our son mentions girlhood in a perjorative way. Sounds silly, right? After all, boys and girls seem to have a natural antagonism at that age — Girls! Ewwwwwww! — so why fight it? But that’s not how most parents would respond if their four-year-old were wandering around, say, slinging racial slurs: We’d nip it in the bud. So we try to do the same with sexism, knowing that sometimes the folks around us will roll their eyes.

When my son recently referred to ballet as “girl dancing,” my wife quickly opened up a computer and showed him video of Mikhail Baryshnikov, then of Gene Kelly. My son, a huge fan of Singin’ in the Rain, settled in to watch the latter.

And yeah, when a commercial comes on the TV, showing a young man grabbing and kissing a woman without asking permission, we’ll point out to him why that approach doesn’t cut it in the real world. Even at the risk of being branded “humorless feminists.”

I don’t know if this stuff is finding some permanent spot in his brain, which is scary. All I know is that we’re going to keep repeating the lessons, day after day and year after year, and make those lessons ever more explicit the older he gets. If we’ve done our job, he will know two things by the time he leaves our house: A) We love him. B) He must treat everybody, women and men, the way he would want to be treated.

It would be easier if we could give him a vaccine against lazy, entitled, bullying dickishness. We can’t. Solving this epidemic will require years of work, by all of us.

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  • Mark Neil

    A good start might be to not assume he’s going to be a “dick” (gender insults? tisk tisk) simply because he’s male. Ever hear the term “self fulfilling prophecy”? Well, that’s what feminists have done. They’ve portrayed men as monsters and men have lived up (or down) to the expectation placed on them, as they always have throughout history. And here you are, doing more of the same, and with your own son no less.

    All in all, I think your son has a very good chance of growing up to be that “dick” you so fear him becoming. After all, his own father has already determined that coarse for him, and will be perpetually highlighting that road for the rest of his life.

    Way to lead by example DAD!

  • mcc99

    Imagine a mother writing an essay asking how can she be sure she’ll raise a daughter who doesn’t use false accusations and lies against men, or how to make sure they don’t kick, punch, slap, etc. their future bfs and husbands?

    In a society where the fathers of boys write essays like these, the pathological male self-loathing he demonstrates and the tunnel vision it represents doesn’t give me much hope for the future. Self-hating men frequently produce self-hating sons.

  • SleeZee Lyers

    Joel, since you look like a penis head yourself, I can understand your worry about your boy growing up to be a dickhead.

    But I urge you not to let your own feelings of inadequacy, regardless of how valid they are, affect how you parent your child.

  • PaulMurrayCbr

    Well, not seeing his father get bent over and reamed in divorce court can help a whole bunch. It remains to be seen, then, to what degree the child will have reason to follow the path of the dick.

  • AnotherSimpleMan

    Trying to find real stories not written by dicks….hard to do.

  • gwallan

    The most productive thing that could be done for this man’s son would be removing that son from his father’s influence.

  • Bill98

    What makes you think that your son would be naturally inclined to “be a ‘dick'”, and that only your intervention can change this?
    Your fear should be that your son will grow up to think that woman are smarter, and superior, to him, by virtue of their gender. Every commercial, television show, and movie shows this to him, so there is a good chance that he will believe it. How about if you try to teach him that he is just as smart, just as capable, as any female? He sure isn’t going to get that message from society.
    He is likely to also grow up believing that it’s OK for a woman to throw a drink in his face, or slap him, if she sees fit. How about if you try raising him to believe that he should never be the aggressor, but that he has a right to defend himself, no matter the gender of the person assaulting him?
    Finally, worry that he no longer will have the presumption of innocence, or the right to due process, if his accuser is female. If the woman who consented the night before, wakes to a bad case of the “oh-no’s” the next day, he may find himself kicked out of college, his name smeared across newspapers, based on a false-accusation of rape.
    You have a lot to worry about, Joel, but your son being a ‘dick’, simply because he’s a boy, should be the least of your concerns.

    • sdrake

      Good post. And accurate.

  • Charlie Hurd

    Writer uses the “D” word for males. Would he be comfortable using the “C” word for females?

    • sdrake

      Of course he wouldn’t. Our politically correct media and society would never allow it. Double standards are the favorite past-time of these journalists who are devoid of integrity and character.

  • sdrake

    Great– another journalist capitalizing on the current trend of male-bashing.

    Watch as he will undoubtedly get a pass for using the word “dick” while nobody else would get a pass for using the word “c*nt.”

    The author also conveniently ignores the dozens of studies, which show females perpetrate between 50- 70% of all domestic violence.

    How much more anti-male propaganda are we going to tolerate before we’ve had enough?

  • drewbles

    Sounds like he doesn’t have much of a chance given that his father is a complete cunt already!

  • joejmz

    I feel so sorry for your 4 year-old boy.

