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The Importance of Pecking Order

26 Jul

I have worked with teenagers since 1975, and in that time I have been through my own transformative journey, as well as witnessing behavioural patterns which re-occur generation after generation.
When I first started working I found it difficult to get into clubs and bars, mainly because I was under age, but also because of my appearance. I resolved to change this. I bought a crushed blue velvet jacket with the widest lapels you can imagine. (I know, but it was the early 1970’s!)
I looked and felt very different when I wore this jacket. It changed my place in the pecking order. Suddenly, I was welcomed into all the clubs, and attracted the attention of women. Was it really just the size of my lapels that did it?
A few years later I worked in a Children’s Home, and the boys were amongst the most outrageously loud characters I’d ever met. In the confines of the Home they strutted like peacocks, they were Alpha males, but, during the course of any bus journey from the Home into town, they slowly transformed from cocky arrogant hooligans into timid quiet sheep. For some time this transformation puzzled me, and then I realised why it occurred. As kids from a Home they wore second hand clothes, they had hand-me-downs, not the latest fashions. The Home kids were intimidated by the clothes the ‘normal’ kids on the bus wore, and it radically affected their behaviour and sense of status.
I am employed to train social and care workers to work with teenagers, as a starting point I introduce them to the concept of ‘pecking order’. Teenagers seek out and want to know where they stand in the pecking order. There are any number of pecking orders to be joined, they cover a wide spectrum of activities – appearance, behaviour, football, sports, fashion, gaming, school, etc. They can be very specialised, or they can be generic, they are the equivalent of league tables, and we can be high in some and low in others. They have always been there, and each generation of teens creates their own new structures and frameworks, as well as rules and regulations. He is ‘in’ because he wears the latest trainers. He is ‘out’ because he hasn’t tied his scarf in the right knot.
For me the creation of pecking orders is a very healthy and normal part of life. It always has accompanied adolescence and the onset of puberty. It can on occasions become a very painful, spiteful and antagonistic forum. Rejection from your order is devastating, just as acceptance can be liberating. In each of the pecking orders there will be jostling and fighting for places amongst the Alphas, Betas and Gammas.
The Alphas trying to stay ahead of the Betas by re-organising the specifications, exerting their power; the Betas fighting amongst themselves for ascendency and validation; and the Gammas being subservient to their Alpha masters, doing all the dirty jobs.
Many of the professionals I teach don’t like the concept of pecking order, especially the division into classes or factions, they feel such a state of affairs is inappropriate and divisive. It is, but it is also normal and to be expected. We shouldn’t suppress it, by doing so, we will only make it more extreme, we need to work alongside it.
Adolescents need to have peer appraisal and assessment, otherwise they won’t know who they truly are. If they don’t try to step up to their pecking orders, they will remain judging themselves by their parent’s criteria, not their peers. Peer appraisal can be harsh by other people’s (outsiders) standards.
Within the framework of any newly forming pecking order there is continual posturing and competition. This needs to be channelled in such a way that it doesn’t lead to violence, intolerance and hatred, and this is mostly the case. As with competition in nature, 99% of the time it remains posturing, it remains bravado, it remains challenge and risk without going too far. I encourage the professionals to let pecking orders occur naturally and not to interfere. Pecking orders often give adolescents a sense of belonging, which they haven’t had before.
People can gain strength from their Gamma status in the pecking order, however lowly and demeaning this may appear to others. A few years ago I worked in the wilderness with a diverse group of teenagers, some from social services and others from well-off backgrounds. They divided and kept separate for the majority of the time, occasionally pushing the boundaries of their groupings, but mostly remaining in their social class. Early one morning I sat with the kids from social services, we poked sticks into the fire, we brewed tea, we chatted, laughed and there was a strong feeling of bond, mutual support and camaraderie. After a while one of the boys from the other group woke and came to join us at the fire. Through no fault or action of his, the atmosphere changed instantly, it became awkward and silent. The boys I was with withdrew back into their social standing, they chose to maintain the status quo.
To some extent the magic was lost, but it was also safer and more secure for those boys to inhabit familiar territory. The social standing to which these boys were conforming can be likened to the ‘Geeks and Jocks’ of America. As teenagers, the majority of us know on which side of the divide we stand. Accepting our place can enable us paradoxically to gain status. Those geeks who know they are geeks, can attempt to become Alpha geeks. In recent years the portrayal of the geek as hero has become a strong motif in Hollywood, and it has shifted the balance of power.
So, despite apparent lowly status boys can find self belief and confidence within their social group. ‘Belonging’ is a very powerful thing, and it reflects knowing your limitations and strengths. When I talked later about the incident with the boys this came over very strongly in their discussion. They said they were happy for the alpha boys to be in charge of the fire most of the time, and they observed such actions with detachment and humour. That morning, through circumstance, they’d taken control of the fire for a period of time, they’d taken control on their terms and in their own particular way. Not stacking loads of wood and creating a huge conflagration, but sticking in the ends of sticks and making them glow. This had made them happy. As one of the lads said ‘I don’t want to be so aggressive and competitive, that kind of behaviour looks very exhausting to me.’
Often those professionals opposed to the idea of pecking order are the ones who behave that way. As a test of this I remind them of the decisions they made (conscious and unconscious) when they entered the room for our training session. Who am I going to sit next to? I won’t sit too close to her. He’s a bit loud and bright, I don’t want to sit with him. Do I sit at the front of the class? Do I sit at the back? Pecking orders are acted on all the time, even when we are supposedly ‘grown up’.

