Last night, I went to hear a fabulous speaker at my kids’ elementary school. She was there to talk about generational differences (FYI, our kids are called Gen V, for Viral), and also to discuss the trends that take place within each generation.
For example, we Gen Xers are a skeptical, anxious group, and as parents, we want really badly to “be there” for our kids and to provide them with the solid family base that we didn’t have.
Gen Y is an entitled bunch, but it’s not their fault because they were told their whole lives that they were special, and they grew up getting trophies for doing nothing. And Gen V, well, they seem to be shaping up to be potential rebels, who might lash out against the anxieties of their Gen X parents, and who could possibly end up changing everything from corporate culture to colleges and universities.
It was a thought provoking talk in lots of different ways, but there was one thing that the speaker (Jane Buckingham, who runs a company called Trendera) said that really stayed with me. It seems that for Gen Y and for our little Gen Vers, as well, there’s a huge gender gap that’s taking place, and boys are the ones who are falling behind.
Jane pointed out that over the last few decades, society has made a really big deal about pushing girls to be all they can be. There are special programs for girls, support groups for girls, workshops for girls, camps for girls, magazines for girls, all in the name of empowerment and you-can-do-anythingness. And as a result, we have lots of amazing, independent young women out there who are killing it. But somehow, along the way, we seem to have forgotten about the boys. The message they’re getting is that they should just sit back and chill, because the girls have it all covered.
As I listened to this, I was dumbfounded how true it is, even in my own home, where I have a daughter and a son. I spend a lot of time talking to my daughter about how it’s important for girls to go into STEM fields (that’s science, technology, engineering and math, for the acronym-impaired), and trying to be a good role model for her as a working mom. But I don’t ever have conversations like that with my son, and I doubt that my husband has ever even thought about the kind of example he’s setting as a working dad, because “working dad” isn’t really a part of the lexicon.
Which brings me to another point that Jane brought up: who are the role models for boys today?
When I was a kid, we had astronauts like John Glenn, and war heroes like John McCain. We had athletes like Bruce Jenner and Michael Jordan and Mike Schmidt. There were socially conscious rock stars like Bruce Springsteen, John Mellencamp and Bono. Even on tv, there was Fonzi, Charles in Charge, and Cliff Huxtable. And at the movies, everyone could look up to Teenwolf, or Duckie, or even Ferris Bueller.
But what do we have today? The space program’s over. Our politicians are crooked. Our athletes are disgraced. Our military is plagued with scandal. Our rock stars are either drug addicts or they’re fluffy, no-substance teeny boppers. On most kid-friendly tv shows, the boy characters are almost always silly or dumb. And in the movies? Our heroes are either literal superheroes, like Captain America and Iron Man, or they’re overweight stoners who sit on the couch and get high all day.
I wracked my brain last night trying to think of someone in pop culture who my son might be able to identify with and look up to and want to be like someday – someone smart and funny clever, with a good heart and big ambitions for himself and the world. The only person I could come up with is Phineas from Phineas and Ferb, and he’s a cartoon.
So what’s to be done about it? As a Gen Xer, I am, of course, anxious. But while there might not be much I can do to change pop culture, I came away from that talk last night realizing that I need to do a better job with my son. If there aren’t any good role models out there, I need to find him some, and I need to point out to him why the people he sees on tv or in the movies aren’t what he should aspire to be. I should be talking to him about the same kinds of things I talk about with my daughter; after all, the STEM fields need boys, too. And I should be encouraging him to aim for the stars, to be all he can be, and to never let anyone tell him that he can’t do or be whatever he wants.
Provided, of course, that he doesn’t want to be a stoner who just sits around on a couch.