How New Gender Roles Unsettle Boys

The debate about gender roles has a new problem child: The boy. To put it exaggeratedly, he is being raised to fail. Among the biological rediscoveries of the past year, such as the Eva Herrman apple pie baking gene, Louann Brizendine’s “female brain,” or women’s better parking at menstrual times thanks to a testosterone boost, there was only one that knew how to clothe itself credibly with the cloak of science: boys are the losers in our education system because they are boys, but they are no longer allowed to be that these days.

“Too much mom and no dad,” is one reason for the male insecurity that guidebook author and teacher Frank Beuster, for example, identified. In his book “Die Jungenkatastrophe. Das überforderte Geschlecht,” Beuster collected the social and psychological signs of a matriarchy, a “feminization of boys’ lifeworlds.”

The numbers are indeed frightening: young men are twice as likely as girls to have no school-leaving qualifications at all (twelve percent). One-third are considered functionally illiterate by the age of ten. One-third of all boys end up with only a secondary school diploma. “The Catholic working-class girl from the countryside, the school disadvantaged of the sixties, has a successor: the Turkish city boy,” also found Ute Erdsiek-Rave (SPD), until recently chairwoman of the Conference of Education Ministers.

However, the discussion about the new problem child is only cautiously oriented toward its actual venue, the school. It may be that (male) physicality is no longer allowed free space in schools, and that every playground scuffle is pathologized as attention deficit syndrome. But the brute bridging between gender and failure is part of a recent backlash variation.

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Table of contents

Subverted Masculinity

“Backlash,” this concept of a reanimation of conservative values applied to emancipation 15 years ago by the American feminist Susan Faludi, also found prominent proponents in Germany. Faludi argued at the time that the difference between the sexes was decreasing not because women were doing better, but because men were doing worse. Men are the first to fall ill from role stress, since it is not they who have to change first, but they have to deal with the changes in their daughters, wives and girlfriends.

This is also shown by the current proxy debate about male school failure. The two-gender logic allows for a miracle of women in politics and business only at the price of a full-blown catastrophe for boys.

The cultural scientist Hannelore Faulstich-Wieland once identified the phases of dramatization and de-dramatization for the history of the emphasized gender difference. In the phases of dramatization, which suddenly placed girls as a disadvantaged (gender) category in the focus of their promotion, role stereotypes are particularly emphasized. In phases of de-dramatization, gender is neutralized and the focus is on individuals. An example of dramatization is the strict division of school subjects into gender-specific areas of interest, i.e. physics equals male, music equals female.

Accordingly, we are currently once again on the dramatic high on which the pink-blue gender memory could not be more exaggerated. Faulstich-Wieland, however, considers the moments of dramatization essential for anything to change at all. By making the differences visible, it is only possible to say how important we want to think they are.

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However, educators and policymakers seem to have opted for the Stone Age version. “Boys’ biological dispositions do not provide the best conditions for schooling,” Beuster writes. This includes, for example, a very unique type of hearing loss. “Boys go into overdrive when women give them instructions – in their higher pitch of voice” because through “the ear it is difficult to reach boys. They hear less and feel more.

And who could understand that better than a real man? At the side of the “little hero in need,” as a classic boys’ guidebook is titled, are only the “girls’ moms” and “elementary school teachers’ aunts.” “So I try to be an interpreter for my son and translate the language of a woman, his mother, so that he can understand it.”

The boys in the Beuster household have the luxury of a woman-German translator ahead of most of their peers: fatherless (to which the women, with their propensity for divorce, “contribute significantly”), they must learn the “important lessons for male identity: perseverance, endurance, holding together” in hostile demarcation from their female environment.

” If girls are striving, high-achieving, and attentive, the same cannot be true of boys at the same time. «

Gender Roles

Gender, understood as a social category like skin color or religious affiliation, has so far functioned in the exclusive oppositional pair of female-male. If girls are ambitious, powerful and attentive, this cannot also apply to boys. And at the latest, the male’s own gender comrades remind him not to cross the dividing line of what is gendered: “Fear of effeminacy and homosexuality” still characterize paternal educational measures, according to Beuster. But the role models from primers and television also demonstrate brimming virility. The masculinity attributes of strength and independence harbor questionable (violence) potential.

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The reactionary rhetoric of infiltrated masculinity is astonishing: the very girls who until twenty years ago were considered problem children, in their little demanding, little assertive “femininity,” are now becoming unwelcome competition. Their so natural feel-goodness (emotional intelligence), subordination (flexibility) and chattiness (communicativeness) are being linguistically pimped and ennobled as professionally empowering soft skills.

Yet just a few years down the road, the realities of life for women and men look different. Women still earn up to 30 percent less on average for the same work, and in management positions they remain exotic splashes of color. In the executive suites of large companies, not even five percent of the employees are women. The situation is similar among academics: The higher the salary level, the fewer women. Among university graduates, women still make up half, but only 9.7 percent of C4 professors.

That this is a good thing, and somehow natural, is also reported by Beuster, a founder of boys and an authority on women: women lose “part of their motherhood” as a result of the double burden of family and career. How about supporting the woman with the housework, even helping to raise the male children? Equality was also rehearsed in the Beuster household. But the boy, traumatized by being asked to do housework, simply can’t help his mother because “he feels that he can’t outdo or copy her in her domains either.”

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This role rigidity is found today, hardly surprisingly, on the part of men. The macho man is no longer suffered, the womanizer exposed to ridicule. The current discussion about poor boys offers a rare chance to discard the silhouetted gender stereotypes.

Men Want To Be Men Again

The consternation about the new problem child type, the male loser generation that is threatening to grow up, has so far been content with denouncing the social consequences that we will have to bear from this development. However, it largely ignores the actual rather than ideological causes. This is shown alone by the effort to make opinion even with the primal myth of an inescapable raw material called gender. The male yearning is directed toward a retro-utopia, back to the time when men still made history “without women being involved in any significant way,” as Frank Beuster revels.

The young can be helped, they say, if only the good bipolar order of the sexes is returned to them. And by the way, this produces the new old problem child: the girl.

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