Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Boys and Monsters

Recently my seven year old son started crawling into our bed around dawn complaining of recurring nightmares. Seemingly standard boy stuff like spiders crawling out of his pocket and chasing him. And my best efforts to help him understand the difference between fantasy (TV, comics, books, spoken stories) and reality simply delayed the process of him discovering irrational fear.

After a few conversations with friends and acquaintances, I was somewhat surprised to note that their girls didn't seem to suffer from this affliction. So what gives? Surely girls aren't braver than boys. And more violence is directed towards women than men in general. So why are my boys more afraid of the things than some of the girls they know?

Recently in an effort to understand this, I reviewed all their external inputs that I had access to. This pretty much restricted me to the media inputs outside the school because (a) I can't break into his school and spend all day with him for various reasons and (b) I don't have the stomach to play "camp" for more than 10 minutes in order to glean relevant information.

Thanks to us being a little controlling of what the kids watch, they have only a few recurring shows they watch: Tom & Jerry, Legion of Superheroes, Kim Possible (yes, they love it) and Xiaolin Showdown. I have to say researching these shows was a pleasure because they were all fun to watch (well a limited number of episodes anyway). I was particularly impressed with Showdown primarily because it's main characters are chinese, brazilian, texan, japanese and a dragon. Four human ethnicities and an mythical species is pretty good diversity you have to admit.

In Showdown, the characters are constantly in peril. They are threatened by a variety of dangerous situations, entities and devices (hey, the writers have to make it interesting). They use an instructional blend of moral fortitude, team work, respect for others, , etc to overcome these challenges. On the surface of it, my boy should be feeling confident and on top of the world after watching that show. But although he loves watching it, it lines his subconscious with dread. Now, how does that happen?

Well, for one: the boys seem to identify very closely with the characters. My older son is Master Fong (a sidey but important character) and my younger one refers to himself as Omi (a main character). What they end up seeing is themselves being put in peril. And boys having to overcome this peril in order to prove themselves. And proving themselves earns them respect, love and happiness. It's the road to masculinity. You can see the worry in my sons' eyes when they are watching the more intense fight sequences in the show. As boys, they see the fights are rites of passage. They identify with being in peril more strongly than say a girl watching the show would.

In Kim Possible, the main character is a girl - a feisty one who does a lot of the heavy lifting. The boy in the show is a sidekick - comic relief. But when my boys are watching the show, they identify with the action and Kim's role in the action. They seem to forget she is a girl (because if they didn't they wouldn't be watching the show I can assure you). More perilous situations, more scary stuff happening to boys, more bad things that must be overcome to get back to normal.

In pretty much all of media I watch and read, the boys are always the ones overcoming physical danger or threat. Girls help and might even bail the boys out, but eventually the boys finish the job. I wonder if the more intense kids identify with this sense of ownership and responsibility and it weighs them down. There is a direct corelation between what we watch and identify with. In our case though one could argue that art imitates life. For 7 and 5 year old kids, that argument is hard to stomach.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very perceptive comments re: gender differences.