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Can a Woman Raise a Boy to be a Man? Most Men Don’t Think So


By Dr. Boyce Watkins

A new survey at YourBlackWorld.com reveals that black men and women have different perceptions on what it takes to turn a boy into a man.  The survey finds that while most black men do not believe that a woman can raise a boy to be a man without male intervention, nearly half of all black women believe that they can.

Survey participants were asked, “Can a woman raise a boy to be a man (whatever your definition of manhood may be) without male intervention?”  Among the men, only 31.6% said that a woman could raise a boy to be a man, while the majority (57.9%) said that she could not.  Another 10.5% of all men were not sure.

The women had a different point of view.  Nearly half of all women (49.6%) said that a woman could raise a boy to be a man without male intervention, while a mildly reduced percentage (42.1%) said that she could not.  Another 8.2% said that they were not sure.

This is a complex question that serves as an intriguing and critical point of discussion within the African American community, especially given that 70% of black children are now being raised by single parents (usually women).  Also, there is no generally-accepted definition of what it means to be a man, so this adds another level of complexity to the results.

I am currently working with talented film makers Squeaky Moore and Ashley Shante on the film “Father’s Day?”  I spent a great deal of time mulling over the fatherhood issue, reflecting on my own life to help me understand the matter.  As a child, my biological father left me behind, but I was fortunate enough to be raised by another man from the age of three.  He taught me nearly everything I know about manhood, including the importance of being strong, responsible, and navigating my life among the other males I would encounter.   I am not sure if my mother could have taught me these same lessons (although she was my first and most relevant teacher in many ways).

There is a gender bias in this difficult question, given that it’s hard to “know what you don’t know.”  If I were to raise a girl by myself, there are many subtleties of being a woman that would go right over my head, like the importance of getting your hair done regularly (my daughters look just fine in pony tails), or the idea that women tend to be much cleaner than men in nearly every way (I see no reason to clean the house everyday).  Of course, these are broad generalizations, but the point is that I can’t imagine myself being able to teach a girl everything she needs to understand about managing the complex world of womanhood.

The corollary is that being a man requires instincts, skills and abilities that end up determining whether other men respect you or not.  A boy’s mother may not always understand why her son might have to confront the bully to earn his respect or why he really wants to play football in spite of the danger  – there are rights of passage for men that sometimes only other men truly get.  Also, it’s hard to know if you’ve failed to raise your child to succeed as a man or woman, for life doesn’t exactly grant you a final score for your performance.  Many of us raise children who struggle in nearly every aspect of life, and we are somehow led to believe that their struggles are the result of bad luck or a society that is stacked against them.   But we’d be lying to ourselves if we didn’t acknowledge that the majority of the young black men in prison were raised without fathers in their lives.

With that being said, the role of both parents can be of equal importance when seeing a child to adulthood.  If the primary parent is not available, then an adequate substitute might be necessary.  The job of parenting is incredibly difficult, and while it is tempting to believe that we have all the answers and always know what’s best for our kids, we may also have to have the humility to consider other points of view.  Love, selfishness and arrogance do not belong in the same spiritual space.

Dr. Boyce Watkins is a Professor at Syracuse University and founder of the Your Black World Coalition.  To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.

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