How current YA literature is responding to our boys’ need for a new “Manhood.”
I’m not finished being inspired by Sarah Mesle‘s provocative article in the Los Angeles Review of Books entitled “YA Fiction and the End of Boys,” where she points out the “fear and ambivalence surrounding manhood” among boys in modern YA literature. My name for the trend is “manhood deficit.”
In my analysis, the trend isn’t only male. You don’t have to dig very deep to find that boys and girls alike lack positive adult identities to strive for – just watch thirty seconds of Jerry Springer for confirmation.
Where our boys are concerned, it can seem like the literature is driving the “manhood deficit” trend with adult male characters who are “often careless, corrupt, incompetent — sometimes even cruel — and only rarely kind.” But I see it the other way around – as an evolution that’s been happening over a long period in our society.
Manhood has been morphing fundamentally since the 1960s, when the “Establishment” – Western Society’s male-dominated hierarchy of authority – came under suspicion and attack. As we’ve identified the corrupt and destructive aspects of that archaic system, then set about dismantling and discarding it, so have gone all the symbolic role models – and many of the practical roles. Is it any coincidence that THE OUTSIDERS, Sarah Mesle’s prime YA lit example of the “manhood deficit”, was first published in 1967?
I don’t believe that it’s an accidental trend or that it’s driven by literature, whose role is to reflect what’s in our psyches – individual and collective. It’s a fifty year old transformation set in motion by our culture’s cry for something new, something better and kinder. It will continue to evolve, probably into a strong drive to identify and claim a new “manhood” in a few years.
My concern at that time will be that young men know how to artfully explore all aspects of themselves, continually honor gender equality, and fairly engage in the natural differences between the sexes. This identity will be rich new soil where manhood and equality can thrive together.
Maybe the self-determined boys of today’s YA literature are sacrificing “identity” to inspire a new, individualized manhood among the boys who will co-create the world to come.
Now, here’s the cheese on this Brain Burger.
3 things we’ll probably miss about the old “manhood”:
- Medieval battlefield weapons – especially the mace – particularly awesome!
- Muscle cars. Oh, and muscles too.
- Buffalo wings! (Well, maybe we can grandfather those in to the new “manhood.”)