In “The Miseducation of the American Boy,” appearing as the cover of The Atlantic’s January/February issue, Peggy Orenstein delves into the personal lives of young men, and finds them trapped in a strange doublethink. They’ve read the headlines about toxic masculinity, sexual harassment, mass shootings, and campus rape. But in interviews with more than 100 college or college-bound boys, Orenstein found that even those who identify the excesses of masculinity can’t seem to escape them.
Orenstein writes in the cover story, published today at The Atlantic, that teenage boys across races and ethnicities are still laughing at rape “jokes,” using sexual conquest to prove themselves to other guys, and learning to suppress any expression of vulnerability or sadness. The definition of masculinity seems to be contracting, Orenstein argues, and teenagers need —and want— a better answer for how to be a man today. “Feminism may have provided girls with a powerful alternative to conventional femininity, and a language with which to express the myriad problems-that-have-no-name, but there are no credible equivalents for boys,” she writes.
Orenstein describes many of the teens she meets as perfectly nice, bright, and polite, but stuck in an environment where they behave in ways that, privately, they acknowledge as toxic. “Boys may know when something is wrong; they may even know that true manhood—or maybe just common decency—compels them to speak up,” she writes. “Yet, too often, they fear that if they do, they’ll be marginalized, or worse, themselves become the targets of derision from other boys. Masculinity, then, becomes not only about what boys do say, but about what they don’t—or won’t or can’t—say even when they wish they could.”
Read “The Miseducation of the American Boy,” adapted from Orenstein’s forthcoming book, Boys and Sex, at The Atlantic. The January/ February issue of the magazine appears on newsstands next week, with pieces continuing to publish across this week and next.
Anna Bross + Helen Tobin // The Atlantic
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