Homosexuality

26 Jul

HomosexualityAmongst men the levels of tactile sensuality differs given the cultural context of the individual. I have a young friend, Brazilian by birth, with whom I work on occasions. Due to his background, we touch, stroke and have our arms around each other on a regular basis. He comes to me with that expectation, and I know I can respond without it being misinterpreted. However, many British men, whom I have know for many years, do not have this tactile expectation, and would misinterpret any such intimacy. This comes directly from a fear of being perceived as being gay, so they do not ‘hug’. This represents such a monstrous misrepresentation of a well-intended and natural feeling, as to be beyond belief. Those men who would instinctively like to give one another a cuddle, without sexual charge, feel intimidated and guilty. This is not natural. Living in the Middle East you see men walking the street hand-in-hand every day, and yet these men are not gay. Such behaviour is expected and normal. There is no denying that our culture has a homophobic edge and it affects all of us. When we suppress gay men, we suppress all men. The oppression and ignorance around homosexuality is worldwide now. When I lived with the Samburu, a nomadic tribe in Kenya, there were discussions around homosexuality, and the elders were very keen to tell me that no Samburu was gay. And yet the warriors had a 15-year apprenticeship during which time they could not mix or stay with women, and had to be together with men. There was an implicit but unspoken agreement that the things occurring during this apprenticeship were tolerated and then ignored. All the warriors married a woman, whether they wanted to or not. Like ourselves, they were in denial. Homosexuality is a biological fact, and the suppression of it a very recent phenomenon. Suppressing homosexuality only came about with the puritanical fundamentalist interpretations of the Bible. It is not a recent ‘evil’ and sign of the moral decline we are presently in. It is not unnatural and cannot be changed by ‘reparative therapies’. Such ideas are abnormal. Homosexuality was (and still is) a very common practice. Recent research has shown that 60 percent of American men have, by the age of 49, had a homoerotic experience to orgasm. We need a more inclusive and enlightened society, which honours and accepts homosexuality and bisexuality. In order to do this we need to be clear about what we are dealing with. There are a small percentage of men (between 3 and 7 percent) who are biologically disposed to homosexuality, for whom there is no bisexuality at all. At the opposite end of the spectrum, there is a similar percentage, who do not have any homoerotic experiences. This leaves about 90 percent of men in the middle with varying degrees of heterosexuality, bisexuality and homosexuality. For them, homosexuality can be a thought, a phase, an experiment, can be a life style choice. When we look at our ancient roots we see how this way of being was incorporated into society not suppressed. Indeed if we step deeper into our shared histories homosexuality was revered and acknowledged as vitally important. In most traditions there is a communality around the concept of homosexual marriages which is the union of the older man and the younger man. These occurred in China, Africa, America, everywhere, but the Greek tradition can be used as an example. The old man (erastes) marries a younger man (eromenos) at the time of his mid-teens, such relationships could only be undertaken with the consent of the eromenos father. In nearly all cases, taboos existed against homosexual rape, and most such societies had taboos or laws intended to protect an unwilling junior partner from an aggressive senior partner. America The First Nations tribes revered and honoured their “Two-Spirit” people. The name indicates the belief that such men were spiritually adept, had insight into spiritual matters and were in that sense a gift to the people. The “Two-Spirit” was able to mediate between the spirit world and the every day, and the tribes people encouraged and supported such behaviour. Amongst the Hopi and the Zuni of Arizona and New Mexico this was especially the case. The gay men kept the traditional stories alive, were involved in healing work, and in many ways became the keepers of tradition. By being between genders, they upheld and maintained the village and were referred to when matters of traditional law were at stake. In other words the gay men were the keepers of the tradition- the establishment -what an inversion we have performed! The First Nations concept was very different to our own, in that they believed there was a continuum of gender – from on one side, male, to on the other, female. This continuum was unbroken and the “Two-Spirits” represented the middle ground between the two extremes. This enabled them to see into both worlds – the male and female – and therefore bring great gifts to the whole community. Their insights and visions were seen as pure and untainted by bias and