After I had my son, I became so much more aware of the way people in our society treat boys. I started paying attention to the comments people made about the boys and men around me, realizing that I had internalized a lot problematic stereotypes. I also listened to how people talk to and about boys, about the expectations they had of boys, and how these boys were supposed to grow up to be "real men." And, sadly, I heard all sorts of misconceptions about sensitive sons that only perpetuated these sexist stereotypes that stifle the humanity in boys and men, allowing room for toxic masculinity to flourish.
So when and where does it go wrong? How do our sensitive sons turn into insensitive teenagers and, sometimes, toxic men? Well, the answer is everywhere, really. It's in how we talk to our boys and how we tell them to behave, how we misrepresent and misinterpret sensitivity and assume anyone who is sensitive is weak. It rests with the people in our society who treat sensitivity as an illness that needs to be cured; the people who turn sensitivity into something to be ashamed of.
I don't know if my son would be considered sensitive. I know he is kind and empathetic and sweet. I know he loves curling up with me on the couch while we watch his favorite cartoons. I know he gets upset when he doesn't get what he wants, in a typical pre-schooler fashion. I know he loves his toys and sleeps with so many he hardly has room to stretch his legs. I know he is loving and giving and warm and, well, I refuse to characterize him. All I can say is I hope he never changes. I hope he always remains a loving boy, despite the misconceptions that come with being labeled as "sensitive."
"Mama's boy," is a term used in a derogatory way to insult sensitive boys who are close to their mothers, and should probably die in all the fires. It harbors a negative connotation when, well, there isn't one.
According to Kate Stone Lombardi, author and journalist, "Mothers who stay close to their sons can help combat the worst elements of a culture that cuts off boys’ natural sensitivity and rich emotional life." Furthermore, a study published in Child Development found that "baby boys who do not form strong attachments to their mothers grow up to be more aggressive and destructive children." So, while sensitive boys may be closer to their mothers than boys who are less sensitive, they are better off because they become good and kind and confident men.
Bullying is all about power imbalance: who has/wants the power and who does not. And, while it's common for bullies to pick on nice or different kids, it isn't necessary that a bully will pick on a kid just because that kid is sensitive. Sensitive children are more in-tune with their surroundings and with the feelings of others, so they may be able to better handle a bully, too. As long as all children, and especially sensitive children, are taught confidence and how to speak up and stand up for themselves, they will be able to handle any possible bullying that may come their way.
First, I'd like to point out that there is absolutely nothing wrong with crying. In fact, crying is a completely normal and healthy reaction and emotion. To stifle crying is to go against basic biology and autonomy of a person. I am aware, however, that many parents prohibit this very genuine emotion in their sons as a way to harden them and to make them "masculine." That said, a sensitive boy is not a "crybaby," he is just someone who is comfortable expressing all of his feelings and emotions.
Ah, the "friend zone," the most "feared" place for a cisgender, straight man to fall into. The "friend zone" is when someone is trying to have a romantic relationship with someone else and, instead of attaining that romantic feeling, that someone becomes a friend and not a romantic partner. But according to Dr. William Pollack, a psychology professor at Harvard, sensitive boys become "independent guys who will make strong, empathetic spouses and partners." Looks like nice guys don't always finish last.
According to The American Psychological Association (APA), "boys are more emotive than girls, from infancy through age 4 or 5." However, Niobe Way, a professor of applied psychology at New York University, says that "we socialize this vulnerability" out of our boys by the time they are 15.
So, just like girls, boys are born with a strong emotional foundation, and the prevailing toxic masculinity within our society stifles that emotion and changes the foundation to accommodate only one feeling: anger. But just because some boys push against these ridiculous societal norms, doesn't mean they are less masculine than the rest of their peers. It just means they are more emotionally intelligent.
Sensitive kids have great role models. They typically have strong parents who support and encourage their emotional intelligence. Our culture is hostile to sensitivity, but parents know that in order to nurture sensitive boys and protect them from becoming a victim of such hostility, they must be strong influences in their sons' lives.
In a society where women are seen as the weaker gender, sensitive men, who embody "feminine" characteristics like actual real emotions are seen as weaker than their less emotional peers. If anything, though, sensitive people are stronger than those who stifle this particular emotion. It takes a great amount of strength to live and exist in a world that does not value emotions in men. When someone is sensitive, he is “quick to detect or respond to slight changes, signals, or influences,” which means he is aware and alert, not weak.
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