I’ve been having a fun little back and forth with a friend’s post over at the The Evangelical Outpost. You can find the whole of the post as well as my comments here. The gist of the article, which you should really read if you want more than my bad summation, is that it’s offensive to refer to men as boys or to treat them like boys. If a man is guilty of boyish behavior, one should treat him like a man, that is, address the responsibilities he is failing at, rather than resort to inaccurate name calling. My last comment summed up my position I thought pretty well, so just for the hell of it I thought I’d repost it here:
After some basic criticisms of this idea of a “man” and why I think self-identified “boys” or “bois” should be called what they want to be called (cause it’s nice), Nathan (the author) responded,
Whatever semantic labels you prefer, the fact is that people gain responsibilities as they age and sometimes they shirk those. I hope that in talking to people who turn away from responsibility we can show them that they do not have any semantic hiding places that will save them from what they are doing.
To which I wrote as follows [edited for spelling and grammatical error],
Yeah. I’m pretty sure I get the broader point about responsibility. And I agree about semantic cubbies and hiding places. But also semantics shapes the cubbies. It’s the mountains to the valley–complete with snowy peaks and potential landslides. It’s important to periodically stroll through and maybe close down an unsafe road or two.
It’s this correlation between being adult, masculine, strong, and virile with responsibility that I guess I was trying to push back against. Of course we give children responsibilities and we should be forgiving towards adults. If it’s a question of responsibility, all fine and dandy, but children have taught me a lot about responsibility and adults have at times been disappointingly repressed, irresponsible, and narcissistic. It’s not so much how to balance these two (adult/responsible with child/irresponsible) but more unlearning the ways we’ve been taught to privilege adults and trivialize children.
It seems like the source of frustration for you was this category “boy” and how it was implying you weren’t fit for or outside of certain responsibilities. I agree with you–it’s trivializing and dismissive. Yet it’s not just trivializing and dismissive to you, but to boys and children in general, while also assuming adults are way more secure and essential than they are. Just as the male who dismisses someone as a “boy” positions himself as a firm and solid “man,” so too joining in with calling all boys irresponsible positions you and I and all males into a comfortable category of “man.” It becomes this very sort of semantic hiding place–a means of coping by bullying those we’d like to think weaker and smaller than ourselves. It buttresses our own insecurities with a safe semantic and social shell, shirking responsibility of ourselves while scapegoating others.
So I guess my problem is a binary that’s so neat it pretends boys, and children in general, are irresponsible and men/adults are responsible. Like childhood is some bit of ash we must pass through to really, truly, finally be born. But children were born and are people and no less real. We give children responsibilities according to what they can and can’t do just like we do for adults. We expect them to follow through just as much. They have voices and stories worth telling and it’s nothing shy of narcissism to turn a deaf ear, thinking ourselves to have come much farther then they. After all, the kingdom belongs to such as these–a kingdom where there is no “man” or “woman.” I’d like to think St. Paul wasn’t just thinking about gender or birth-sex but birth, growth, maturity, aging, and dying. Ultimately, I think The City of God might be a little less “mature” and “civil” than we think, and just a bit more like Neverland.