gender difference, for this they were revered and held in great respect. Rome As with all warrior tribes, the Romans were familiar with homosexuality, and were not ill at ease about it at all. Cicero, a Roman jurists, defends Cnaeus Plancius from the charge that he had taken a male lover into the country to have sex with him, by stating categorically that “this is not a crime.” In Augustinian Rome, not only were male prostitutes allowed, they were even taxed. A Roman historian, Martial, not only mentions many prominent citizens and their male lovers by name, but admits to having engaged in such activities himself, and comments on it without the least evidence of shame. There was no difference in Roman law between homosexual and heterosexual sex or marriage. This all changed in the year 313 when the Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity. Homophobia Amazingly, the persecution and suppression of homosexuality relates directly to the hyena. In Greek times it became popular to look to nature for indicators of how to behave, many people wrote about it, these texts became known as the Bestiaries. They identified certain behaviours with particular beasts, and these wild assumptions were accepted without question. The weasel was not eaten because the female received from the male in her mouth, became pregnant, and gave birth through her ears. The Bestiaries were not only accepted as truths, the Christians adopted them as laws! Translated in the Middle Ages into every medieval vernacular, from Icelandic to Arabic, their influence was worldwide. Fatefully for us all they stated “You shall not eat the hyena or anything like it.” The reason you shouldn’t eat hyena was that it was extremely ugly, dug up graves, and indulged in homosexuality. The Physiologus wrote of it as male-female, at one time male and another female. It was an ‘unclean’ animal because of this sex change. Jeremiah wrote “Never will the den of the hyena be my inheritance.” The laws said you must not become like the hyena, taking first the male and then the female nature, in other words “men with men doing that which is unseemly.” This became ‘fact’, Bernard of Cluny, a thousand years later, said “a man dishonours his maleness, just like a hyena” and everyone knew what he meant. Despite not wanting to be a hyena, the priests, monks and abbots continued to indulge in homosexuality with (pardon the pun) gay abandon, many great poems, texts and literature celebrating their love in erotic and very beautiful prose still exist to this day. The persecution of Pagans, witches and druids gave way to a more ‘sophisticated’ state. The twelfth century in Europe began a move towards conformity and the stranglehold on civil liberties which has continued unabated for hundreds of years. The ruling classes and church realized in order to retain power they needed to keep their people in fear, and this led to the persecution of those deemed ‘deviant’ or different. Let’s blame others for our woes (sounds familiar). Starting with Jews and Muslims the persecutions began, and in order to re-inforce this difference the Muslims in particular were associated with homosexuality. “According to the religion of the Saracens [Muslims], any sexual act whatever is not only allowed but approved and encouraged, so that in addition to innumerable prostitutes, they have effeminate men in great number who shave their beards, paint their faces, put on women’s clothing, wear bracelets on their arms and legs and gold necklaces around their necks as women do, and adorn their chests with jewels. Thus selling themselves into sin, they degrade and expose their bodies; “men working that which is unseemly” they receive “in themselves” the recompense of their sin and error. The Saracens, oblivious of human dignity, freely resort to these effeminates or live with them as among us men and women live together openly.” William of Ada 1167 to 1222 The reaction of Islam to this propaganda, was, of course, repression of its own. To prove the Christians wrong, Islam came to a repressive stance of its own, eventually outdoing even Christianity in its repression of homosexuality. Wrapped within this astonishing tale of ignorance and mythmaking lies our present homophobic attitude. Homophobia is the result of a misunderstanding of the behaviour of hyenas. I am seeking to reclaim the place of the homosexual within society. As the bridge, between male and female, between the every day and the spiritual, as the catalyst for understanding and compassion. In many traditions the concept that a man would wish not to have children was perceived as remarkable, as a sign of true spiritual dedication. It was revered, and such a decision was seen as not being taken lightly. Having made that decision, the man was honoured, and most importantly accepted. His role within society was not on the fringes, but as the keeper of the stories, the keeper of the traditions. He performed this task, because he chose not to have children, so he could devote time to maintaining the connection to spirit, without the distracti

