Teenagers Reading

research for my PhD thesis

Boys don’t cry

with 3 comments

Update 25/08: nothing to do with the topic, but I had to amend view on Posse by Kate Welshman which I was reading while watching World’s Strictest Parents. I hadn’t finished Posse when I wrote I liked it. It starts very well, but deteriorates towards the end.

Even weird boys are afraid of their emotions – Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl (Penguin, 2006)

Because I’m finishing my thesis and my research with teenagers is long since over, the only teenagers I have access to these days are sk8ers and graf artists. They’re not quite representative of teenagers in general, so I look elsewhere for what the rest of the teen population is up to. My latest source is about as representative of teens in general as the real kids I know, but perhaps not quite as real, because it’s the reality TV of World’s Strictest Parents.  I’m desperate for anything to distract me from my excruciating thesis that I really should have finished by now.

James gets upset and cries a lot by Ann Blair I’m about to discuss reality TV because of the very real situation that occurs among boys and the men they become. I noticed this in previous episodes, but it wasn’t until the episode with a gay guy that I realized boys aren’t allowed to cry, unless they’re gay. Teenage boys brought up in our sexist world learn early on not to show “feminine” emotions like crying. If parents don’t model this behaviour, kids in the school yard will enforce it. Boys are “allowed” to show anger, particularly in the form of violence, or just plain avoidance of any emotion. As 16 year olds, the participants in World’s Strictest Parents are unlikely to realize that while they think it’s embarrassment at their mates seeing them cry that stops them, they’ve actually had 16 years of conditioning not to cry, from their mates, media and society in general. If any of these boys did cry and the producers chose to cut it, such manipulation by adults choosing to maintain this facade, would be even worse. I don’t think it’s the latter, tears from anyone make for good TV.

But back to the teenagers in question. I always have a book in front of me when watching TV, both for the ads and when it gets boring, a frequent occurrence.* I guess I wasn’t noticing much of what I was watching, cause I have no idea of the kids’ names. In the interest of lessening confusion these are the participants in my highly rigorous research study:

  • from the first ep Mr Blond who lived with his grandparents
  • his partner in crime Ms Blond who liked her smokes
  • from the third ep in Ireland Mr Skip who skipped school and had to shovel horse shit as punishment
  • from this week Mr Cool Hair who was gay and had fun fishing

I missed the beginning of this week’s ep,** but Mr Cool Hair and his partner in crime both had English accents. While the Australian voice over was still there, I wonder if they had to borrow an English ep to cover the minorities Australia couldn’t offer up in dysfunctional kids.

Every ep the kids receive a letter from their parents/grandparents. Each time the girl receives her letter she cries, as you’d expect because what’s written is pretty heart wrenching, and they’re probably missing their parental units by this time (even if they profess to hate them). When Mr Blond was offered his letter he attempted the tried and true avoidance strategy:

Do I have to read it?

I was shocked, but quickly realized why he said that. Luckily he kept any tears in check.

Oh the other hand, while it’s fine for girls to cry, getting angry isn’t allowed.*** While Mr Blond was living up to his gender expectations, smoking Ms Blond was kicking her gender expectations out the window. Mr Blond pissed her off, so she went on a screaming, yelling rampage – very unladylike. The house parents dealt with the altercation sensibly by having the two sit down together until they’d talked out their anger, specifically hers because Mr Blond was still perfecting his avoidance with some pretty biro artwork. The house parents reminded me of the father of a teenage girl psychologist Mary Pipher wrote about in Reviving Ophelia. The girl was raped by four older teenagers and as part of her recovery her father got a punching bag for her to take out her anger on [1]. Anger can be as useful for boys as for girls, as long as it’s expended in a non-destructive way.

Mr Skip hadn’t perfected his avoidance skills as well as Mr Blond. The kid reads the letter out loud, but this alternates with the parent/grandparent reading what they wrote, just to wake us up with a different voice. Mr Skip was reading, until he became so choked up by the content he stopped reading. The camera stayed on him staring at the page, waiting for him to continue (or start crying), but he wouldn’t budge and they cut to his parent finishing the letter.

Due to missing the start of Mr Cool Hair’s ep I missed his letter reading, but he came through with tears for me. When he’d broken the rules and was talking to the camera about how bad he felt, he cried and the camera noted the scrunched-up tissue in his hand. Towards the end his house father said he would be proud to have Mr Cool Hair as his son, they hugged and he cried.

Mr Cool Hair’s house mother said,

A real man needs to stand up…

I missed the rest, but that’s not relevant because Mr Cool Hair is well on his way to being a real man. He’s happy to show his emotions on camera and not pander to what our society says is correct gender behaviour. While he needs to work on becoming less concerned with his looks and affirmations from his peers, he’s conquered our society’s pointless and constricting rules for gender behaviour.

I missed the second ep in South Africa. While I could watch it online, I have better ways to waste my time, so I’ll assume my hypothesis held and Ms cried and Mr acted like a man :P Tell me if my hypothesis was demolished and my beautiful theory falls in a heap.

Notes

*I actually found Wed’s ep so boring, aside from when tears were shed, that I spent most of the time reading Posse by Kate Welshman [2]. I couldn’t believe it has a “Parental Guidance” note. Oh no, not adult themes!?
**That night we were having dinner for my brother’s birthday. I told everyone that I had to get home in time to watch some stupid reality TV so I could blog about the gender socialization of boys and girls. My mum and aunt visiting from Sydney were so interested in my explanation they watched it too. These are people who won’t even watch commercial TV, let alone reality TV. There must have been nothing on ABC.
***All the teenagers in the show are angry with their own parents/grandparents, obviously a sign of a dysfunctional teenager (here I was thinking it was a sign of a teenager). Another sign of a dysfunctional teenager is they like to pose for the camera in a sk8 park. If they’re a guy they might even add a board or bike to the mix, but girls just pose, you wouldn’t want to sk8 like a girl. Btw the SLAG trailer rips.

Photo credit

James gets upset and cries a lot by Ann Blair on Flickr. I’m sure the kids at school will fix this trait in James.

Books

  1. Pipher, Mary (1994) Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls New York: Putnam
  2. Welshman, Kate (2009) Posse Sydney: Random House

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Written by ClareSnow

15 August 2009 at 10:42 am

3 Responses

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  1. Hi,
    I agree with a lot of what you are saying, but I did want to let you know that in the South African episode, there was a lot of crying and emotion from the boy. It was actually very touching.
    By the way, I’m the house mom from the first episode with Mr. and Ms. Blond:)
    Have a great day!

    Cathleen

    28 August 2009 at 2:27 pm

  2. a cool version of boys don’t cry by laurent vo anh http://blip.tv/file/get/107ans-boysDontCryFinal631.mp3

    reza

    9 September 2009 at 10:30 pm

  3. Thank you for your comment House Mom Cathleen. My friend Andrew told me of the second crack in my theory. The boy also cried in the 5th episode (which i missed due to book group). Andrew told me this by text during book group and his words were:

    Here come the tears!…He cried at everything…Just a wuss :P

    Obviously Andrew is not in touch with his feminine side :) but I’m working on undoing his lifetime of conditioning that makes him think a boy crying must be a wuss.

    ClareSnow

    13 September 2009 at 11:55 pm


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