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This innocent question we ask boys is putting more pressure on them than we realize

This article originally appeared on 06.20.18


Studies show that having daughters makes men more sympathetic to women's issues.

And while it would be nice if men did not need a genetic investment in a female person in order to gain this perspective, lately I've had sympathy for those newly woke dads.

My two sons have caused something similar to happen to me. I've begun to glimpse the world through the eyes of a young male. And among the things I'm finding here in boyland are the same obnoxious gender norms that rankled when I was a girl.


Of course, one notices norms the most when they don't fit. If my tween sons were happily boy-ing away at boy things, neither they nor I would notice that they were hemmed in.

But oh boy, are they not doing that.

In fact, if I showed you a list of my sons' collective interests and you had to guess their gender, you'd waver a bit, but then choose girl.

Baking, reading, drawing, holidays, films, volleyball, cute mammals, video games, babies and toddlers, reading, travel, writing letters.

I imagine many of you are thinking at this point: That's awesome that your boys are interested in those things!

There's more. One loves comics and graphic novels but gravitates to stories with strong female protagonists, like Ms. Marvel and The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl.

Cool! I love it.

And sports. They are thoroughly bored by team sports. They don't play them. They won't watch them. They will up- or down-arrow through any number of sporting events on TV to get to a dance contest or to watch competitive baking.

So? Nothing wrong with that.

Those are the kinds of things all my progressive friends say.

But it's often not the message my sons themselves hear from the other adults in their lives, their classmates, and the media.

For example, the first get-to-know-you question they are inevitably asked by well-meaning grown-ups is, "So, do you play sports?" When they say, "No, not really," the adult usually continues brightly, "Oh, so what do you like to do, then?"

No one explicitly says it's bad for a boy not to play sports. But when it's always the first question asked, the implication is clear: playing sports is normal; therefore, not playing them is not.

The truth is that one of them does play a sport. He figure skates, as does my daughter. When people find out that she skates, they beam at her, as if she suddenly has possession of a few rays of Olympic glory. In the days before my son stopped telling people that he ice skates, most of them hesitated and then said, "Oh, so you are planning to play hockey?"

But it's not just what people say. It's all those pesky, unwritten rules. When he was in second grade, my younger son liked the Nancy Drew and the Clue Crew series. But he refused to check any out of the school library. He explained: "Girls can read boy books, but boys can't read girl books. Girls can wear boy colors or girl colors, but boys can only wear boy colors. Why is that, Mom?"

I didn't have an answer.

An obvious starting point — and the one that we have the most control over — is to change the way we speak to the boys in our lives.

As Andrew Reiner suggests in a spot-on essay, we should engage boys in analytical, emotion-focused conversations, just like we do with girls. In "How to Talk to Little Girls," Lisa Bloom offers alternatives to the appearance-focused comments so often directed at young girls: asking a girl what she's reading or about current events or what she would like to see changed in the world. I could copy-paste Bloom's list and slap a different title on it: "How to Ask Boys About Something Besides Sports."

And with a few more built-in nudges, we might expand the narrow world of boyhood more quickly. Boy Scouts could offer badges for developing skills in child care, teamwork, and journaling. Girl-dominated activities like art, dance, gymnastics, and figure skating could be made more welcoming to boys, with increased outreach and retention efforts. My son could write his own essay about trying to fit in to the nearly all-girl world of figure skating, including the times he has had to change clothes in a toilet stall at skating events because there were no locker rooms available for boys.

I used to think that the concept of gender — of "girl things" and "boy things" — was what was holding us back.

Now I see it differently.

The interdependent yin and yang of gender is a fundamental part of who we are, individually and collectively. We need people who like to fix cars and people who like to fix dinner. We need people who are willing and able to fight if needed and people who are exquisitely tuned into a baby's needs. But for millennia, we have forced these traits to align with biological sex, causing countless individuals to be dissatisfied and diminished. For the most part, we've recognized this with girls. But we have a long way to go when it comes to boys. As Gloria Steinem observed, "We've begun to raise daughters more like sons … but few have the courage to raise our sons more like our daughters."

I acknowledge that young boys feeling pressured to be sports fans is not our country's biggest problem related to gender.