Gender flexibility

26 Jul

Gender flexibility
by Nick Clements

A transexual man, in the process of transitioning, recently attended a ‘men only’ workshop I was running. All the men welcomed him, and his input was very valuable. His fluidity when it came to gender challenged some of the men, but we all agreed that fundamentally we are all gender flexible.
To take that idea further is to acknowledge the breaking of the binary gender fixation which we have endured for the last few hundreds of years. Our ability to be flexible and accept LGBT moves all of us towards our authentic selves. The breaking of the traditional gender roles liberates us from the tyranny of a binary system which was never real, it was just a social construct.
Inflexible binary system
You reap what you sow. We have for many generations adhered to a binary gender system, which has persecuted those not fitting to the model. Inflexible and restrictive, this has damaged us individually and as a culture. I believe, the more gender flexible a culture is, the more value it can add to the future wellbeing of our species. Our world is presently dominated by the fundamentalist tribes of the United States who are facing-off with the fundamentalists of the Middle East and beyond. These two tribes are, by their nature, gender inflexible. Both believe men don’t cry, men are not gay, women are in the kitchen and afraid. These intransigent tribes bring nothing of value to our present world or our future longevity.

Within many indigenous people there has been a much more tolerant view of gender. Professor Barry Hewlett has spent decades studying the Aka tribes of Africa, and he claims their male and female roles are virtually interchangeable. ‘Aka fathers will slip into roles usually occupied by mothers without a second thought and without, more importantly, any loss of status – there’s no stigma involved in the various jobs.’
I’ve spent decades studying the tribes of the United Kingdom, and I can say they are in the process of becoming as gender flexible as the more advanced Aka peoples of Africa. We probably need another three or four generations, and then our men will slip into primary childcare roles without a second thought or loss of status, but many of our families already do this.
Having lived and worked in the South Wales valleys I have witnessed this occurring. The traditional gender roles have undergone a dramatic transformation as a result of the death of the coal industry. The limited jobs replacing coal are mainly piecemeal, part-time, poorly paid, and reliant on very different skills. In other words, ‘they’re women’s work’. As a consequence, large numbers of men are now in the role of primary child-carer, or, at least, as active in childcare as their partner. Reluctant converts to gender flexibility, these men are struggling to comprehend that such a change is actually of benefit and not damaging them.
I work with them to look at their personal inner masculinity and femininity, and to start a process of reconciliation between their own sexuality, gender and masculinity. ‘Your inner man and inner woman have been at war, they are both wounded, tired, and in need of care, it is time to put down the sword which divides them.’ Maureen Murdoch. The concept of an inner king and queen has been adopted by psychotherapy and clinical psychology. I prefer the North European Siberian tradition of four genders.
Four genders
The four-gender model introduces a much easier ability to be gender flexible for the individual. They have a ‘male’ and ‘female’ as with our system, but with two more, a ‘male/female’, and a ‘female/male’. Remarkably, they believe that all four genders reside within the individual, and you can make the journey from being a male through the clearing house of male/female or female/male, to your female, and vice versa.
The key to this new (very old) system is that you don’t lose your maleness by travelling to your inner feminine. In other words, a man can be the primary child-carer, without becoming a wimp (a deep-seated fear of some of the men in South Wales). Equally a woman can be a dynamic pioneer in business without losing her femininity.
The four genders allow us to fulfil our potential without having to lose our identity. Many women say they had to adopt masculine traits in order to become successful in business. They did this because we have a binary system which makes us feel uneasy when we change our gendered behaviour, and often we can be criticised by ourselves and others for it. In a four-gendered system women are successful in business without loosing contact with their essential feminine self. Men adopt their role as primary child carer in a masculine way, not having to lose status and self esteem.
The four genders also enable us to explore our gender identity throughout the passage of our life. We can spend many years being a pioneer (male), and then move into a period of being a nurturer (female), and eventually into a period of reflection (female/male). We all change our gendered behaviour very quickly, from hour to hour even, and it would be beneficial to do so without feeling wrong or being criticised by others.
We have the capacity to be gender benders.Men and women need to explore the wide diversity of gendered behaviour which allows us to truly be our authentic selves. We will always have macho men and nurturing women, but the four genders allow us so much more empathy, consideration and understanding for each other.

From Alpha Boy to Alpha Man

26 Jul

Alpha Boy to Alpha Man

Nick Clements

In the US the educational framework for our young people is based on the principles of competition and the fear of failure. It logically creates winners and losers. The system encourages our successful young men to become ‘Alpha Boys’. They sustain their success by becoming self obsessed, controlling and addicted to rivalry. Frequently, these young men are fast tracked to positions of inordinate responsibility and earn large sums of money. At the same time, many become stressed very early in life, often remain emotionally stunted, unable to form long term relationships, preferring to ‘dedicate’ themselves to their work. Let us remind ourselves, these are the winners!

The Alpha Boy is only doing what he thinks we want him to do. He is responding to the way he was parented, the pressure from his peers, and the messages (subtle and unsubtle) from the popular culture all around him. He is rightly seeking male role models and we are providing him with any number of superficial celebrities, sports stars, gang members, video game protagonists. These all point him towards the goal of continued success at any cost. 

We all know a wide range of entrepreneurs, business people, corporate leaders who have their foot hard on the accelerator and are unwilling to ease off. These men claim that taking the foot off the accelerator will be dangerous, will be an admission of failure, they are wrong. Taking the foot off is actually not as harmful as they believe, and is essential for a long and happy life. They need to realise there is more to life than superficial success. They need to experience the next stage in maturation as a man, and that is called ‘the wounding’. 

The wounding can manifest itself in many different ways in our lives:- being overlooked for promotion, being made redundant, losing a friend, losing status, becoming a parent, it is a very personal process. The true test of a man is how he reacts to disappointment, failure. How he deals with his emotions, and how he acknowledges his diminishment. Not how he deals with success. He needs to face these disappointments, not hide from them. The mature hero, The Alpha Wolf, then emerges: 

  • When he makes mistakes, when he is not successful.
  • When he absorbs and acknowledges his vulnerability. 
  • When he admits he needs help, he doesn’t know all the answers. 
  • When he is comfortable with his loss of control. 

These are the lessons the man has to now learn, these are the role models he now needs to seek, this is how he can become a mature man.

It goes against our nurturing instincts to stand by and say diminishment and disappointment will be good for you, but they are. They create a much more realistic, whole and three dimensional man. Failure moulds us, it actually helps us take our rightful place in society, not a false position. It enables men to take responsibility for their actions. Most importantly, such admissions decrease stress and amazingly increase happiness.

The Alpha Boy is taught at an early age to be obsessed by the material world. The Alpha Wolf adds spirituality and compassion to his life skills, he sees the bigger picture. A direct consequence of this is his increased ability to forge mature loving relationships with women, and now he is able to see men as friends not rivals. 

These are the role models we need to be promoting in the popular press and media. 

This is how we need men to be portrayed in films and books. 

These are the types of conversations we need to be having with our sons. 

We need to signpost our boys as to how to become emotionally intelligent. We need to encourage men to see the benefits of such vulnerabilities, rather than see them as admissions of weakness. This is not a simple or easy path. However, this is essential work for boys and men, and it’s undertaking will be of value to girls and women too.

