By Amy L. Bennett
“Since it is so likely that (children) will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage. Otherwise you are making their destiny not brighter but darker.” ― C.S. Lewis
My three sons race down our road, throwing wide-eyed glances over their shoulders to see who might be coming up behind and threatening their position. The innocent jockeying is interspersed with pothole Olympics…an erratic slalom course of attempted leaps over each depression in the pavement. It’s fierce competition. Boy versus asphalt. The stop sign at the end of the road beams a crimson warning to heed oncoming traffic but serves also as opportunity for practicing one’s shimmy style climbing.
The girls on our street…walk sedately to the bus stop…chattering and laughing. In carefully selected clothes and adorably coiffed hair, they stick to the road and enjoy each other’s company. My boys, heedless of damp, dirt and danger…explore the woods, the ditches, and the delicious delight of all the drama along the way. They are by turns, fierce competitors, foxhole buddies and fearless explorers.
There is no doubt in this equal opportunity, equal pay era’s woman…no doubt at all about gender equality. Are we created equal? Absolutely. Are we the same? Absolutely not!
A rueful shake of my head ensues at the thought of the teacher who must harness this masculine energy towards learning. A fear follows soon after, for all too often this masculine energy is not harnessed…it is quashed. Squelched. Reprimanded. Time’s article by Christina Hoff Sommers: “School Has Become Too Hostile to Boys And Efforts to Re-engineer the Young-Male Imagination are Doomed to Fail”, fleshes out my skeletal wonderings:
Across the country, schools are policing and punishing the distinctive, assertive sociability of boys. Many much-loved games have vanished from school playgrounds. At some schools, tug of war has been replaced with “tug of peace.” Since the 1990s, elimination games like dodgeball, red rover and tag have been under a cloud — too damaging to self-esteem and too violent, say certain experts. Young boys, with few exceptions, love action narratives. These usually involve heroes, bad guys, rescues and shoot-ups. As boys’ play proceeds, plots become more elaborate and the boys more transfixed. When researchers ask boys why they do it, the standard reply is, ‘Because it’s fun’. . . .
Play is a critical basis for learning. And boys’ heroic play is no exception. Logue and Harvey found that ‘bad guy’ play improved children’s conversation and imaginative writing. Such play, say the authors, also builds moral imagination, social competence and imparts critical lessons about personal limits and self-restraint. Logue and Harvey worry that the growing intolerance for boys’ action-narrative–play choices may be undermining their early language development and weakening their attachment to school. Imagine the harm done to boys…who are not merely discouraged from their choice of play, but are punished, publicly shamed and ostracized.
Nice Boys Finish Last?
We insist our boys be “nice”, then sit back in befuddlement when in adulthood, no one steps forward to play the hero…to confront evil…to take a stand for truth…or even to stand firm on a conviction or a commitment.
There is a reason Wild at Heart went viral. John Eldredge’s premise that we are created in God’s image as male or as female…and the glorious masculine image bearer longs for a battle to fight, a beauty to rescue and an adventure to live…has struck a resounding and ancient chord in the core of the men of Christendom. God has indeed created the masculine heart to be dangerous…to be alive and free.
So where does that leave my cape-adorned scamp of a super-hero? Will his school permit his heroic antics? Will they take into account his kinesthetic learning style? Will his love of movement…his bent to polarize the world into black and white…good versus evil…be appreciated? Or will my young son fall into shadow: the shadow of a feminized learning environment – the grey of politically correct classrooms, sports fields and social expectations?
Where is the larger narrative? For that matter, where is the smaller? Modern children’s literature has been sanitized from that which might be controversial. In the name of tolerance and acceptance, our protagonists get along and back away from anything that might lower personal self-esteem or the self-esteem of another. Truth subverted to the ethic of everyone feeling good about themselves. Where is the space to exercise true kindness or true nobility? Where is the inspiration? Where are the dragons who aren’t your best friend? The enemies of the soul that require courage to vanquish? Why is vanquishing now considered evil in our cultivated co-existence? Soon the very notion of “evil” will go by the wayside as any and every preference is legitimized.
More Then Superheroes
At the heart of a boy, in his nature, in his desires lies a microcosm of the greatest narrative. One that is revealed in the inspired Word of God: the lost beauty; the great battle; the heroic sacrifice; the grand redemption; the long-awaited consummation. The price we pay if we continue to shut down that narrative is steep.
My generation of women already mourns the dearth of male spiritual leadership in the church and in the home. Society is shackled by fatherless masses and all the issues there entailed. The future grows bleak where boys are marginalized, bleaker still when they are homogenized to a sterile personality. What will become of a female dominated society? Public policy built on a foundation of oppression has never yielded good results. A power balance so dramatically tilted towards the bent of one gender’s nature or an androgynous blend surely impends calamity, let alone a brazen defiance of the divine design of the Holy Creator.
My son has a destiny. His destiny is not to be nice. He is called by God to come deeper in and higher up. To be equipped for every good work. To do battle. To be discerning. To fight the good fight, to finish the race, to win the crown.
In the words of Paul, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”
My son is going to need some practice and some fine armor for that…maybe even a cape.
Amy L. Bennett is a God-besotted, free-lance writer and Eastern Shore island dweller. She is wife to one active-duty military husband and mother to three young sons 5 years of age and under. Her career has spanned church staff to Capitol Hill staff to collaborations with international parliamentarians in efforts for Middle East peace. She is currently a stay-at-home mom and a Year 2 Fellow of the CS Lewis Institute Fellows Program and enjoys engaging the marketplace of ideas, particularly at the juncture of Christian faith and culture.
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