Course ponders: will boys be men?

May 13, 2004, vol. 30 no. 2
By Julie Ovenell-Carter

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Boys will be boys - but will they be men? That's the driving question behind Stephen Ogden's new English 342 course examining the state of masculinity in post-war British literature.

Ogden, who completed a BA, MA and PhD in English while working full-time as a computer technician at SFU and raising a family of four, says the popular course “borrows an idea from feminism and explores masculinity on its own terms.”

He points to “a number of short, but highly influential post-World War II novels” that suggest the modern male identity is confused and even diminished in a world that no longer values “the martial masculinity bred to build and sustain the British empire.”

His reading list of post-war novels “gives voice to the experience of many disenfranchised ordinary men crying out for respect and a modern rite of passage.”

Among the thugs: masculinity and its discontents from end of empire to third way traces the development from the “angry young man” novel of the 1950s to today's “new laddism,” according to Ogden.

Contemporary novels by English authors such as Anthony Burgess, Martin Amis and Nick Hornby serve as “mirrors of masculinity in crisis,” asserts Ogden. Modern young men are delaying or ignoring completely traditional rites of passage that once marked their transition to adult manhood: military service, marriage, and fatherhood.

Add to that a growing number of young boys being raised without a strong male presence at home and a preponderance of television shows and ads portraying husbands and fathers as buffoons, and “the rise of the so-called lager lout should come as no surprise. Young men are no longer clear on what constitutes dynamic and effective masculinity.”

That's one of the reasons Ogden is active in youth athletics, coaching his own two sons and other young people on community soccer teams.

“In my experience, boys respond powerfully to consistent, firm and fair discipline, and they want the opportunity to be physical and to excel. They get all that through organized sport. Historically it's one example of healthy masculinity. Another is competent fatherhood. In fact, I would argue that becoming a confident and respected father is one universal rite of passage considered acceptable for men.”

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