Predatory Practices as Sport? Boys to Men & Swaggerfests

June 15, 2010 Forget the fact that my freshman daughter is friends with JV football guys…

…Or that digital reputations flinging about on social media (FB, Formspring, etc) warn of male ‘players’ and females being ‘played’ with reckless, feckless inaccuracy bordering on slanderous distortion (this seems to mirror many school’s virtual stage, reflecting more performance art than reality show)…

…But it does add further context for my coal hot mad reaction when I read last week’s NYT op-ed, “Their Dangerous Swagger.”

Boys at a private grade school were literally ‘game pooling’ incoming freshman girls as conquests for “sport” in ‘Fantasy Football’ draft picks as boy toys. I seethed with a new level of fire far beyond my slow burn of volcanic rumblings and steam vents like Pele, the Hawaiian goddess, ready to blow.

As we look at how we’re raising boys to men, in a ‘one step forward two steps back’ symbiotic relationship of gender portrayal of men in media (American Dad, Family Guy, and other devolved Seth MacFarlane tripe) it IS worth looking at context and corollaries a bit this Father’s Day week…

When I first read the Swaggerfest op-ed I had a knee-jerk reaction: 

“ugh, highly predictable given the media climate these boys are swimming in…”

I had to step out of the splashy sensationalism, toss some water on my flames and cool off to deconstruct the madness like a lifeguard from a tower trying to get some perspective on the larger scene.

It’s imperative to sort out whether this “Fantasy Football” incident is a “small slice of life with big media coverage” (rich/prep-school behavior gone bad yet again as a follow-up to Landon’s teen dating violence murder of young Lacrosse player Yeardley Love) or if it’s representative of a larger media messaging context, fed by repeated portrayal of males as macho thugs under the guise of athletes, hip-hop misogyny, girls as boy toys.

Either way, it points to fouled up behavioral cues…The latter is just mass media’s version, set to music and scripted in stereotyped outrageousness (cue soundtrack for lousy judgment by perpetuating teen ‘bad boys’ as cads and good guys as ‘losers or wimps’ in continuous cable creations).

Granted, there are huge patterns of “Turning Boys into Monsters” via narrowcast marketing and media views of manhood, as Jackson Katz has documented repeatedly in his films, Tough Guise: Violence, Media, and the Crisis in Masculinity (2000), Wrestling With Manhood (2002) Spin the Bottle: Sex, Lies and Alcohol (2004) and his book, The Macho Paradox: Why Some Men Hurt Women and How All Men Can Help

BUT…there are ALSO new POSITIVE trends that are turning that siren song into a backlash beacon of amazing inspiration for youth. Examples?

Gavin Heaton’s Reinventing Manhood project to benefit the Inspire Foundation, Tom Matlack’s film, book and life work dedicated to The Good Men Project, 13-year old Kodiak’s treatise on growing into adolescence leaving the cues behind…

It all bodes well for rewriting the story of Packaging Boyhood with a brighter ending.

On the other hand, that won’t happen fully until media quits driving the cue train off the track, forcing 60% of boys to LIE about their sexploits for ‘coolness cache’ in keeping up with the sitcoms, romantic comedies, MTV music videos, CW and other cable fare fodder defining what ‘boys to men’ looks like, on and off the screen.

Just days ago I’d written ‘My Daddy Taught Me To…’ asking for the top three life lessons dads have imparted to their children.

When I was driving one of my daughter’s (stereotype alert: ) “scary-looking, tough-guy, football friends” who happens to be living with his dad to escape urban gang messiness, he mumbled his “3 lessons” from the back seat politely as if he were almost ashamed to admit them, with the top one being “to treat women with respect.”

I stifled a big grin, thinking about how youth are depicted one way in the locker room and another when they ‘let their hair down’ in a comfort zone.

But then? Just as I was feeling quite hopeful, even a bit smug and self-satisfied, whammo my thoughts blinked to Maureen Dowd’s NYT op-ed about how the football boys would “earn points for schmoozing with the parents,” and it wiped that Pollyanna smile right off my face.

I felt sick to my stomach that I’d even begin to question the motives, rather than just let his comment rest in good faith.

As I blinked back the swirl of stats in my brain, (increased teen dating violence studies, teen dating abuse legislation, gender research and portrayal/profiteering of lousy behavior in the media) it dawned on me how jumbled the mixed media images were that infiltrated my psyche with conflicting emotions.

