"He's acting like a girl! Stop hiding him behind your apron strings," my father exclaimed in passionate disgust to my mother when she protested sending my ten-year-old brother out to play in a dress. At seven-years of age, I did not know what, exactly, my brother had done to deserve such punishment, but I felt the pain and shame of my father's cruelty as I watched my older brother hide from the neighborhood children who would taunt him. My father, a man who shielded his own sensitivity in military machismo, believed he was teaching his son to be a man.
William Pollack, in his book, "Real Boys" (Holt, NY, 1999), calls this kind of destructive behavior toward our sons a part of the "boy code" perpetuated by our society. His research validates what Olga Silverstein and feminist family therapists have warned us about previously in "The Family Web: Gender Patterns in Family Relationships" (p.166, Guilford, NY, 1988): Boys are shamed into early separation from their mothers and subsequently cut off from their own expression of sadness and vulnerability in favor of anger and detachment -- all in order to prove their manhood.
Repression of feelings (big boys don't cry) starts early for a male child in our society and mothers are warned from the beginning of the emasculating dangers of making their son a "mama's boy."
Boys are diagnosed with significantly higher rates of learning disabilities, hyperactivity and conduct disorder in our schools. In fact, Pollack tells us that boys are 10 times more likely to be diagnosed with a serious emotional illness than girls. Is it any wonder that boys, ashamed to show emotional pain, reach out for help through aggressive conduct? After all, it is manly to punch, while it is "sissy" to cry.
With suicide being the third biggest killer of young people ages 15 to 24, boys are four to six times more likely to succeed at committing suicide than girls.