The message behind 'acting like a girl'

October 23, 2012

Many thanks to Lionel Foster for his thoughtful and poignant portrayal of the unique rewards and challenges involved in helping boys and young men learn better and more constructive ways of resolving conflicts with peers than through violent confrontation ("Freeing young men from the trap of aggression," Oct. 19).

He writes: "As a boy, one of the last things you want to hear from a peer is 'Quit acting like a girl,' whatever that means." Sadly, whatever else it might mean, the underlying message of that and like expressions is really quite clear: Girls are inferior, "other," and worthy of rejection, scorn, and second class treatment.

And, since many boys are also raised with stereotypes which imply that gay boys and men are "like girls" (i.e., that they are not "real" boys or men), they, too, are often relegated by these beliefs to the status of "less than" and subjected to similar disrespect and mistreatment.

Sexism and homophobia are flip sides of the same coin. Until all men, women, girls, and boys are valued equally for their common humanity, irrespective of their gender or sexual orientation, many boys and men will continue to disrespect and reject the so-called "feminine" qualities within others and themselves.

Deborah M. Roffman, Baltimore

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