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In The Atlantic:

How Boys Teach Each Other to Be Boys

Taking cues from family and media, young boys teach their peers how to perform masculinity, to their detriment.


What makes a male child become a “boy,” as we understand that concept socially? In her new book, When Boys Become Boys, Judy Y. Chu reports on her two-year study in which she followed a group of boys from pre-kindergarten through first grade. She concluded that most of what we think of as “boy” behavior isn’t natural or authentic to boys, but is something they learn to perform. Boys aren’t stoic or aggressive or hierarchical; they aren’t bad at forming relationships or unable to express themselves. They pick up all these traditional traits of masculinity by adapting to a culture that expects and demands that they do so.

In the Internet era, famous old magazine brands like The Atlantic are mostly churned out out by trustfund kids who can’t remember the 1970s, so most of today’s feminist articles are near clones of the feminist articles I read in Ms. Magazine in 1973.

Granted, these articles about how little boys on average really want to play with baby dolls as much as little girls and little girls want to play with toy guns as much as little boys didn’t seem all that persuasive to me when I was 14.

But when I read them over 40 years ago, they were at least fairly novel. And a massive social experiment was then going on in which true-believing young parents were trying to impose feminist theories of childrearing on their newborns.

The results of this massive 1970s experiment came in long, long ago: Gender-neutral childrearing turned out to be highly ineffectual because it was immensely unpopular with its subjects. Little boys and little girls whined and nagged and threw temper tantrums until their feminist parents broke down and gave them the incredibly sexist toys they insisted upon.

In fact, the opposite happened of what feminists predicted in 1969. As society got richer and more choices became available, little kids’ toy and media choices diverged even more along lines of sex. Instead of boys and girls both getting oranges for Christmas and being thankful they weren’t lumps of coal, little girls demanded Polly Pocket Fairy Wishing Worlds and boys insisted upon massive fantasy weapons.

But, feminist theory never learns from its failures.

As Talleyrand said about the Bourbon dynasty restored in France in 1815, the same is true about today’s feminists: “they had learned nothing and forgotten nothing.”

  1. Anonym says:

    This stuff rings a bell for me too, and I was born in the late 1970s. If you read books and magazines lying around, you would see articles like the above. And if you talked to some adult leftist true believers in the 1980s, they would tell you that any time real soon now the female athletes were going to catch up to the males. I was young and somewhat naive, but even I couldn’t swallow that one.

    I remember that there was some loopy/politically driven doctor who experimented on a young boy with a sex change, an doped him up with female hormones. However, he was still heterosexual in mind – and still was attracted to females. David Reimer. Looks like my google fu still works. But this illustrates the sort of hippy bullshit that got way more currency than it deserved back then.

    I guess hippy bullshit is still produced, it’s just that because of the internet, we each seek out the stuff we like, alone on the internet, and don’t have so many magazines and books around. Also as an adult I don’t associate with hippies, so I don’t get as much exposure to their ideas. Different when you are a kid and have family and family friends who are hippies.

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  2. Don’t they know about David Reimer?

    “Blank slate” feminism, of the sort advanced by, for instance, Cordelia Fine, is incompatible with transgenderism, and arguably incompatible with certain strains of gay liberation too.
    That’s why many hardcore feminists like Sheila Jeffreys inevitably come into conflict with transgendered people.

    If we can all be programmed to adopt any randomly selected gender-stereotypical behaviour during our childhood, why would some kids adopt gay-stereotypical behaviour which can lead to them getting ridiculed and bullied by straight kids, and others come to feel they’re trapped in the wrong gender’s body? The only logically consistent explanation compatible with blank slate feminism is that older gay or trans people are influencing them to adopt gay or trans stereotypical behaviour; which they would not adopt if no such influence was present.

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  3. How do boys learn to teach each other to be boys? Turtles all the way down.

    What’s alarming is that these megelean sociopaths control the educational establishment, and the state, and firmly believe in criminalizing anything they don’t agree with.

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  4. SFG says:

    John Money was the guy who ruined David Reimer’s life. Reimer wound up killing himself.

    That was actually the case that convinced me there’s something wrong with transsexuals in terms of a brain sex abnormality (rather than just generically being nuts, which may also be the case). It’s actually a great experiment from the scientific point of view, although horribly unethical–they surgically turned the guy into a girl, and basically made him a transsexual.

