When it comes to raising their two children, Ray and Kathy are in total agreement about one thing: their son, Roy, and daughter, Roxie, will be reared to value and adopt the traditional roles assigned to men and women since biblical days. That is, Roy will be taught that men are tough, unemotional, competitive, assertive, authoritarian, and dominant; Roxie will be expected to be sensitive, domestic, passive, pleasing, submissive, and supportive. Their parents’ approach to childrearing is simple: differences in sex roles are clear, obvious, and desirable, and their value must be conveyed to their children to avoid confusion, identity crises, and psychological instability. When it comes to teaching their children, for Ray and Kathy the world is black or white, this or that, the right way or the wrong way; there is no gray, middle ground.
Unfortunately for the children, Roy and Roxie, the world is not black or white, this or that; and, what is the right vs. wrong way to behave – such as, be assertive or be submissive – usually depends on the situation. In other words, in the real world, healthy adjustment to and coping with the demands of everyday life require flexibility and adjustment.
As adults, both Roy and Roxie will find their behavior restricted and inhibited in many situations. What is Roy to do in a situation that demands sensitivity, empathy, and humility? He has been indoctrinated to believe that displaying such actions would make him less of a man. Roy is destined to feel insecure when he realizes his range of actions is severely limited, and he will fall victim to self-anger and self-criticism. To avoid the anxiety of his insecurities, Roy will be forced to deny reality and lash out against competent men who can be comfortably sensitive when a situation requires them to act that way. Such men will remind Roy of his inadequacies. Thus, he will restrict himself to his tribe, his comfort group, and join them in aggression against “the others,” all in an effort to mask his insecurities.
Roxie will find herself in the same dilemma when she is in a situation that requires her to be assertive and forceful. She is unable to do that and maintain her limited self-concept that requires her to be one thing: submissive. She will join Roy in following the emotional path of self-recrimination and insecurities, and stay within her comfort group to be able to avoid and deny those self-doubts.
In 2022, we are seeing in real time millions of Rays and Kathys, who demand that their kids be indoctrinated, not educated. Books must be banned; the school curriculum must be stripped of any material that makes their kids uncomfortable; other kids must be screened carefully to make sure they conform to the Roy and Roxie cookie-cutter template. We are creating a generation of confused and frightened kids who – when confronted as adults with the nuances of life – will not know how to react appropriately. When such insecurity comingles with fear, the result is usually destructive aggression, aimed at both others and self.
There’s an irony and sadness about Roy’s and Roxie’s emotional future. Simply put, if they could overcome their parent’s restrictive childrearing indoctrination, if they could be comfortable with exhibiting a broad range of actions and emotions depending on the situation in which they find themselves – well, this flexibility would make Roy more of a man, and Roxie more of a woman. That is a valuable lesson for coping with everyday stressors.