Nick Clements in a workshop leader and inspirational speaker, who has recently completed a trilogy of books on male spirituality and rites of passage. He writes a highly influential weekly blog on masculinity at www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/nick-clements/

Visit www.nick-clements.com

Or www.thenewagesofmen.com

His latest novel, ‘The Alpha Wolf, A Tale About The Modern Male’ is available from Amazon and all good book stores.

26 Jul

THE FOUR GENDER CONCEPT
By
Nick Clements

We are born of the union of man and woman, as a consequence, every man has within him a woman, every woman has an inner man. Each human being is a mix of femininity and masculinity, their body and minds are a cauldron of constantly changing emotions, feelings and assumptions. Despite our outward solid appearance, there is an inner turmoil and uncertainty.

Our culture teaches us that there are only two genders, and there is a constant ‘battle’ between them. I believe this to be unhelpful, and by adhering to this myth we perpetuate a huge amount of suffering and injustice in the world.

Each one of us has an outer and inner gender and they are opposite and yet connected. A man may behave in a macho manner, outwardly strong, unemotional and intransigent. By doing so, he can feel he is upholding a male tradition, he is perpetuating something of value. But, this assumption is a cultural one, it doesn’t actually relate to his sensibility as a human being. Such a man will have within him the opposite, the capacity to be emotional, to be lost and vulnerable. He has been taught not to accept these inner qualities, and so they may shrivel and become difficult to find, but they still exist.

It is a huge jump for this man to transition from being macho to then including and becoming conscious of his emotional side. Despite his outward appearance the contacting of his emotional intelligence will serve him well, it is a desirable outcome. In order to facilitate such change, I work with the concept of four genders, not just two. Between the opposite poles of the male and female sit the halfway houses of male/female and female/male. They enable us to move easily between the genders, they facilitate change, they allow flow to occur. So, for me, each of us has four genders within and without us, and we are each able to make the journey to all of them, not just staying with one.

Over the past two years I have started using the four gender concept both in my therapeutic practice for individuals and in my group work with men and/or women. The concept gives us the capacity to step beyond the boundaries of our given identity, and explore the wider context of who we really are, how we relate to others, and how we are seen in the world. There are a lot of very confused people who feel restricted by their maleness or femaleness. They don’t need to be gay, transsexual or have undergone surgery to feel misunderstood in their sexuality or gender identity.

Every one of us has struggled at some time with our understanding of what it is to be a man or a woman. If we accept we have four genders then this confusion melts away, and we are left as travellers on a wide-ranging scale of being. A man can be as feminine as he likes, without losing his masculinity. A woman can be masculine but will be able to return to her feminine aspect without shame, anger or misunderstanding. We, as individuals, can be any one of the four genders despite our given sex. This liberates our mindset and can radically alter the way in which we develop the future of humanity.

The four gender concept

Female/Female

Male/Female Female/Male

Male/Male

Within each of us lies the four genders wheel and each gender is represented by a quarter of the circle. As a woman you may mostly inhabit the female/female aspect of yourself, and the female half of your circle, you will not often inhabit the male half, but it exists within you, and is available.

We inhabit any one of these genders at any given moment. We can travel across the spectrum in a moment and throughout our lifetime. Men can inhabit the female aspect and get there through their Male/Female or Female/Male aspect. Women don’t have to always remain in the Female aspect, they can travel and experience their maleness.

When we are men who inhabit the four genders the saying ‘boys don’t cry’ doesn’t apply. Such men can be as vulnerable and emotional as they need to be. When we are women in the four genders the saying ‘girls don’t play rough’ doesn’t apply. Such women can be as adventurous and as much into their leadership role as they need to be.

One of the key factors in the creation of a holistic and collaborative future society will be our ability to accommodate and encourage such an exploration of gender. The breaking down of the gender stereotypes will be crucial in the development of collaboration, empathy and compassion. Already, when I work with groups, I have witnessed many instances of people being able to express themselves fully and without prejudice, just by understanding the four genders.

Nick Clements is an author and workshop leader. He has facilitated change for individuals and communities for over 30 years. As an internationally recognised expert in male spirituality and rites of passage he talks at conferences and gives lectures all over the world.
Has recently had a novel ‘The Alpha Wolf’ published by Roundfire Books.
His blog on masculinity can be found at: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/nick-clements/ More details on his work can be found at http://www.nick-clements.com

Couvade – the rite of passage to fatherhood

26 Jul

COUVADE
The rite of passage into fatherhood
by Nick Clements

I have been working with men and boys since 1975, and in the last 15 or so years creating teenage rites of passage. In order to understand such a concept I have been very privileged to be able to spent time with indigenous people from around the world. Using their knowledge and wisdom as a foundation I have been creating new rites of passage relevant to today’s society.A casual comment from a teacher five years ago led me on a fascinating journey. We were discussing how boys need guidance from elders, and he casually said “….they need them then, and they need them during all their rites of passages in later life.” The discussion moved onto the idea of there being different stages (or ages) through which men pass, and men need mentoring at these times in order to pass through the appropriate rite of passage. This made me want to find what the appropriate rite of passage for each age was and still can be. I’ve been on a journey ever since, travelling and researching, but I think I’ve now found them all.

