The Tale of Modern, Broken Boys

YESTERDAY I WAS lucky to meet with this 53-year-young jovial top executive who conducted a small study in which he informally analyzed business leaders and their past. “I discovered that leaders who got bullied during their childhood tend to become less effective leaders,” Pieter, the executive’s name, drew his conclusion.

“Because they tend to take revenge?” I tried to guess.

He nodded, adding that these bullied leaders take revenge against the world which they think had treated them so badly. They find it hard to empathize because they had no one showing it for them.

This is why he recommended taking up sports so children as future leaders know how it feels to be in a team and becomes a part of a supportive and bullying-free environment.


The same morning I met with Pieter, I also read Michael Ian Black’s “The Boys Are Not All Right“. In the open-ed article, Black puts it eloquently that the root of all gun problems in the US is the lack of proper care and education given to boys. Masculinity, he writes, needs to be redefined. “There has to be a way to expand what it means to be a man without losing our masculinity,” Black highlighted.

Men feel isolated, confused and conflicted about their natures…

If you’re a man, raise your hand if you were educated in childhood by your social environment to be a brave, strong, competitive male. No matter what happens, you’re not allowed to break down. In the moment of grief, showing stoicism and maintaining composure at all times are compulsory. Which is in actuality impossible.

But what can you do about it? You’re born a man. You can’t complain. You’re granted a huge authority by the patriarch in your family to lead, to excel, to surpass, to win over others (read: women).

because we don’t have a model of masculinity that allows for fear or grief or tenderness or the day-to-day sadness that sometimes overtakes us all.

While girls have updated their role models throughout the years, boys don’t., Black argues. To add to that pain, boys are now losing ground. Their typically masculine natures such as physical strength, competitiveness and all are useless in the time of rampant unemployment, financial crisis, sluggish, uneven economic growth.

Girls now can earn more if they fight really hard. They are more daring. They can be whatever they want them to be despite the reigning patriarchy around them. Feminism helps guide them through hard times.

And boys are still stuck in the same old model of masculinity. They don’t know how to react to the changing gender relations. Masculinity is an old establishment awaiting its doom because it rejects the change. And usually when things don’t bend to follow changes, they break. Boys leak out anger, confusion, despair in any forms they can relate to: violence.

For those who know violence is not the way, they withdraw themselves from the world.


It also breaks my heart to find the finding of a scientific study by the University of Michigan which concerns about boys and  bullying. These bullied boys – who are expected to be much physically and mentally stronger than girls – turn out to be not that strong when they have to deal with bullying.

The researchers discovered that even a caring, affectionate mother cannot help her builled son to recover from the damaging effect of bullying. Bullied boys later on show more aggresiveness and antisocial behaviors. “For boys, early negative peer experiences lead to a significant increase in antisocial outcomes, regardless of their relationships with their mothers,” they emphasize.

And the effect can be widespread. Not only will it infect their social life, but also relationships with their peers at the later stage of life. These peers are everywhere: at work, at shrine, at neighborhood, etc. So we can imagine the scale and duration of destruction.


NO. Don’t you dare to think that this only happens in the US. In Indonesia, the typical tales of broken boys are easy to find. I turn to the page of Humans of New York in which Brandon Stanton tries to capture the essence of a people he is delving into.

Let’s take this man as an example of a broken boy who prefer withdrawal to aggressiveness. He was left by a treacherous wife and opted to leave everything behind and started a new chapter in a completely new place.

Or this man, who struggles to survive and maintain his clients’ trust and showing his most effective and familiar strategy of coping with depression he is suffering: smoking. He confessed he smokes four packs of cigarettes every single day. And please don’t make me rant about the money he ‘burns down’ for alleviating his depression, which instead he can use to save and save his crumbling business. Though this man’s sentences show audacity but deep inside I know it’s a false facade. Smoking shows his rotten soul screaming for help. Cigarettes like drugs can at least ease the pain of reality. Any stress or problem is bearable as long as you can still smoke. I’m no smoker but I have been living among smokers. Some other Indonesian men don’t smoke like this painter (at least he was shot not in the state of smoking like a chimney) but they are just as rare.

These typical stories of damaged men run along with the ‘wonderwomen’ stories, such as a story of a single mother raising her many children, a story of an irresponsible father and a more reliable mother, and this story of a son losing his mother and trying to forgive his incapable father.

You know there’s something wrong in this society when foreigners like Brandon Stanton even easily find this. I know most Indonesian men are not like these. In my family, I don’t even have a single example of a lousy, bad model of a man. Every man I know in the family is hardworking, responsible for their families, but yes, they are numb when they have to deal with sadness. They don’t cry or sob. Though their heart is torn apart.

I’m not saying that becoming a new man in this post-feminism era, one must shed more tears in public but, men, let’s try to unwind a bit. Let out your anxiety, stress and false masks of masculinity. Talk through your difficult times more with friends and family members. That’s sometimes the only way to survive.


At Pieter’s working desk, two photos of young boys at 5 and 6 were spotted. Blonde and very German. I guess they have been so fortunate to have a father like him.

Because for boys, nothing compares to growing up with their father by their side. And without belittling a mother’s significance, father’s role is as vital as there is to support not only a family’s finance but also well-being.

For one more functional father, there’ll be fewer dysfunctional boys in the society, so I believe. Strongly. (/*)

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