It's Alright [For Guys] To Hug
- May 28th, 2009
- 3 Comments
Yesterday one of the OpEd editors from the New York Times asked me to comment on how teen rituals spread and alluded to hugging as an example—it was very last minute and I didn’t realize our short comments were packaged with an entire story devoted to teen hugging. After reading the article, what stood out to me as being really new is straight male teens being more comfortable with showing this sort of physical affection towards other guys.
At the girls school I briefly attended in Nashville, hugs were commonplace, along with Southern accented squeals of “Oh my god! It’s so great to see you!” even though we just saw each other an hour ago. As a couple of the teen hugging detractors in the Times piece said, sometimes this sort of gratuitous hugging can feel somewhat superficial or just for show. But with guys, not so much. This was the 80s, when even our beloved John Hughes movies contained a homophobic slur or two. Fear of being labeled gay as a teen guy was rampant and real.
Apart from all of the speculation offered in the story about why hugging has proliferated in schools—wired teens wanting to connect in more “real” ways, growing up hyper-organized and loyal to the group, changing boundaries of touch since the 70s, I would argue that the greater level of acceptance of gays and lesbians in the culture at large and especially within youth culture has freed up teen guys to feel more comfortable showing affection.
Obviously there is still discrimination and bullying of gay and lesbian teens, but there is also more tolerance, gay-straight alliances and a higher degree of gay and lesbian visibility in YA books, television and film than ever before. I also believe that the changing role of fathers in our culture—being more involved with their kids, and certainly showing more affection than perhaps their fathers did, is liberating young guys as well. And finally, the acceptance of the “meterosexual” guy or straight males who are more in touch with their feminine side, at least when it comes to fashion and grooming, has also helped to loosen up gender roles.
As for schools cracking down on hugging or even banning it from the hallways—I can think of a lot bigger issues to focus on (bullying/violence, dropout rates, etc.), can’t you?