Transgender individuals still confront discrimination and violence. The #MeToo movement has revealed to anyone who didn't already know it that girls and women can't go about their everyday lives without bumping into male sexual aggression.

But if our culture shifts to wholeheartedly embrace the whole spectrum of unboyishness, it may play some small role in addressing these other issues, too. Male culture will be redefined, enriched, and expanded, diluting the toxic masculinity that is at the root of most of our gender-related problems.

Boys and girls alike will be able to decide if they would rather be made up of snips and snails, sugar and spice, or a customized mix. And my future grandsons, unlike my sons, won't think twice about wearing pink or reading about a girl detective at school.

This story originally appeared on Motherwell and is reprinted here with permission.


Photo courtesy of Girls at Work

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When we’re kids, fun comes so easily. You have coloring books and team sports and daily recess … so many opportunities to laugh, play and explore. As we get older, these activities get replaced by routine and responsibility (and yes, at times, survival). Adulthood, yuck.

Many of us want to have more fun, but making time for it still doesn’t come as easily as it did when we were kids—whether that’s because of guilt, a long list of other priorities or because we don’t feel it’s an age-appropriate thing to long for.

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All images provided by Adewole Adamson

It begins with more inclusive conversations at a patient level

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Adewole Adamson, MD, of the University of Texas, Austin, aims to create more equity in health care by gathering data from more diverse populations by using artificial intelligence (AI), a type of machine learning. Dr. Adamson’s work is funded by the American Cancer Society (ACS), an organization committed to advancing health equity through research priorities, programs and services for groups who have been marginalized.

Melanoma became a particular focus for Dr. Adamson after meeting Avery Smith, who lost his wife—a Black woman—to the deadly disease.

melanoma,  melanoma for dark skin Avery Smith (left) and Adamson (sidenote)

This personal encounter, coupled with multiple conversations with Black dermatology patients, drove Dr. Adamson to a concerning discovery: as advanced as AI is at detecting possible skin cancers, it is heavily biased.

To understand this bias, it helps to first know how AI works in the early detection of skin cancer, which Dr. Adamson explains in his paper for the New England Journal of Medicine (paywall). The process uses computers that rely on sets of accumulated data to learn what healthy or unhealthy skin looks like and then create an algorithm to predict diagnoses based on those data sets.

This process, known as supervised learning, could lead to huge benefits in preventive care.

After all, early detection is key to better outcomes. The problem is that the data sets don’t include enough information about darker skin tones. As Adamson put it, “everything is viewed through a ‘white lens.’”

“If you don’t teach the algorithm with a diverse set of images, then that algorithm won’t work out in the public that is diverse,” writes Adamson in a study he co-wrote with Smith (according to a story in The Atlantic). “So there’s risk, then, for people with skin of color to fall through the cracks.”

Tragically, Smith’s wife was diagnosed with melanoma too late and paid the ultimate price for it. And she was not an anomaly—though the disease is more common for White patients, Black cancer patients are far more likely to be diagnosed at later stages, causing a notable disparity in survival rates between non-Hispanics whites (90%) and non-Hispanic blacks (66%).

As a computer scientist, Smith suspected this racial bias and reached out to Adamson, hoping a Black dermatologist would have more diverse data sets. Though Adamson didn’t have what Smith was initially looking for, this realization ignited a personal mission to investigate and reduce disparities.

Now, Adamson uses the knowledge gained through his years of research to help advance the fight for health equity. To him, that means not only gaining a wider array of data sets, but also having more conversations with patients to understand how socioeconomic status impacts the level and efficiency of care.

“At the end of the day, what matters most is how we help patients at the patient level,” Adamson told Upworthy. “And how can you do that without knowing exactly what barriers they face?”

american cancer society, skin cacner treatment"What matters most is how we help patients at the patient level."https://www.kellydavidsonstudio.com/

The American Cancer Society believes everyone deserves a fair and just opportunity to prevent, find, treat, and survive cancer—regardless of how much money they make, the color of their skin, their sexual orientation, gender identity, their disability status, or where they live. Inclusive tools and resources on the Health Equity section of their website can be found here. For more information about skin cancer, visit cancer.org/skincancer.

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As if the social pressure wasn't enough, a child that age has to deal with the intensely awkward psychological and biological changes of puberty at the same time.

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