What are little boys made of?
There was a nursery rhyme kids chanted when I was a youngster which went “Sugar and spice and all things nice, that’s what little girls are made of. Snips and snails and puppy dogs tails: that’s what little boys are made of.”
And so it was and still is to an extent – females generally are still seen to supposedly be more towards the sensitive, nurturant, understanding, caring, less assertive ends of the spectrum (and so on: all the usual socially desirable traits of females.)
Males, on the other hand, are still seen to be more dominant, competitive, less prepared to show compassion or nurturance and so forth. Such lists are similar for most people when they reflect on what are traditional views of males just as with the females.
Of course, like most personality questionnaires and trait collections, it is misleading to see the two genders in two such disparate camps. The reality is that we share many features in common and such generalities as the above tend to apply more to extremes.
That is, there are quite a number of males who are very sensitive, caring, nurturant, understanding and likewise an equivalent group of females who are an aggressive, power seeking lot with the caring and compassion of a door knob.
The interesting thing is when you sit with a group of people (or uni students as I have done over the years whilst lecturing) and ask them what qualities they would like in a friend or partner. I have to say that not too many ever pick a majority of so-called “male” traits. Typically, the majority of desirable traits in a partner chosen by both males and females tend to be those which are also usually taken to be desirable in females – such as being affectionate, appreciative, gentle, sympathetic, warm, sensitive and so on.
You don’t get too many people (from both sexes) saying that top of their list in terms of desirability in a partner (males please take note!) are features such as being aggressive, autocratic, coarse, dominant, loud, reckless, tough, and the like.
Mind you, I suppose that if a person wanted to belong to a pack of sociopathic hoons or yahoos, and each was trying to outdo the other in terms of his crassness, then certainly this latter list would be the one seen as the way to go. Consequently any sensitivity or compassion would be seen as weaknesses rather than desirables.
Maybe what we should be encouraging in both sexes is a form of androgyny where all of us have the best features from both gender stereotyped views. We certainly need women who are adaptable and can stand up for themselves, who are willing to share all types of jobs as well as males who can act as role models for their sons over and above the rough and tumble some males mistakenly believe is all they should offer.
Maybe we can start by not telling little boys that “big boys don’t cry”. They do. So too do men.