Dudes Deserve Better
It’s summer!! I survived my first year of classroom teaching!!
Hang on a sec… let me back up.
Hi, everyone! This is Chelsea. This is me:
We’ve probably trained together. If not, then I would like to train with you someday soon. I work during the day as a preschool teacher, and it’s my favorite thing ever, but it’s also ridiculously difficult. I loved the last year, and now I am in the middle of reflecting, processing, and beginning to look back on all of it. Right at this moment, I’m reflecting on how awesome it was that my class was mostly boys.
Hold up, let me explain.
I love every child the same, in every permutation of weird and wonderful those kiddos come in. But, it was super cool teaching so many little boys because, well, I’ve never been a little boy. I got to see a glimpse into how they process the world, which ended up being a little bit different from how I processed my world when I was a kid. Whether it’s because of biology or socialization, or more likely the menacing mega mix of both, boys and girls have different social patterns and confront different social issues. These sorts of issues, as a woman, I never gave much thought to before. It’s left me with some interesting questions about what it means to be a boy, and, more specifically, questions about what it takes to be a man.
Here is what I saw:
Girls will get angry and hurt others, but it’s fairly direct, quiet, serves a specific purpose, and often goes down with words instead of force. It’s completely inexcusable and something I address immediately, by the way. But, it is markedly different than boy fighting.
The boys, well… the boys have this way of escalating each other. Locking eyes, broadening their shoulders, baiting with teasing threats. You can see this gradual shift in their expression just before they’re about to do something truly mean. It’s like I can hear the air crackle between them. Sometimes, there is actual growling.
That growling might become pushing. Then, smacking… punching… hitting with objects. I have to move fast. I’d like to advise them to simply walk away, which tends to work fairly well with most of the girls. This isn’t exactly a popular choice for a lot of the boy students. I don’t believe walking away feels like a choice for them.
Fast forward 15+ years for them, and I’m guessing that it still won’t feel like much of a choice. I mean, how familiar does this look…
…two dudes locked in conflict with someone trying to plead with them to leave it alone.
So, any dudes reading this? Does walking away feel like a choice for you?
I’m reminded of a recent evening out at a bar with two of my guy friends. As we were leaving, we were followed out by Agitated Bro-Douche. This very drunk, irrational, young man accused us of spilling his drink.
I shrugged. “Hey, sorry, I don’t think that was us.”
For me, walking away was the instant, obvious choice. I kept walking.
My two guy friends, though, stopped to engage him further. I encouraged them to walk away with me, but they held their ground across from Agitated Bro-Douche. It started off with a few words exchanged, but before too long, the whole situation escalated. I hate to say it, but my friends were just as much at fault at this point as Agitated Bro-Douche.
I crossed my arms and let out a big sigh.
Agitated Bro-Douche heard me, “What, you got something to say?”
“Look, I’m sorry you’re having a rough night. Guys, it’s a $5 drink. This is wasting our time.”
I started to walk away.
As I turned, I heard shuffling. The banter got worse. “You wanna go? Let’s go.”
They traded statements like that for a while. “You wanna go? Let’s go.” Arms in all directions. Chests puffed out like…
One of my guy friends moved in to start the fight. My other friend stopped him, gave Agitated Bro-Douche some money, apologized, and suggested he go enjoy another drink.
There were a few more minutes of bristling, and then everything dissipated.
Thankfully, nobody ended up fighting. But, how on Earth did they all get that close?? Why did my healthy, lovely, rational friends almost get into a fist fight with a drunk stranger over $5 in spilled liquid?
I kept trying to convince my friends that this was stupid, that we should leave – was I just making it worse? In a way I think that Agitated Bro-Douche was using the fact that a woman was paying attention as a way to bait my friends even harder. I think he made them feel like they had something to prove… like their masculinity was at stake.
When my students grow up, is this the sort of thing waiting for the little boys in my class? Will their reason be hijacked by this absurd ritual for male dominance?
This specialized back & forth style of conflict escalation is something that author Sgt. Rory Miller calls “The Monkey Dance.” I like when he says, “It’s a a deliberately ridiculous name for a ridiculous pattern of behavior.” Because it is ridiculous! It’s a script that totally takes over any logic and doesn’t serve anyone well. It was useful and maybe even necessary thousands of years ago when violence helped our ancestors compete for rank in a social structure that was okay with that sort of thing. Now, it mostly opens with a “what you lookin’ at?” sort of exchange and serves to get otherwise well-meaning guys beat up or in jail, or both. Winding up hurt or stuck with criminal charges is pretty much the opposite of useful.
Frankly, men deserve better.
There is a way to outsmart the monkey dance, but because it was such a major part of our evolutionary past, the rest of your brain has to actively work to avoid being taken along for that ride.
It is possible, but you have to train it.