From mean girls to douchebags, the way boys and girls handle their locker room experiences is different for a reason, Rosalind Wiseman, best-selling author of “Queen Bees and Wannabes,” said in a lecture Friday.
Wiseman, author of the book that inspired Mean Girls and renowned expert on bullying, addressed the University of Wisconsin Continuing Studies’ Boys and Girls at Risk Conference on how to work with youth from a gender-sensitive perspective.
Wiseman said men and women are tremendously similar, as both fear humiliation, desire to have their experiences acknowledged and want at least one adult to turn to for comfort.
However, Wiseman said fear of humiliation is generally stronger in males and can be even more motivating than sex when it comes to males decision-making.
Wiseman said while women are given permission by society to think and talk about emotional middle school memories, men find it more troubling to think about those “locker room experiences.”
“There is a lot of attention given to women and body image, but no such language exists for boys,” Wiseman said. “They just know they are supposed to be masculine and stoic.”
Wiseman said boys have every logical reason to not talk to adults about body-image issues. She said boys are petrified they will be made fun of for sharing such fears, or worse, that an adult might actually try to do something to help.
Girls have a wide diversity of images and transformational characters to admire, such as Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games, while boys have only the classically masculine characters such as super heroes to idolize, Wiseman said. This contributes to the narrow range of emotions that boys express, she said.
Wiseman said these social barriers are reinforced by boys’ role models, adding that it is inappropriate for teachers to discuss the physical characteristics of kids in a classroom setting.
“The ridicule that adults do to boys that they would never do to girls is what makes some boys so disengaged,” Wiseman said. “Any comment about bodies, sexuality, face and class should be completely off limits.”
The cultural confines on these topics are so strong that boys cannot express that a teacher’s ridicule bothers them, Wiseman added.
Wiseman added it is important for adults to understand the difference between drama and bullying. She said bullying is typically a one-way use of power or strength to make someone feel worthless, while drama is an exciting, unexpected emotional serious of events where multiple parties are involved.
Wiseman said kids often use the word “drama” when describing situations when they are actually being bullied.
“It’s important to listen to these kids and actually be aware of what’s going on,” Wiseman said.
Wiseman said she has been working with boys from fourth to 12th grade over the past two years to write her new e-book called “The Guide: Managing Douchebags, Recruiting Wingmen and Attracting Who You Want.” Wiseman said the e-book provides advice for boys, while also helping adults learn how to relate to boys.
“The point is to change the way we speak to boys and have boys turn to us in the process,” Wiseman said.