Looking Back to Look Forward: Revisiting In a Different Voice
She does not lack a sense of self, but she hears it as “strange” to describe herself as connecting with others rather than standing apart from them. In this way, she alerts us to a culture in which the self is presumed to be separate and to the difference between her response and a voice that says, “I would describe myself as an enthusiastic, passionate person who is slightly arrogant. Concerned, committed, very tired right now because I didn’t get much sleep last night.” Different voices. One mentions relationships in describing the self, one does not.
Gail has learned to soak up anger (her own and that of others) in order to be “what I should be,” and Fernando, in learning how to be a man, has learned to regard wanting others to be there for him as “sissy-like.”
As a high school junior, Nick, another of the boys in Way’s studies, speaks of losing his friends:
It is not surprising then that at times in development when children are initiated into the codes and scripts of patriarchal manhood and womanhood—times when it becomes essential for boys to act like “real boys” and for girls to become “good girls,” when those who do not are shamed, beaten, excluded, mocked, shunned and condemned—it is not surprising that these times in development are marked by signs of psychological distress. Among boys between the ages of five and seven, the age when boys who cross gender boundaries are called girls or gay or sissies or mama’s boys, there is a high incidence of learning and speech disorders, attention problems, and out of touch and out of control behavior. Boys show more signs of depression than girls until adolescence, the time when the division between good and bad girls sets in, enforced by often vicious practices of inclusion and exclusion. At adolescence, there is a heightened risk to girls’ resilience, reflected in a suddenly increased incidence among girls of depression, eating disorders, cutting and other forms of destructive behavior. In the late years of high school, around sixteen or seventeen—the time when Nick says, “I’m not close to anybody now”—the suicide rate rises sharply among boys, as does the rate of homicide.
“And you remember your spunk?” I ask him, wondering about the word, its sexual overtones, its evocation of life and joy. “Yeah,” he says. “How did you lose it?” I wonder. Alex hesitates. “I think I just got into trouble so much in school … I remember, I think it took me until about tenth grade to figure that out.” It is as if he is fighting with memory as he speaks of having been good enough in school, getting good grades, “but every now and then I would remember, you know”—he breaks the sentence, then picks it up—“There’d be a parent–teacher conference where, you know, ‘This kid is out of control, there’s too much energy here,’ or something like that.” He recalls the words of his parents and teachers, but for himself, this otherwise very articulate man seems to be at a loss for words or to have no words for what he remembers—a sensation perhaps, a spirit rising, a liveliness that became linked with being “out of control” or having “too much energy.” “I just became good,” Alex says, “and decided, you know, to study hard and blend into the crowd, and go to track practice, that was it.” Tom, another father, interjects, “That sucked up the energy.” But Alex continues on his train of thought: “And it was, it’s sad.” Speaking of his five-year-old son, he says, “I really don’t want that to happen to him.” “So what’s the negative?” asks Michael, another father; “What did you lose?” Illustrating his point with his manner, Alex says matter-of-factly, “I think I lost my spunk.”
Asked why he shouldn’t steal the drug, she says,
There are many things one can notice in her response having to do with social class, the justice system, the active role she accords the unnamed wife in the decision making, and the narrative form her reasoning takes. But most striking perhaps is the recognition that Amy was not answering the interviewer’s question. The woman interviewing her had asked: “Should Heinz steal the drug?” (Would stealing be right or wrong?) whereas to Amy the question was: “Should Heinz steal the drug?” (Is stealing the best thing to do?). Suddenly her answer makes sense. There might, as she says, be better ways to solve this problem. Amy’s voice is unsettling because she gives voice to something that rings true to experience but is at odds with what has been socially constructed as reality or morality. The research on girls’ development exposed this gap between experience and a socially constructed reality.