In terms of parenting and our present understanding, we are familiar with the teenage or ‘warrior’ age and it’s rite of passage, defined by three stages. These are firstly, an increase in testosterone; this fuels the ascent away from the family home; and ends with the process of individuation, the finding of oneself. This process needs to be held by the whole community, organised by ‘elders’, and is a very complex and multi-layered event lasting many years. Once the boy has been through such a process, he faces the next rite of passage. The next age is ‘fatherhood’, and in order to be ready to become one he needs to pass through the rite of passage called ‘couvade’.

Couvade is a now obsolete French word meaning literally to sit on eggs

Couvade is not a very useful word, but it is the only one out there at the moment. It can mean “cowardly incapacity”, so I need to explain it more fully. It was first used in anthropological studies of indigenous people during the early 1800’s. These early (all male) anthropologists encountered different types and forms of couvades on every continent of the planet. The early anthropologists almost exclusively studied books, artefacts and frequented museums, very few undertook fieldwork, and fewer still actually met indigenous people. Through the course of such flawed research they uncovered various (to them) baffling rituals. These offended their sense of masculinity and so they were all called ‘couvade’. Examples came from the Aboriginal people of Australia, from India, from the Americas, and, particularly, from the Celtic and Basque countries of Europe. Very few rituals were documented correctly or explained in depth. Reading between the lines the overriding principles were as follows:-
The prospective father would be mentored prior to birth, an elder would tutor him in the ways of appropriate ‘couvade’ for his culture. This mentor was the male equivalent of the midwife.
The prospective father would incapacitate himself by lying down during the last days of his partner’s pregnancy.
He would forsake violence, put down all weapons, wear loose clothing, no knots, he would ‘feminize’ himself.
During the birth he would either be encouraged to, or threatened with, (depending on which continent you lived) the sharing of his partners pain.
Immediately after birth he would accept the baby and lie with it in his bed. In many traditions he is fed and showered with gifts during the next days.
These many rituals were so foreign and ridiculous to Victorian sensibilities, they have been all but removed from our cultural heritage, and the practice of couvade is now extinct as far as I can tell.

At the same time as discovering these gems I came across references to couvade, but using the term in a very different context. Scientists are now piecing together a very interesting picture in terms of how the prospective father is affected mentally, physically and psychologically by his partner’s pregnancy, and they are calling this ‘couvade’. The research is worldwide and the conclusions are beginning to take shape:-
Up to 60% of men are affected either psychologically or physically by their partner’s pregnancy.
In the man, there can be a rise in estrogen and a decline in testosterone particularly during the third trimester.
Some have morning sickness, nose bleeds, bloating, enlarged nipples.
Some know their partner is pregnant before they do.
The majority of men talk of their partner’s pregnancy and the sharing of birth and early childhood as being a ‘wake-up call’. They change their lifestyle, friends, job and attitudes towards life.
The likelihood of ‘fatherly bonding’ with the baby is greatly increased if he has experienced these physical and psychological phenomena, and if he is active and present during the birth.

For me as someone who undertakes ritual and ceremonies, these two linked but separate descriptions of couvades, inspires and excites me. Just as with the teenage rites of passage we are describing a three-stage rite of passage. An increase in estrogen; the contacting of the inner female; and the development of responsibility. These are the foundations for a rite of passage, and they are sorely needed in these times of absent and disinterested fathers. A man who has been assisted by a mentor through such a rite is no longer in the process of individuation, he is linking with the female and by doing so he is jointly creating something, a new baby.

This year I will be running, together with midwives, retreats for expectant couples, during which we will be enabling the men to explore the concept of couvade, develop their own relationship to it, and help them understand how they can be active and engaged in a masculine way with the pregnancy, birth and early childhood cycle. We’ll be reclaiming couvade as a rite of passage, and maybe coming up with a far better name for it. It is the opportunity to create and develop again a rite for men in terms of their passage into fatherhood- now there’s a challenge worth taking!

Convenience parenting

26 Jul

CONVENIENCE PARENTING AND THE TEENAGER
By Professor Nick Clements

I am employed by governments and local authorities to advise them on their provision for young people. I also run training programmes enabling teenagers to make positive contributions to society. I have specialised in working with teenagers since 1975, when I was one myself. Such work is not glamorous, it is mostly hard work, but it can also be very rewarding. I am the parent of two children who are in their twenties.

Right now there is a strong media focus on teenagers and their associated problems, especially since the riots of last year. I welcome the attention, although I do not agree with some of the opinions being expressed. Most of the reactions to the riots or similar stories of adrenalin fuelled escapades have been simplistic – lock them up, bring back conscription, ‘a clip round the ear from a policeman never did me any harm’. After the knee-jerks it feels as though we are starting to address the long-term issues of being a teenager and how to integrate them in a more mature manner. Considered alternatives urgently need to be explored, it is not a problem which will simply go away.

Over the years I’ve developed a few techniques and ways of working with teenagers, particularly those referred to me by social services and other agencies. I’m happy to share the theory of this practice, and I hope this adds to the debate.