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  5. SFG says:

    Re feminists: they’ve got nothing much left to fight for (the position that a woman is *allowed* to take any career is pretty much accepted everywhere these days across the West), so the relatively normal mildly-masculine women who just wanted to practice law or medicine or whatever have left and what are left are the extremists who want to wipe out male sexuality altogether.

    It reminds me of the situation with the ghetto (someone linked to an Atlantic article here which made it click for me, and now I can’t find it)… when they ended segregation, the more functional blacks all left, so all you had left in black neighborhoods were the people who couldn’t make it. That’s why they were so much less rotten in the 1950s–the Condoleeza Rices of the world were keeping things going.

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  6. Priss Factor [AKA "Skyislander"] says:

    Sailer is right but it wouldn’t hurt boys to be encouraged to favor Twilight over Transformers.

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  7. Priss Factor [AKA "Skyislander"] says:

    I’m guessing that the brats tested by Chu were from well-to-do families. As many such families are made up of dweeby guy and beta-girl(who prefers reliable over manly guys), it could be that boys from such families tend to be less naturally masculine.

    Indeed, there’s a whole range of personalities among boys. While there is a general boy thing and general girl thing, there is a huge divergence among boys(and among girls).

    It’s like the two male cats I used to have. One was so aggressive and feisty. The other was so mild and gentle.

    So, I say play it by gear.

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  8. Priss Factor [AKA "Skyislander"] says:

    I think maybe what used to be mainstream publications are getting loonier because they aren’t so mainstream anymore.

    Before there was the internet, Time and Newsweek used to have much wider readership. So, the publishers and editors were more mindful of the fact that they had to appeal to millions and millions of subscribers, and so they couldn’t be too extreme on issues.

    But far fewer people subscribe to such magazines now, so they are less mainstream. So, they try to find a niche audience, and for most publications, it happens to be urban Liberals.

    So, Time and Atlantic don’t even try to pay heed to people in flyover country.

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  9. Priss Factor [AKA "Skyislander"] says:

    So, let’s do this again.

    Boys are not naturally boys. Girls are not naturally girls.


    homos and trannies are naturally that way and NOTHING can be done about it.

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  10. Priss Factor [AKA "Skyislander"] says:

    Actually, it’s more like Memento than Groundhog Day.

    In GD, the guy retained the memory of all that had happened, and that is why he wanted to break out of the cycle.

    In MEMENTO, otoh, the guy was incapable of absorbing new data since the accident.

    So, what we have here is FEMENTO.

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  11. There’s a lot of backwards-looking in society today, for some reason. Liberal whites are hearkening back to the days of cruel, Southern overlords, brutally lashing servile negroes with bullwhips. Catholic clergy are thinking wistfully of old Mexican grandmothers with chapel veils at the local village parish. Other liberals are thinking of the poor nibbling on crusts of bread and sipping water from chipped cups instead of getting tattoos, smoking and clubbing.

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  12. Jonathan says:

    Very fine and funny Norvegian TV program in which the journalist/entertainer asks academics about this very subject. Some really ake fools of themselves.

    Btw, your observation that more choices entailed a wider gender gap in kids’ preferences is coherent with the finding of one important study cited in this TV show ; there is a larger gender difference in future occupation stated preferences among young persons in freer countries (like in Norway).

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  13. Priss Factor [AKA "Skyislander"] says:

    “The Blank Slate lives on.”

    The scholar is Asian.

    Asians are dutiful learners, so they’ll be the drone force of PC.

    Chu cannot think outside the box of what her Liberal white and Jewish professors taught her.

    Amy Chua is the exception than the rule.

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  14. Whiskey says: • Website

    All of this is one massive “test” designed to weed out true alphas from pretendrs. Nothing more or less.

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  15. ogunsiron says:

    Hormel Chavez says:
    June 6, 2014 at 7:13 pm

    What’s alarming is that these megelean sociopaths control the educational establishment, and the state, and firmly believe in criminalizing anything they don’t agree with.
    That’s why the silly, dumb kids on tumblr manage to worry me.
    Those dumbass tumblr social justice extremists are the journalists, opinionators, tv hosts, HR managers, human rights tribunal (Canada) jury members or tomorrow.

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  16. Dennis Dale says: • Website

    But, feminist theory never learns from its failures.

