Lisa Bloom Isn’t Impressed by Your ’Swagger’
Take out the ear buds
EDGE: In mainstream thug culture, the role models sold to males traffic severely in violence, misogyny, and homophobia. How can parents help their children who are exposed to these forces, since eradicating them entirely isn’t an option?
LISA BLOOM: Step One: Take out the earbuds and listen to what you kids is listening to. You are about to be appalled. If you don’t understand the lyrics, Google them and get translations of unknown words on UrbanDictionary.com.
Step Two: Limit his exposure to stuff that’s age-inappropriate. When in doubt, turn it off.
Step Three: Engage him in conversations about this stuff. I have scripts in the book for how to do this. Speak out about your values loudly and often.
EDGE: You’ve been a strong, consistent voice for animal welfare. Talk a little about the effect removing violence from the dinner table can have on boys.
LISA BLOOM: My eleven year old nephew, Tennessee, just went vegetarian because of his compassion for animals. Thankfully, his family is supportive. We must always support our kids’ choices to be kind and caring, even if we choose to live a different way. So much in our culture teaches boys that manhood is defined by cruelty, thuggery, violence, assault, even rape. How fabulous when a kid rejects that.
I’m a lifelong vegetarian and went vegan three years ago. I could write an entire book about how this has changed my life so profoundly. At 50, I’m healthier than most 25 year-olds. I run marathons and climb mountains, waiting for everyone else to catch up. Even better is the connection I feel with animals and the planet, knowing that I boycott the intensely cruel factory farming industry three times a day.
Children naturally love animals. At some point, we drum that out of them, teaching that they "have to" eat meat and just accept the cruelty inherent in that. But it’s a lie. I’m inspired by parents who raise vegetarian or vegan kids, and by the children who make that choice for themselves. They have to wonder, "If everyone else is wrong about eating meat, what else are they wrong about?"
EDGE: What are some of the benefits of having an animal companion in the home?
LISA BLOOM: Children with animals at home have better social skills, are more emotionally stable, are better able to read nonverbal communications, and even have stronger immune systems. And they’re less afraid of dogs as adults.
I can’t imagine my childhood without my dogs, nor my kids’ childhood without theirs. Our rescues are members of the family. If nothing else, they teach us humans the proper way to greet someone at the front door: with a lot of jumping up and down and enthusiastic kissing!
EDGE: One of the most unique elements of "Swagger" is that you personally interviewed adolescent males. What about the boys did you find most surprising?
LISA BLOOM: Their eagerness to talk to me. I thought it would be a challenge to get them to open up. But they talked and talked, until they were pulled away. I thought, "Does no one really talk to them about their lives?" Our boys are far more sensitive than they let on. They are dying for someone to pay attention to them, to hear them out.
EDGE: Many boys grow up with hard-working single moms, as their fathers have left. Are there ways these kids can connect with positive male influences?
LISA BLOOM: Big Brothers of America is a fabulous program. My fiancé has had a "Little Brother" for years, and it’s been a beautiful thing in both their lives. Enlist grandfathers, uncles, cousins. Boys love their moms but emulate their dads. When dads are gone, conscript a good man to be present in his life. Once a week, he can take your son to the park to throw a ball around and talk about life, or take him to the library and encourage a love of reading.
And men reading this - yes, this means you - Boys need you! Today, now! Pick one, and make a lifelong difference. In the book I have tips for how to do this.
EDGE: Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with EDGE. A final question: What is the central message you hope people take from ’Swagger’?
LISA BLOOM: My pleasure. As Frederick Douglass said, "It is easier to raise strong children than repair broken men." We can do this. We must do this. I’m unwilling to write off a generation of boys. I’m unwilling to look at them as feeders for our out-of-control prison system. I refuse to turn my back as they drop out of school and face staggering unemployment rates. They are our boys, and they deserve better. Our job is to get them there.
"Swagger: 10 Urgent Rules for Raising Boys in an Era of Failing Schools, Mass Joblessness, and Thug Culture" is available here in hardcover, unabridged audiobook, and e-book format.