The teacher asked the class to make a list of the five most precious things in their home. After five minutes, he asked them for answers. One boy said he had a pink unicorn, it caused sniggers in the class. “How long have you had it asked the teacher?”
“Since last week,” the boy replied. There was further laughter. Another boy said his Play Station was the most precious thing at home. Another declared that the WiFi code was the most precious thing of all in his house.
It was a Year 7 class and the gaps in gender maturity were already visible. A girl told of how her little brother had died when he was two and a half years old and that he had loved watching a robin through the window. They now had a photograph of the robin on a shelf beside some of her little brother’s toys and that every time she saw the photograph, she thought of her brother. Another girl said her grandmother had given her a music box but that she had not really wanted it and that her mother had kept it downstairs, but when her grandmother had died, the girl realised it was something precious and had taken it to her room and now played it each morning, “to remember my Nan.”
Males seem never to have been good at giving expressions to feelings, even at the age of eleven that which is precious is something that is material, something that is functional. It seems alien to many, or even most, boys that objects may be better invested with an emotional significance beyond that of enjoying success in electronic games.
It was the problems men had in expressing feelings that gave birth to the Men’s Shed movement that came to Britain from Australia more than a decade ago. The high rate of male suicide was attributed, in part, to men’s inability to talk about how they are feeling. The movement adopted the principle that men more readily talked shoulder to shoulder than face to face and that places oriented to activity and tasks were more likely venues for meaningful conversations.
Perhaps the intervention needs to be at a much earlier age. If eleven year old boys cannot talk about why something might be of emotional importance, then the inarticulacy seems already to have begun.
Single gender classes might seem a possible answer, were it not for the fact that the conversation might be exclusively about the online game Fortnite.