The media story was now  ‘in there’ and I was struggling to get it ‘out’ so that it wouldn’t influence my thinking.

Now…Consider how this same dilemma applies to KIDS trying to ‘get rid of’ core imagery and marks of manhood that are served up in surround sound…Ahem.

Needless to say, ”It’s complicated.”

Here’s teen dating violence survivor and author of Tornado Warning, Elin Waldal with more on how “Their Dangerous Swagger” landed on her…

Guys? Want to speak up here?

I’d love to hear from teen boys and Gen Y youth particularly. A copy of Packaging Boyhood goes to the first guy that responds with comments about male role models, media portrayal and how we can turn this tanker around! 🙂

A Teen Dating Violence Survivor Speaks Out With More On Maureen Dowd’s “Their Dangerous Swagger”

by Elin Waldal

(originally published here; Teen Dating Violence, Dispelling the myths)

In Maureen Dowd’s Op-Ed Column at The NY Times titled Their Dangerous Swagger she brings to light the abhorrent behavior of a group of boys who all attend an elite private school in Maryland called Landon.

The reader will learn that collectively the boys gathered together and formed a “Fantasy Football Style Draft” in what turns out to be a predatory game targeting entering high school freshman girls.

Girls ages 14 and 15 targets of a predatory game?

Has the world gone mad?

The purpose of the game was to select girls that fit a particular description, draft them to a fantasy team, and later invite them to a party where the individual boys would manipulate them emotionally in order to have their way sexually-which depending on what they managed sexually-would earn them points.

Based on the article it is clear that these boys spent time mapping out the details of this highly offensive game. Details from how many points for each base they landed to “schmoozing” with the parents.

From where I sit that is pre-meditated sexual assault of the worst kind.

Let’s look at the school. Landon is an elite school for boys whose “ABOUT US” tab on their website states the following:

“Landon School is an independent, non-sectarian day school for boys in Grades 3-12, that prepares talented boys for productive lives as accomplished, responsible and caring men whose actions are guided by the principles of perseverance, teamwork, honor and fair play.”

“Actions,” interesting choice of words given the age old axiom; “Actions Speak Louder than Words.”

Apparently the actions of these boys are not fostered by the “honor” and “fair play” portions of the description but they certainly have the “teamwork” component down. Their team that is, which leads me to the murky waters of the “Good Old Boys Club”

The good old boys club, we have all heard of it, many of us have experienced it… that houseless fraternity and yuck it up bond that exists between certain men. The “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine” sort of behavior that for years has run boardrooms, governments, and homes.

It is high time that the men who do not subscribe to this reprehensible mentality stand up and say, “ I do not belong to your macho culture.” The only way we can begin to stop horrific acts of violence against women, is to spotlight men and boys who are wedded to a different perspective. An outlook that embraces women as equals and looks to collaborate rather than tear down. There are plenty of them out there too…we need to begin highlighting boys who truly understand ethics and character.

We need to spotlight men who are disgusted by this macho mentality that only serves small mindedness. And for goodness sake we have got to start saying as a society that people may not hide behind a code of silence that is spurred on by gender based cardinal rules. Rules whose actions lead to a silence is golden mentality.

The Landon school has words all over their website that claim they are feeding the minds of boys to “work together to eliminate all forms of disrespect.” Really?

The world is watching and candidly the cop-out response of the administration to protect their elite class of boys and fall back on their curriculum which boasts of “an extensive ethics and character education program which includes as its key tenets respect and honesty.,“ is a joke.

Furthermore when Jean Erstling, the director of communications at Landon, is quoted in Maureen Dowd’s article she states; “Civility toward women is definitely part of that education program.”

Well Ms. Erstling I’d say your school is failing because what these boys did is anything but civil.

If the consequences for the boys who created their fantasy game did not include expulsion then one could surmise that Landon is harboring the opposite of what you claim.

Hats off to Maureen Dowd who closes with

“Young men everywhere must be taught, beyond platitudes, that young women are not prey.”

What a sad testimony that something as basic as a girls right to be seen as a human being worthy of respect, needs to be taught.

—Elin Waldal, author of Tornado Warning, an upcoming memoir on teen dating violence coming out August 2010.

Visual Credits: You Are Not His Property, teen dating violence poster, NYC

Jackson Katz trailer of his exc doc film “Tough Guise” via MEF.org

Tough Guise
– Watch more Videos at Vodpod.
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