When boys are taught that manliness is the source of morality, what are they being taught about women?

So I read this article in the Wall Street Journal written by a guy who says that raising three sons has helped him “appreciate the masculine virtues.” And I had some opinions about this article (that would likely surprise exactly no one), but I was curious what opinions a progressive dad raising a boy would have about it. So I emailed it to Stephen, with whom I’ve briefly spoken before about his raising a daughter, and he came out with this post, which is not exactly what I would have said, and that was kind of the whole point. Go read.



Filed under 01_shakespeares_sister

24 responses to “When boys are taught that manliness is the source of morality, what are they being taught about women?

  1. I do think men and women often think differently from one another. Women tend to be more intuitive and trusting. I have learned empathy and it makes the difference. Most men don’t have empathy because it gets beat out of them.

  2. I shouldn’t say they don’t have empathy. We all do.

    But most of us learn to keep a stiff upper lip, as the British say.


    That is the law of the jungle.

  3. I think in this society, women are expected to cry, and complain.

    When men complain, they take it more seriously.

  4. Neat! I like what Stephen had to say, and I’d add a little more to that. Kids are going to run into gender expectations out in the wider world. Boys don’t cry, play with dolls (but G.I. Joe men are action figures, not dolls), have long hair, etc. Girls don’t yell, get angry, play with guns, run, climb trees…

    I would want my kids to know that there aren’t any good reasons that boys shouldn’t play with dolls or girls play with trucks and fire engines. That those rules aren’t rules like Don’t Run Into The Street or Don’t Touch The Stove or Bedtime Is Eight O’Clock. That not fitting into the gender stereotypes doesn’t make them bad, that home will always be a safe place to be whoever they are, no matter what that happens to be.

  5. I think a larger part of the problem in education is that we’ve turned our schools into little more than testing facilities. My daughter didn’t have recess past the 4th grade, I believe, and she’ll be a senior this fall. Kids (and one might argue, especially boys) need to be able to work off excess energy, especially when they have that energy because of the high fructose corn syrup that’s in everything they consume. But it seems every minute of every day is now taken up with kids sitting in desks either taking a test or learning the next test they have to take.

    I was fortunate with my daughter–the issue of gender expectation never really came up, in part because I was easy going and willing to let her explore herself, and because her mom doesn’t fit the typical gender mode–being a lesbian in south Mississippi does that to a person.

  6. My brother and I were both very rough and tumble as boys. We played with BB guns, knives, skateboards, firecrackers — everything “boyish.” We fought like pit bulls and swore like sailors.

    None of those activities resulted in “honor, gentlemanliness and courage” as Woodleif contends.

    We learned honor, gentlemanliness and courage from our grandmother.

    Grandma was the moral compass for our entire clan. She was the one who made sure all of her children grew up to be moral adults.

    None of her children or grandchildren have ever been arrested. None of them have ever been divorced. All of them live by the code Grandma taught them and have passed it on to their children.

    There are lots of families like this. In some cases, a patriarch steers his offspring toward morality. But, I think in most cases the task belongs to a woman.

    What do you think? Does your family have an elder who serves as a moral compass? If so, is it a man, a woman, or a couple?

  7. Doctor Jay

    I want my children to be humane and strong. One of those virtues is masculine, the other is thought of as feminine. But I want that for both my son and my daughter.

    Strength and courage are important, even if you’re a pencil-pushing pointy-headed intellectual in Silicon Valley who wears tie-dye, instead of a contractor who plays rock guitar and drives a huge pickup with the Oakland Raiders skull and crossbones on it.

    Strength and courage are important for women too. Does anyone think they aren’t?

    But empathy and compassion are important for men, too. These are “feminine” virtues, but I’m sure you could name a dozen men off the top of your head that have these qualities.

    It isn’t about “or”, it’s about “and”.

  8. Misty

    As a parent of one girl and three boys, I enjoyed Stephen’s post.

    I want my children to be humane and strong. One of those virtues is masculine, the other is thought of as feminine.

    “Strength of character” is not inherently “masculine”. Actually, I’ve never associated it with being either particularly masculine or feminine…

  9. It isn’t about “or”, it’s about “and”.

    I’ve long thought that I’d consider myself a good parent if my daughter made it to adulthood without being completely fucked up, and that phrase above has been the cornerstone of my parenting strategy. It’s worked so far.

  10. Arkades

    Courage, forthrightness, and integrity are traits that belong equally to women and men.

  11. I have no problem with the so-called “masculine” virtues–which is a good thing for me, because I’m the daughter of a man who brought me up emphasizing them pretty strongly while calling me “Son” most of the time. I don’t think I missed out on learning about so-called “feminine” virtues, but my dad didn’t really have to emphasize them to me for that to happen. I imagine if I ever have sons, I’ll emphasize to them the importance of empathy and compassion, and if I have daughters, I’ll emphasize the importance of strength and courage. Not because any one set of traits is more important than the others, but to make sure they all get at least sort-of balanced messages.

  12. katecontinued

    Speaking of strength – I wish my mother might have stressed it more. This is a line young girls could benefit by hearing.

    “Never grow a wishbone, daughter, where you backbone ought to be.” Clementine Paddleford

  13. Here’s what I posted over at Stephen’s place and I thought I’d share:

    My parents raised three sons, all born within six years of each other. We three all turned out to be very different, yet we all shared similar experiences in terms of parental attention and opportunities to become the individuals that we are. We all have had our problems — as anyone would growing up — but I can’t think of anything more of a help then the loving and guiding hand our parents gave us in finding our own way.

  14. PS: Melissa can vouch that two of the three boys in my family are very different…yet similar. Right? 🙂

  15. Kate Harding

    When I saw that the guy in the WSJ article quoted Harvey Mansfield, I immediately realized it wasn’t even worth reading the rest. If he takes that knob seriously, there would be no point in even trying to argue with the guy.

  16. “Masculine virtues” is an oxymoron because virtus is Latin for “masculinity.”

    Since this word’s etymology implies that inherent moral goodness is equal to masculinity, i try to avoid it, actually.

  17. Melissa McEwan

    Melissa can vouch that two of the three boys in my family are very different…yet similar. Right?

    Indeed! 😆

  18. oddjob

    I have only read the post, not the article, but while there are lots of things I admire about TR, his ideas about manliness have never, ever been among them! That whole Victorian Era, semi-overtly misogynistic blather about the virtues of “manly” behavoir that he & so many others were enthralled by I have always found seriously oppressive, and – frankly – disgusting.

    I saw this relevant article last week.

  19. oddjob

    I have read the post, but not the article. Having said that, while there are many things I find fascinating or admirable about TR, his ideas about “manliness” have never, ever been among them! That whole Victorian Era, misogynistic blather about “manly behavior” I have always found seriously oppressive, and – frankly – disgusting.

    Last week I read this relevant article.

  20. oddjob


  21. oddjob

    OK, something weird is going on.

    I have twice now tried to post this link and a comment. Fuck the comment; let’s see if the link to this relevant article works.

  22. Melissa McEwan

    Sorry, oddjob–I’m not sure why that link got directed to spam!

  23. mustelid

    Oddjob, your link works now. Good article! Alas, I need further caffeination for any kind of intelligent commentary…

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