    Depends on what you mean by failure. Being wrong seems to be working quite well. Think about it: if they were right, we’d be living in their feminist utopia by now, and the demagogues would have no raw material with which to work: “inequality” and the attendant resentment caused by their successful representation of it as discrimination. It’s like black political power: disparate impact, dishonestly portrayed as evidence of white discrimination, is the only real weapon it has. Nothing succeeds like failure in modern America.

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  17. Hugh says:

    Two novel points here:

    1) I hadn’t heard of “performing masculinity” before. It sounds fun.

    2) I hadn’t realised that the patriarchy consisted of two year old boys. My eyes have been opened.

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  18. Since when has ‘feminism’, or all the rest of that harpy ‘equalities’ nonsense ever been concerned with facts and truthfulness?

    I mean, the absolute central tenet of feminism ie equality between the sexes, is just so obviously untrue, (yes, by you start moaning, I’m talking about the physical differences in frame and musculature), and if you can manage to talk your way around the stark, staring obvious to con the gullible with a mass of verbiage and histrionics, then you can bullshit your way out of anything, like the phrase goes ‘arguing that black is white’, literally.

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  19. In Melanie Phillips’ excellent book The Ascent of Woman (a history of the suffragette movement), she makes the point that most of todays (written around 2000) feminist debates are replays of Victorian feminist debate.

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  20. For all their flaws, at least the Bourbons weren’t intellectually pretentious.

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  21. Chris says:

    I have read about so-and-so not learning from their mistakes before on iSteve, Takimag, etc.

    It occurs to me to ask which mental disorders are characterized in part by an inability to learn from mistakes. Psychopaths are the first example that comes to mind.

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  22. Priss Factor [AKA "Cloudcastler"] says:

    They have officially sanctioned amnesia in China too.

    Like in the US.

    How many Americans are aware of the ethnic composition of the Bolsheviks?

    How many are aware of the bloodbath in Gaza?

    How many know that the US invasion of Iraq brought horrors upon its Christian minority, displacing 2 million of them?

    How many know the number of whites robbed, raped, and murdered by black criminals since the 60s?

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  23. TGGP says: • Website

    The Reimer case always struck me as rather definitive proof that gender is biological rather than just “socially constructed”. I wrote about “Pink Brain, Blue Brain” author Lise Elliot’s grappling with it here.

    It can be both Groundhog Day and Memento. For Sailer it’s Groundhog Day, because he does remember, for young feminists it’s Memento because they don’t.

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  24. HEL says:

    The most amusing part is that they have it precisely backwards i.e. men/boys are simply less mutable than women/girls. Women are vastly more conformist and will typically wither under even mild criticism. Hence the endless campaigns to prevent women from ever being criticized. Men, conversely, are much more likely to do what they want anyway. Call a man “bossy” and he’ll just shrug it off. He certainly won’t start a campaign to ban the word.

    This conformity sometimes creates weirdly paradoxical behavior. I remember having a feminist professor (i.e. she actually taught feminist subjects) who had the essential demeanor of a pre-school teacher. Similarly, I think of this girl in my law school (yeah yeah I know), another standard issue feminist/leftist who, on a personal level, is very conventionally feminine i.e. demure, nurturing, receptive etc. Their ideologies really seem to be completely at odds with their personalities. What a waste. While plenty of violent, aggressive men will be precisely that no matter what, these women surely would’ve conformed to a traditionalist society easily, had they been born into one.

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  25. SFG

    The David Reimer case shows that dogmatically applying blank slatist theory to real-life humans can have tragic outcomes. This is important, because blank slatists never seem to see this possibility. They think their theory is more morally virtuous than the alternative – more virtuous than reality, even. So, if they dash other souls upon the rocks of reality, how is that wrong? Surely that’s just reality’s fault for being morally wrong in the first place.


    Reimer’s case provides no information about whether transsexualism is a form of mental delusion. Reimer was a chromosomal male who lost his penis after a botched circumcision. Though his parents, following Dr Money’s theories, tried to bring him up as a girl, he resisted, and remained mentally male.

    As I understand it, a transsexual is someone who feels they are the opposite of their chromosomal sex. It could be a delusion, like thinking you’re Napoleon Bonaparte. But maybe there really is some biological mis-match involved (e.g. an X-Y foetus receiving insufficient testosterone in the womb).

