Boys Don’t Have To Be Boys


From top: Irish schoolboys, 1940s; Dan Boyle

The Irish education system threw back my proper socialisation by a number of decades. My school in Chicago was secular, integrated and most importantly was mixed gender.

The religion, race or sex of my classmates was a matter of complete indifference to me.

Proximity, though, made my still enlarging heart grow fonder. At eight years of age, a classmate, a young lady of Czech extraction, named Anna Cervinka, had me all a flutter.

Within months my mother had planked our family in Cork, where I was sent to a Presentation Brothers (GAA) Boys school. From then I was encouraged to consider the female gender, not only as an opposite sex but as more of a different species.

In secondary school céilís were offered as an alternative to the licentiousness of discos. Held in ballroom style with boys on one side and girls on the other; lights were left on full glare, with teachers never more than ten feet away.

Conversations were often stilted with little being offered lest idiocy, hesitation or spittle became too prevalent. Issues of closeness, to touch where, how and with what intensity, plagued us with insecurities.

In a parallel universe we lads, when among ourselves, would be consoled through locker room talk. Most of us knew this to be over compensatory twaddle. Many sadly didn’t. What was meant to be the language of insecurity became, for some, the practice of misogyny.

Most of us got over our hang up. Learning, if often far too late in the day, that our lives would be enriched when able to relate to strong, independent, ballsy women.

Others saw their verbal and psychological bullying of women as banter; their physical assault of those they perceived as underlings, as a bit of slap and tickle.

All power systems – political, commercial or artistic attract these ill formed versions of masculinity. Many have colluded with these power plays. The worst perpretrators have been lauded as ‘Ladies Men’. We learn too late how poorly their seduction methods are.

For those knuckleheads who believe they have arrived, they see the prestige and privilege bestowed on them as conferring a droit du seigneur. How hollow must their lives be that their relationships with the other half of humankind on this planet, can only be determined by their ability to implicitly, or tacitly, intimidate others into submission.

However pathetic the tongue twisted and floor gazing adolescence (and early adulthood) that many of us have had was, it could never scrape the barrel of those who while believing themselves to have had it all, in human terms have had nothing at all.

With the recent death of Hugh Hefner, perhaps this is a good time to dissolve the chimera his fantasy lifestyle was meant to provide. It seems that too often that what has happened in various corridors of power has been more Marquis de Sade than Mills and Boon.

We need to stop lionising these tawdry heroes of a tired and spent masculinity. We need to emerge from our emotional ghettos. We, men, need to cop ourselves on.

We still have a lot of growing up to do Lads.

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator. His column appears here every Thursday. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle

Pic: Walker Harrison Howell

39 thoughts on “Boys Don’t Have To Be Boys

  1. Helga

    And that school, ladies and gentlemen, was responsible for the pensioner Dan Boyle. Another failure for the education sector. Go team!

  2. Eamonn Clancy

    If we become men like you Dan then who’s gonna take on the scobie robbing your car, who’d gonna intervene between a man getting physical with his girlfriend and who’s gonna headbutt the junkie on the LUAS harassing passengers for money? It’s me like me who keep the bad men away from your door. You’ll do well to remember that.

        1. Bertie Blenkinsop

          Eamonn Clancy can hear sign language.

          When Eamonn Clancy was born he drove his mom home from the hospital.

          Giraffes were created when Eamonn Clancy uppercutted a horse.

          Eamonn Clancy can strangle you with a cordless phone.

          etc etc

          1. Nice Anne

            When eamonn/milo/justin sockpuppets, he could fill the Abbey with his alter egos.

            When eamonn/milo/justin pretends to be manly, the brand of it is toxic.

    1. Boj

      Argh, I knew I recognised this…
      True Detective “The world needs bad men. We keep the other bad men from the door.” Eamonn actually has a valid point (shudder) if you can resist the slagging. Bold boys are indeed required to protect the masses of good boys and girls from the other bold boys. Otherwise the other bold boys will reign supreme.
      (on a side note, ‘Eamonn’ isn’t in the dictionary here and the suggestion was Moonbeam…made me chuckle)

  3. postmanpat

    The first paragraph makes no sense. He went to a school in Chicago? But also had an Irish Education that messed him up socially for decades. “The Irish education system threw back MY proper socialisation by a number of decades.” ” My school in Chicago was secular…….” what?

  4. Kwikster

    He says “Within months my mother had planked our family in Cork” maybe he meant plonked. This indicates that he left Chicago and moved to Cork.

    1. Dan Boyle

      past tense: planked; past participle: planked
      make, provide, or cover with planks.
      “the planked wooden steps”
      put or set (something) down forcefully or abruptly.
      “Ned planked the glasses in front of him”

  5. Frilly Keane

    here Dan
    when are ya going on the Telly

    I’d say yourself and Mooney and the other lad Goves would be great craic
    like drinking our tears stuff

  6. Liggy

    Hello Dan – I enjoyed this piece. Placing men and women in adversarial roles against each other is toxic and does neither any good. You are right there. It’s not just up to men though. It’s up to decent men and women to work together. It’s up to the women and men who control the purse strings of the arts council to deny funding to misogynists as much as it is up to females and males in positions of responsibility not to be creepy rapey b@st@rds. It is up to women and men in the law to punish those who decide the law does not apply to them and it it is up to all decent women and men to express disquiet if this does not happen.

  7. anne

    There’s a particular misogyny that’s instilled from an early age in Irish schools all right… woeful country for our treatment of women. It’s reflected in everything from abortion rights to the lack of childcare. Dan is spot on.

    1. Cian

      It’s a bit mad: for most children their primary carer is female from birth until 12 (secondary school). Why are all these women (mammys, crèche-workers, and teachers) instilling this misogyny? Why don’t they cop on and change it? Are they waiting for a man to sort it out for them?

      1. Nigel

        Think about it. It isn’t as if ‘primary care-giver’ or teacher were roles as valued as ‘father’ or ‘bread-winner’ and one was a primarily female while the other was primarily male. That’s changing drastically but the a hefty chunk of generations raised that way are still around, and things haven’t changed as much as they might.

  8. nellyb

    Millions of men grew up in macho culture, yet proportionally only a few are sleaze addicts and rapists. They are mentally damaged people who don’t seek treatment.
    While it won’t harm men to reflect on dumb macho culture and some verbals, like Dan described, it is EVERYONE’s responsibility to call out this behavior as it occurs. Sleaze addicts target men and children too, not just women. Start with confronting opportunistic arousal seeker on your bus or DART journey. It does work.

  9. civilian

    I think you hit the nail on the head Dan. It is to do with feeding insecurities that you could have chosen to outgrow. Everyone at some point has to say “Sucks to you! I am who I am.” Rather than trying to live up to ideas of ‘What a real man does’. Cause if a man keeps trying to do ‘what a real man does’ people inevitably get hurt.

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