There is a lot that can be said about the negative impact of patriarchy within our society. Much of this will hinge on the effects that how men abuse their strength and dominance over women in particular. That said, society is nauseated by a weak man. The nature of this ‘weakness’ is often vague enough to entrench the very constructs that abhorred in patriarchy and repeated enough times to damage the self-image of young boys.
My nephew is 5yrs old and over time, he has realised something about himself; he is physically stronger than his friends and has a much higher tolerance for pain. As a person, he is a delightful kid, curious, helpful with a side of selfishness. In time, however, his physicality will begin to have an impact on his self-image. In certain moments when he finds himself mentally challenged by a situation, say they are playing a game, he would want to resort to his physical capacity to retain his acceptance in the group.
As his family, it is our duty to teach him a very fundamental truth about human relations, just because you have the capacity to do something, does not necessarily mean that you should. At this point, we have to be aware that masculinity, as a concept, is a social construct, as a behaviour, it is taught. Physical strength and dominance are a particularly important chapter in the socialisation of a young boy. Because of their particular genetic makeup, boys need to be taught restraint. But not just physical restraint only. They need to be taught emotional and mental restraint.
If boys are not taught that their physicality is merely one component that works in conjunction with other traits that equip him to be constructive members of society, they will grow up believing that their strength is an end in itself. When this happens, they grow with stunted emotional and mental capacity. All they know about themselves is that they are strong and they can beat people up. As they grow up, and their lives require more complex methods of dealing with life and their place in society, they increasingly become frustrated by the fact that they can’t use their strength in every situation. Then, because they cannot problem-solve without using brute force or dominance they will seek out those scenarios in which their strength will be their advantage. Even worse, such men believe that not only do they have the capacity for physical strength but, they have the entitlement and imperative to use it.
A man whose self-image is centred around his physical strength and has not learnt restraint is a cripple. Since only one component of his identity is (overly) developed, he needs a crutch for all the others. He needs emotional crutch. He needs an intellectual crutch. If these crutches are not there for him, he will take them, using the only thing he knows, strength. If he cannot take them, he will break them, so that nothing else remains but his strength. This is the fragility of masculinity.
So What Do We Teach Young Black Boys About Masculinity?
Well, as much as women are born with an innate desire to nurture, men are born with a strong desire to protect. It is within this context that nature imbued women wombs and men endowed with physical strength. This is not at all to say that women are weak, the multitudes of women who have endured arduous, back-breaking physical labour, over the millennia, to provide for their families is a testament to this.
Young boys need to be taught that physical strength is there as a tool to help you to protect, only. But we must also show them that there is more to being a man than to just protect. Validate boys for other things they do that don’t have to do with strength. But ultimately, what we need to learn is to teach boys how to deal with the concept of weakness. To do this, we ourselves have to relook what we deem as a weak man. The reason this is more important is that boys should not seek to be deemed men out of fear of being seen as weak but to aspire to be men as a result of their own character and self-value.