    Transsexualism isn’t something I know much about. Apparently it’s very rare. In spite of attempts to up the numbers, the most determined-to-inflate study only manages to reach 1 in 500 males. Others suggest it’s as low as 1 in 30,000 males and 1 in 100,000 females. All studies show much higher numbers of males wanting to be females than vice versa.

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  26. Well the bourbons learned how to get overthrown a second time without getting the chop so you can’t say they didn’t learn anything. The also learned enough to keep Talleyrand around at the congress of Vienna too bad Napoleon screwed up the generous terms with his comeback bid.

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  27. Mr. Anon says:

    “Guillaume Durocher says:
    June 7, 2014 at 3:37 am

    Here’s some vintage 1974 Doonesbury on feminists’ war on little girls’ dreams:″

    Ah, Gary Trudeau – another relic of the 70s stuck in the past. Of course, the feminist utopia imagined by that teacher has come to pass. Now women can indeed be anything they want to be: doctors, engineers, scientists, fighter pilots, etc. At least for a couple of years, until they decide to become mommies, at which point they often check out of the work force. And that doesn’t necessarily mean that they quit, just that they check out. A lot of them still get paid, despite doing relatively little work. I have met any number of empowered women engineers who essentially get a big check from their employer for being a mommy. Middle-class white welfare is what it is.

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  28. Priss Factor [AKA "Skyislander"] says:

    If one part of feminism keeps repeating the same old dogma and can’t absorb and retain anything new, another part of feminism has forgotten all about original feminism and is merely a marketing tool of the entertainment industry(that once used to be attacked for its ‘sexism’).

    One side of feminism is stuck in past dogma, another side is stuck current fashion.

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  29. […] STEVE SAILER: Are Feminists Stuck in “Groundhog Day” or “Memento?” […]

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  30. anonymous says: • Disclaimer

    pink vs blue:
    From a 1918 editorial called “Pink or Blue” cited by Kimmel:

    “There has been a great diversity of opinion on the subject, but the generally accepted rule is pink for the boy and blue for the girl. The reason is that pink being a more decided and stronger color is more suitable for the boy; while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.”

    So … there is a social construct for you.

    The rest of it? Ha.

    Meanwhile, it is more or less inevitable that bad idea are zombie like and impossible to kill off. And they recycle within a generation or two .. .since they seem novel.

    It isn’t a total coincidence that the financial crisis happened about a decade after the last person who was an adult during the depression had retired. Mortgage backed securities were popular in the 1920′s. And a surprising amount of outdated regulation created in the 30′s and 40′s proved to work as a firewall. The most obvious example is the FDIC guarantees. The SEC act of 1940 limits the use of leverage in mutual funds. It was popular prior to 2008 to leverage ordinary types of funds (, including rather vanilla types like municipal bond funds), but they were limited to 2 to 1 or 1/3 of the funds asset value. Even though this was a total mess — because everything became a mess — the senior creditors/bondholders were well protected.

    Some of the bond insurers took years to totally exhaust their statutory reserves. All because of obscure regulatory legislation from the 30′s that was too difficult to repeal.

    Obviously, this has more to do with recycling the past than sex/gender. This is why the idea of preventing the next crisis through regulation seems so futile. It would be like banning the leisure suit. No one will ever buy a CDO Squared until the last investors who participated in the 2008 meltdown are in their graves.

    Come to think of it, the early first wave feminists are getting on in years. Go figure.

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  31. “Boys aren’t stoic or aggressive or hierarchical”

    That’s probably correct. But boys change dramatically in their teens when the hormonal changes kick in. The movie “Big” would never have worked if it was about a girl who woke up in a woman’s body one day.

    This is another “nature or nurture” question and the answer remains the same – it’s both.

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  32. It’s true that baby boys are born with different brains (on average) than baby girls.

    OTOH, it is also true that people, including parents, treat boy and girl children quite differently even when they behave the same. Studies have shown that both men and women react with more care and concern to a baby girl crying (or what SEEMS to be a baby girl crying, since the baby in question might be a boy in a pink diaper)) than they do to a baby boy behaving the same way. Boy children don’t learn to conceal their emotions from their interactions with other boys, they learn it from their parents.

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  33. […] Feminist theory is stuck in Groundhog Day. […]

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  34. […] are the exact same experiments they tried 40 years ago (which didn’t get the results they wanted). Ah well, I suppose if we just keep doing the same experiment over and over again, eventually one […]

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