Proving manhood

Victor M. Rios, author of Punished: Policing the Lives of Black and Latino Boys, focuses on many of the struggles that marginalized young men face. He shows how the system criminalizes them and narrows their opportunities to make a change to a more positive lifestyle. This book shows an inside look of the lives of several boys in that marginalized situation.

One topic discussed in the book that I can relate to is proving manhood. “Criminal justice and disciplinary officials at school often participated in challenging ┬áthe boys understanding of masculinity” (78). I have seen this theory proven true throughout my school career. Of course, not everyone I went to school with had loving parents, came from a good home, or lived in a good neighborhood. For boys, the bad ones were always the coolest or most respected (or feared). No matter the reason, these boys were well known. Ironically, those same boys are mostly the ones that are not doing so well in life. The ones that I know have all been to jail, not working, or/and not progressing in life. It is if the highlights of their lives were those school days of getting in trouble. That trouble gave them a sense of pride and manhood. But that same trouble currently has them in a bad position.

A guy I graduated from high school with is a perfect example of this. Since I do not want to embarrass anyone, I’ll refer to him as X. Where I live sports are a big deal. It can really be the difference in spending your time doing something positive or going to jail because you spent your time involved in the wrong things. Sports can really save lives. Entering high school X was one of the star football players. The potential and talent was there but sadly his mindset was not. Like many others, it was hard for him to not to become influenced by his negative surroundings. Eventually X would not show up to practice and when he did he could not participate because of school suspensions. The suspensions began to happen more frequently. It was as if he wanted that negative attention and being the “bad guy” made him “the man”. His grades began to drop which made him ineligible to play football. This lead him down an awful path.

He once defined his manhood in being a star football player. But without that he began to run the streets, not show up to school, and break laws. He would always test the authority of cops, laws, teachers, and his parents. It was as if he wanted to make the worse decisions possible. But the question is why?

I believe the environment had everything to do with it. X came from a bleak place. Although his parents were around they were only involved when it came to sports. There was almost always no emotion support or guidance to keep him away from the streets. So just as Rios addressed in the reading most people blamed the parents. Because he was a bad child he had to have bad parents, this was true. No one showed him how to a man through positive things. But the gang he got involved in did teach him.

What many people forget is that manhood varies from person to person. Each man has his own unique definition of what he feels is his manhood. Men take pride in manhood. But where does this unique understanding of one’s manhood come from? It usually develops from what you see in your everyday environment. For X, his manhood developed from being the bad guy. Constantly challenging the teachers was being a man to him. Being in a gang and fighting was being a man to him. Going to jail was being a man to him. He did all of these things to prove himself worthy of what to him is manhood. The pride of his manhood lead him to risk and lose it all. Simply because his view of manhood was tainted. And because he had to protect his manhood he chose to prove it in negative ways such as crime, dropping out of school, and jail. That to him mad him a man. That was his manhood.

So what does this say about manhood?

To me it says, that manhood is powerful and filled with pride. It also says that maybe if men were taught the true positive meaning of manhood they would choose to take pride in more positive things. They would prove their manhood by doing positive things. So it is really hard to blame someone who is only given one option if that one option is the wrong choice. These men can not do any better if they are not taught to know any better. Manhood is learned. More positive teaching of manhood must be done. X’s story is reflective of many young men.

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