To start with, we must recognise that a teenager (let’s say he is a boy) doesn’t appear fully-grown on the planet. He is a child before he becomes a teenager. Many of the troubles with teenager behaviour lie in the way they were treated as children. In recent years we have been encouraged to be formulaic in our parenting of children. Part of this formula has created what I call ‘convenience parenting’. Convenience parents don’t like to waste their time, they look for short cuts, and are very good at blaming others. The encumbrance and responsibility of having to bring up a child or children is minimised by their reliance and dependence on external artefacts, people, and services. All of them set up for the benefit of the parent, not the child. From birth through to teenagehood the needs of the child are subservient to the wants of the convenience parent, and this is incredibly damaging for the developing child.

Convenience parenting
Convenience parenting is endemic and we are so familiar with it that we probably don’t recognise many of it’s symptoms. Here are ten symptoms which I come across very often in my work:

1 It starts at with pregnancy and particularly birth. The process of birth is hurried along by drugs, forceps, impatient doctors, worried and concerned parents. Caesarean births are on the increase, stirrup births are exponentially increasing for the convenience of doctors and out of fear of litigation. Many babies who are quite happy in the womb are violently and abruptly dragged out against their will, because they are past their ‘due’ date. This causes trauma, stress and vulnerability to diseases and illness.

2 For nine months the baby has been held securely in the womb, and he needs to continue having that skin on skin close contact with someone. It doesn’t have to be the mother, but he will seek physical contact at all times. Often this ‘demanding individual’ is put down in a cot and left alone. Worst of all left to cry himself to sleep. This is certainly not for his convenience, but it somehow makes sense to the parents.

3 Children gain skills, abilities and qualities from spending time with their parents. This is different in many ways from time with paid servants and child minders. If someone is paid to look after a baby, the quality of their care for him will not be as deep or loving as that of the parent who does it out of love. The child wants to bond very strongly with the parents, he want to know who his parents are, to spend quality time with them. The parents gain hugely from this shared time too! All too often the child doesn’t play or have fun with their parents.

4 Children need to be played with, every day. Play is the best and most effective way of learning. The sad truth is I am employed to teach parents how to spend time with their children – enabling them to recognise it as useful to them and to their child – indeed many parents start to play and have fun for the first time in their lives.

5 Children need to be in awe of the world, to explore and be imaginative. I show parents how to stop stifling their children’s creativity and wonder. Certain phrases are guaranteed to stifle and restrict.
‘Don’t do that’
‘Yuk, it’s dirty’
‘Boys don’t cry’
These are not good ways of communicating about the world.
‘Aren’t you clever’
‘Let’s explore this together’
‘I don’t know, so let’s find out’
Will open new horizons and promote closeness and love.

6 Becoming a parent alters and affects your social life. It takes some parents a great deal of time to realise they have responsibilities and commitments as a parent. They can’t go out when they like, they need to take care of their child, they are restricted in many ways. They have to change their lifestyle.

7 Television and computers are distractions, they can be educational, they are not child minders.

8 Spending time listening to your children instead of trying to keep them quiet is essential, and should be practiced every day.

9 Going on a family holiday should be a shared experience, not farming the children out to inexperienced teenagers to amuse them for 10 hours a day.

10 Driving them to and from activities and courses, being the taxi, isn’t necessarily ‘good parenting’. Use the time to share discussions and thoughts, don’t ignore each other.

There are many more examples of convenience parenting, but I think you get the picture. The cumulative effect is the child doesn’t know his parents, and the parents don’t know him. There is a huge gulf between them, and this becomes accentuated with the oncoming of puberty and teenagehood.

The parents can be suddenly confronted by a raging scary teenager, who, for them, seems to have appeared from nowhere. He has been so sidelined, suppressed, ignored, disenfranchised, rebutted, farmed out – he has a great deal of righteous rage, and is now prepared to kick and shout in order to be seen and heard.

Many teenagers have attempted to conform, be quiet, be good, during their formative years. This strategy comes from their wish to please their parents. All they wanted in return was to be listened to, and receive attention and praise. However, by the time they become teenagers they realise this strategy has failed. They haven’t received the attention, love and care they wanted by being ‘good’. So what alternative is open to them? Gain the attention by other means.

Too many parents of teenagers come to me and say:
‘I can’t understand it, I gave him everything he wanted.’
Material goods mean nothing, without love, time and personal attention they are hollow.
They then add.
‘I just want him to be good. To not use drugs, not get a girl pregnant.’
If he does this, it would be most inconvenient for the parents.

Teenagers are not just teenagers
There is a huge difference between your son as a 13 year old and a 19 year old. You need to treat him differently as he grows. He will not necessarily become a man suddenly on his 20th birthday. The process and changes he is involved in can take many years, often 15 years or longer to resolve. He is making a transition from being a child to being a grown up, and this is not simple. For me, he is involved in three separate but linked developmental processes:-

He is sorting out his ‘pecking order’
He is leaving home
He is trying to define himself

Pecking order
At this age we test each other out. The flexing of muscles, both physical and metaphorical is to be expected. It enables teenagers to build their friendship and work circles. This inevitably leads to rivalries, disappointments, misunderstandings and trouble, as well as bonding, friendships and love.

