BoyMom Ruth Whippman on Reimagining Boyhood

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BoyMom Ruth Whippman has spent significant time reimagining boyhood.

As a mom of 3 boys, she knows that raising boys today is a complex endeavor. As she writes in her book, BOYMOM: Reimagining Boyhood in the Age of Impossible Masculinity, “Boys in America (and worldwide) are going through something of a crisis – not only academically but they make up the majority of perpetrators AND also the majority of victims  and they are more likely than girls to engage in serious antisocial behavior, along with having mental health issues reaching epidemic levels…Understanding where we are going wrong with raising boys and trying to change those patterns is one of our most urgent cultural projects as a society.

“This is a half-finished revolution.” 

The #MeToo Movement, Boys, & Men

Ruth was 8 1/2 months pregnant with her 3rd son when the #MeToo movement gained global traction.

“That moment was a really complex moment for me,” she says. “On the one hand, my feminist self was like, Great! we’re finally talking about boys & men in a whole new way; we’re finally seeing this is a systemic problem…. But as a mother of boys, it was really complicated because there was this very negative conversation going on about boys and men, which I don’t think is particularly psychologically healthy for boys to grow up hearing.”

It’s important to recognize and address all of the issues that lead to some men behaving badly, but, she says, it’s important to also “give boys a more hopeful vision.” Focusing on what’s wrong with boys and men won’t likely solve anything & may instead alienate and harm boys & men.

Cultural Blind Spots

Like many women, Ruth was well aware of the all ways in which gender & sex shape (& limit) females’ experiences in the world. But she didn’t understand that boys are affected by similar pressures. Until she had sons.

We “have so many blind spots around raising boys,” she says. And while our society has made great strides in encouraging girls, women, nonbinary, and genderfluid humans, cis boys are still hemmed in by cultural expectations and stereotypes. In our current cultural moment, conversations about boys frequently focus on their potential to cause harm.

That’s problematic, Ruth says.

“I want my boys to have a narrative about themselves that’s rooted in something other than harm and violence,” she says. “I don’t want their story to just be ‘I’m this potential predator and the best that I can hope for my life is that I won’t rape anybody.‘ I want them to also be able to thrive and find pride, joy, and connection.”

In this episode, Jen, Janet, & Ruth discuss:
  • Parenting boys as a feminist
  • Why politicizing boys’ issues isn’t helpful – & why we need to listen to diverse viewpoints
  • Seeing boys as more than potential predators
  • Boys & school
  • Male development
  • How “undercare” harms boys
  • The stories we share w boys
  • Boys’ friendships
  • Listening to boys
  • The “contradictory pressures” on boys
Links we mentioned (or should have) in this episode:

BOYMOM: Reimagining Boyhood in the Age of Impossible Masculinity — Ruth’s book — Ruth’s website (includes links to her upcoming events)

I Blame Society — Ruth’s Substack newsletter

Masculinity in the Land of #MeToo — ON BOYS episode

Men are Not Monsters – 2015 essay by Jen

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