Ask Camille

Camille Paglia's online advice for the culturally disgruntled
April 2, 1997

Dear Camille:

I had a son last February, and he has been a true joy to me. I really do enjoy watching him rumble around like a tank, getting into everything, tearing up every object within reach, courting danger and feeding his infinite curiosity. However, since I am also a mother, I want to protect him from all harm and adversity, which I logically realize is impossible. What is your advice for a mother who wants to raise a masculine, loving, happy son, not a vicious brute or a sniveling milquetoast?
--Mama Kim
Dear Mama Kim:
Your description of your boisterous son is wonderful. Your letter doesn't state whether this is your first child or whether you have a daughter to compare him with. In defiance of the current campus orthodoxy of social constructionism (which sees infants as blank slates prior to social indoctrination), many mothers report that their children's personalities are immediately obvious in the first days and weeks after birth.
Are boy toddlers, in general, more aggressive than most girls? My aunt and uncle reported that, after they had had two girls without incident, their first boy was a reckless dynamo, climbing every surface, investigating every object (e.g. the stereo) and wreaking destruction in his path. "If he had been the first child," my aunt wearily declared, "he would have been the last."
You raise a crucial issue of child rearing, which feminism has never honestly faced. To what extent is the aggressive drive of masculinity a civilization-advancing, even if sometimes self-maiming, force?
Your letter also doesn't indicate whether there is a father in your household. In today's divorce culture, it's assumed that men are dispensable, that a mother can provide everything that a child psychologically needs. But perhaps a male is necessary for a sexual dialectic: The mother nurtures and protects, while the father prods and challenges, sometimes brutally extending the borders of the son's world.
In Virginia Woolf's semi-autobiographical novel "To the Lighthouse," the stern father figure, who is a rival to the children for the charismatic mother's attention, goads and irritates his hostile 6-year-old son. Is this jealous intrusion for or against the child's best interests? I suspect that sons need to be pulled out of the safe, warm bath of a mother's love, which they would otherwise never leave.
After the industrial revolution, it has become more and more difficult for boys to find appropriate masculine models. Office work neuters males, and the old options of going to war or shipping out on a freighter are no longer as feasible. Most of the rest of the world still retains a traditional sense of masculine identity, so that some day northern Europe and the United States may find themselves very vulnerable indeed, should an international crisis arise caused by yet another of the fascist dictators that history produces on a regular basis.
In "The Sandpiper" (1965), Elizabeth Taylor, as a bohemian artist and unwed mother living in a secluded beach house at Big Sur, coddles and pampers her precocious son, who recites Chaucer in authentic Middle English. Behold the genesis of male homosexuality! -- not inborn but induced by the blissful intimacy of an overattentive mother. The boy's effete sensitivity and girlish mannerisms disappear when he's forced to go to a strict, male-administered school with other boys. Now, he both boasts of and cruelly spurns his voluptuous mother, who realizes that she must surrender control for him to thrive.
My opinion is that, as early as possible, boys should have social contact with robust adult men of every kind -- practical men of action, not just white-collar bookworms, whose sense of the physical world is dim.

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