Leaving home
He should be wanting to leave home, to make his way in the world, to no longer rely on his parents. This can be very traumatic for the parents as well as the teenagers.

Defining himself
He is seeking to define himself anew, not as the son of the mother, but as an individual. The creation of a new, original, identity is vital. This new person is best created by following his passion – finding what he is good at – rather than trying to conform to other people’s expectations. The expectations of parents’ and teachers’ can often be very biased and divisive, they may well need to be challenged.

These are three very difficult tasks. We seem to have forgotten quite how complex this work is. We expect our teenagers to complete the process in a few months, a couple of years at the most, and then everything can return to being ‘normal’ again. The whole point is, as parents of teenagers, our lives will never be the same again, there is no going back. Most of the problems parents encounter with their teenagers come from not listening to them, or not showing them enough respect. I always say as the older partners in the relationship it is up to the parents to start the process of change.

Here is my hit-list for evaluating your relationship with your teenager, do you do all or any of the following? :

Empathise
Take time to realise that the three tasks for teenagers are challenging and difficult. Listen to his concerns, wishes and hopes. Spend time with other teenagers, not your own, it will amaze you how complicated, intelligent and brave they are. Bring that back home with you.

It’s never too late…
To say you are sorry, to build bridges, to listen and learn, to say you love him, to give him a hug, to spend time with him.

Talk to him, not at him
Tell him about your passions, share your enthusiasms. How you have been thwarted in the past, your disappointments. Don’t patronise him, tell it is at it was. Ask him about his dreams, wishes and aspirations, don’t dismiss anything.

Express your appreciation and gratitude
Emphasise the positive. Tell him how you feel when he does things in a collaborative or loving manner. Be grateful for the little things he does.

Don’t’ take it personally
Remember it’s just a phase he’s going through. He will not be like this all the time. We all go through such times. Take deep breaths.

Role models
As a parent of a child you can be a role model and hero to him. However, when he becomes a teenager, he will need different and diverse role models. He is trying to separate from you – so he is naturally looking beyond you and into the wider world. He will seek male role models, so provide him with some. If you don’t, he will find his own.

They need to make mistakes
If he is always protected and cosseted, it is not so easy to learn. It is a lot quicker and more effective to learn from mistakes than successes. This is a tough lesson for the parents, let alone the teenager.

Character
Teenagers who make mistakes will become interesting grown ups. Do you want to restrict and stop him from developing wholly and completely? In order to do so he needs to experience the shadow as well as the light.

He is asking the question ‘Why?’
That’s what teenagers do. It is a difficult question to answer. You can no longer give glib answers. You need to answer him fully, as an adult, not a child. Maybe some of his ideas are actually better than yours!

He is still very young
Please remember this when you see a bunch of kids hanging out on a street corner. They are vulnerable young people despite their appearance. If you have this attitude you are far less likely to be threatened or abused.

Don’t try to act, look, or talk like them
All too often the youth and community workers I share my practice with suffer under the delusion that they can imitate and ‘get with’ the young people. It is not attractive, and will almost invariable alienate the teenagers you are seeking to connect to.

Be yourself, be honest
I remain myself whilst working with teenagers. Indeed I often stress the differences in age and outlook. Teenagers like me because I know who I am, I have an opinion. I share my mistakes as well as my triumphs.

Respect is to be won, not a given
Many people tell me young people have no respect for their elders. Young people say to me. ‘You have to earn respect, just because you’re old doesn’t mean you deserve respect’. They respect me when they get to know me, when I have proved my worth. That’s how it should be.

Success
So many parents focus on the negative. They become depressed and angered by his ‘failure’ to be ‘successful’. Every cloud has a silver lining. He may take drugs, his girlfriend may have an abortion, but they worked it out themselves. What is success? If you believe in them, if you love them, they are successful.

Touch them
Many parents stop cuddling and comforting him when he becomes a teenager. The withdrawal of physical contact between the parents and the teenager can cause a lot of damage on a number of levels. He may object, but notice how and when, probably in front of others, when you are alone continue to offer physical comfort.

The human race is a long one. Please don’t prejudge a teenager’s success or failure. They still have a long way to go to becoming a complete human being. The role of the teenager in society is vital. They challenge the establishment. They bring about change, disruption, and renewal. Such energetic disruptions are to be encouraged not stifled. Especially given the mess we have created on the planet and within our society, we need to be listening to them and encouraging them to take responsible actions as well as being adventurous.

It feels like we have turned our backs on teenagers. We need to be bringing them back into society rather than turning them into outlaws and outcasts. A mature society and responsible parents can accept the risks of such a strategy. Indeed the survival of our species depends on us taking such action.

Nick Clements is an author, consultant and workshop leader using creativity to address social and environmental problems. He is also employed to teach and lectures on masculinity all over the world. His unique techniques enable thousands of people to move through personal development to recognise their benefit for the wider community. His work remains a benchmark in his field, in recognition of his outstanding contribution he was made a Visiting Lecturer at Staffordshire University in 2009.
He has written two books on male rites of passage and is available to facilitate groups and workshops on such issues.
He is about to publish a novel on masculinity ‘The Alpha Wolf’ which will be available in early 2013.
For more information about his work and books on masculinity, visit
http://www.nick-clements.com