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A post on another manosphere blog brought up the interesting idea that perhaps some of the problems encountered by men (and women) today are a result of not having defined rites of passage that mark the passage of childhood into manhood and womanhood.

As part of the “X” generation, I would have to agree that it’s not uncommon to see women and men in their 30s, 40s, 50s,m and even 60s largely living as they did in their late teens or early 20s. Grown women dressing in their teen daughter’s fashions, so-called “cougar” women prowling nightclubs for no-strings casual sex with men in their 20s, 40-something year old men still living like a college kid, or men buying red sports cars and dating women much younger are just a few examples of adults who seem to be having trouble “growing up.”

For women, rights of passage have largely been biological events tied to her fertility and ability to bear children. When a girl gets her first period, people often say, “she’s a woman now” even if she is only in her early teens. In the past, families might have publicly announced their daughters were “of age” by hosting a debutante or other event to indicate she was available for and seeking marriage.

For men, rites of passage usually include some sort of sequestering with older men in their family or community and physical, mental, and spiritual challenges that once passed, make him a “man.” In American culture, these often brutal (in women’s eyes) rites of passage have mostly been eliminated and many men report there is no moment when they can clearly feel they went from being a boy to being a man. Likewise, with more and more boys being raised by single mothers, many boys today don’t have regular contact with a male role model who can guide them in learning the skills to be a man.

In the message board discussion on men and rites of passage I thought it was interesting that the men insisted only men can teach a boy to be a man. At rites of passage ceremonies, only men are allowed because the activities that take place are so physically or emotionally challenging, women would likely try to intervene. However, these men insisted that for a boy to become a man, passing such tests was the best path to becoming a man.

Today’s youth have few rites of passage. For both men and women, losing one’s virginity is one. For men, killing their first deer or winning a major sporting event, or getting their first job might be the closest they have to male rites of passage. Many teens move out on their own, not really feeling like they are “men” or “women” yet.

A friend who is a therapist once told me that children getting their needs met in childhood and being part of a secure, loving home is the best way parents can prepare their children to move out and face the world fearlessly, expecting good things and success, while those children raised in dysfunctional or broken homes are more likely to feel unequipped and afraid to take this step and to cling to or long for a longer childhood.

Others have speculated that the baby boomer generation was the first American generation to resist growing up. Rather than to progress through the stages of life: child, teen, young wo/man, married adult, parent, empty nester, then grandparent — many boomers wanted to define their own path creating a culture of perpetual adolescence, the first “me” generation.

Perhaps it’s time to bring back rites of passage? And the concept that life does happen in stages, and that people should embrace each as they come and and then prepare to move on to the next stage and embrace that, each in turn, rather than to try to pretend they are in a different life stage than they are.

What do you think?

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