Your tears are like jet fuel to me!

Your tears are like jet fuel to me!

This is the sound of a drill sergeant turning new recruits into soldiers. It’s the sound of a country readying the next generation to preserve and protect its people and culture. Completing boot camp is like stepping across a threshold and donning the adult persona defined by the community.

ADULT MEN PREPARING YOUNG MEN FOR THEIR ROLE IN SOCIETY – In cultures around the world, adult males take young men away from their daily lives to be tested and reoriented. Their old sense of self esteem and bravado is broken down and is replaced with a commitment to a broader unit – a team. Some military models use collective punishment so every recruit has an interest in making sure their peers succeed with them. Although the physical and mental demands are great, there is a sense that the older generation will get you through. That you can do it. You feel capable.

SPORTS – Our culture is also awash in sports programs where teens and young adults learn a form of selflessness – a commitment to giving everything you have for the team. “Leave it all on the field.” Although the skills and insights are similar, what is missing is appreciation for the broader community and its welfare.

I know I am oversimplifying a very complex issue here – but I think there is a clear through line. Our society invests in teaching boys how to be adults. It teaches lessons of grit, discipline, selflessness and team. (While, concurrently, limiting emotional development.)

SO, HOW DOES OUR CULTURE PREPARE GIRLS TO STEP OVER THAT THRESHOLD INTO WOMANHOOD? I’ll give you a minute to think about it.

What rituals bring young women together to understand their full strength and capability? How do older generation women support those transitions?

Still thinking? So am I.

My experience has taught me that, instead of having drill sergeants shouting in our faces while we are assembled together, we have a culture that gets us when we are alone. Our culture tells us we are too fat, or too serious, or too ambitious – or, heaven forbid, that our bathroom bowls won’t pass muster. And, instead of building a sense of unity and “We are all in this together.” we are often reduced to being critics of one another.

Instead of putting our lives on the line while in service, women are asked to put their lives on hold. And not just related to career aspirations. We are tied more directly to nature and it’s cycles. From pregnancy to birth to nursing, we learn to yield. Tired? Meh. You wanted to scrub that stove, but your child is throwing up? You don’t decide to take a day off. Children need to eat – and be clean – and be nurtured.

WOMEN’S RITUALS – Women have bridal showers and baby showers. Weddings where having the perfect dress and hair and music are promoted as the most important day in their lives. Everything has to be perfect because … hmmm … I’m thinking.

Overall there is something akin to a positive balance to all these assumptions. But we can examine what is still working for us all and explore new rituals and systems. The Women’s March with the pussy hats was a full-on display of mutual support. There is growing attention to boys’ and men’s social and emotional concerns. Women are successful in the military and stay-at-home dads (or Second Gentlemen) are becoming more common.

BRING BACK BOOT CAMP – Final thought – what if we were to develop a national boot-camp-equivalent for all? Where each participant learns the wonder and power of their newly-adult bodies. Where each participant learns how to meld into (and out of) groups. Where each participant learns the impact of discipline.

“Make Your Bed” by US Navy Admiral William H McRaven

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