  • fools2234

    Another male chivalrous moron who has no qualm about throwing his own gender under the bus, because he cares so much about ‘womens issues’.

    http://www.cultural-misandry.com/mens-rights/

    SO joel why dont you start writing about those issues? I mean you do care about your son right? Or are you just another useless, malebashing mangina.

  • Roberto Matus

    Just give him in adoption to people who would not treat him as a defective woman. and who are really capable of loving him for being a boy, unlike you.

  • Ben

    This is awful. You are worse than an absent father.

    Marginalizing your son in a rough world in order to appease an abstract is criminal.

    He needs training and you are crippling him.

    I feel sorry for you and him. What you are going to witness your son go through as he matures is going to break you, and it’s your fault.

    Poor deluded sucker.

  • Ramón Goldaraberg

    Raising self-hating males. Now not only in vogue, but apparently something to be commended and to proudly write drivel about. Strange world we live in.

  • Joel Mathis

    I’ll just reiterate my closing line here: “He must treat everybody, women and men, the way he would want to be treated.” It’s the Golden Rule, generally not thought of as controversial. Apparently, my Men’s Rights Activists friends here believe it’s unmanly—cripplingly so—to treat other people with respect. And they believe it’s deeply emasculating to ask young men not to hit women.

    Truth is, folks who through around phrases like “mangina” and “self-hating males” seem pretty clearly pitiful and—on a spiritual level, at least—to show real weakness. Real men know their strength and control it for appropriate situations. Hitting women? Almost never falls into that category.

    That’s who I’ll train my son to be. Though I plan on showing him this comment thread when he gets a little older, so he understands *why* I’m training him so. There are probably better examples of untrammeled dickishness than the men gathered here to criticize me, but it’ll do.

    • is is

      As long as you promise you’ll come back to this comment thread in 10, 20, 30 and 40 years, I think that’s the most any of us “friends” of yours can realistically hope for.

      Now I must run, I’ve got a busy day of beating women.

    • LanceSmith

      Actually Joel, real men fight for their rights. They also don’t stand for the obvious ad hominem.

      While you’re training your son to be so “respectful” of women, be careful that you aren’t training him to be subservient to women. After all, it is he – not they – that are more likely to fall behind in over-feminized schools and to be looked upon with undue suspician. Further, he will need to compete with them very hard (which is the way it should be). Teaching him to hate himself or to wrongfully believe that men are the problem will not solve anything. Instead, he needs to learn to be proud of the things men have accomplished, and realize that everyone – male AND female – has a lot of learning to do.

      Finally, you should make sure he is taught that while it isn’t ok to hit a woman, it also isn’t ok to allow a woman to hit him. After all:

      “The most comprehensive review of the scholarly domestic violence research literature ever conducted concludes, among other things, that women perpetrate physical and emotional abuse, as well as engage in control behaviors, at comparable rates to men. The Partner Abuse State of Knowledge project, or PASK, whose final installment was just published in the journal Partner Abuse, is an unparalleled three-year research project, conducted by 42 scholars at 20 universities and research centers, and including information on 17 areas of domestic violence research.”
      ~Source: http://www.prweb.com/releases/2013/5/prweb10741752.htm?PID=4003003

    • Ramón Goldaraberg

      Most males, since the dawn of time, have been raised so their identities are defined by how they treat women: hero, protector, provider, hunter, knight, etc. Feminism has only introduced a component of rejection and dread toward the male identity (totally failing to socially liberate men). A kid does not need that.

      A kid needs to love himself and to be taught self-respect and self worth, regardless of his interactions with women. A kid needs a positive take on his manhood, not feminizing indoctrination. A kid needs to be taught that men and women are both capable of outstanding achievement and awful violence and hatred. A kid needs to be taught to treat people judging their actions, not their identities. A kid needs to be taught to be fair and egalitarian and, yes, your Golden Rule. With that I agree.

    • fools2234

      Hitting people? Almost never falls into that category.

      FTFY

  • LanceSmith

    My guess is if the WHO reports an epidemic of DV (against women) it is only because they completely threw out the absolute PILE of evidence to support the fact that DV against men is just as prevalent. I wonder when ideologues like Joel will finally step up and write a story about this fact…..instead of just playing the perpetual men-are-to-blame game….

    Further Reading: “The most comprehensive review of the scholarly domestic violence research literature ever conducted concludes, among other things, that women perpetrate physical and emotional abuse, as well as engage in control behaviors, at comparable rates to men. The Partner Abuse State of Knowledge project, or PASK, whose final installment was just published in the journal Partner Abuse, is an unparalleled three-year research project, conducted by 42 scholars at 20 universities and research centers, and including information on 17 areas of domestic violence research.”
    ~Source: http://www.prweb.com/releases/2013/5/prweb10741752.htm?PID=4003003

  • Shubh

    hopefully he never becomes a vagina :)