Originally posted on February 20, 2012
In his article The End of Boys, Mark Sherman ponders culture’s shifting impact on boys. While plenty of people talk about the end of men, it is really boys who will pay the price. As Sherman notes, girls outperform boys on most levels, and the situation does not appear to be getting better for boys:
You may have already seen data comparing how young American males and females are doing today, but one of the best comparisons comes from Tom Mortenson, a senior scholar at the Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education, in his oft-cited “For every 100 girls…” Here is a sampling of his statistics: “For every 100:
• tenth grade girls who play videogames for an hour or more a day, there are 322 tenth grade boys who do.
• girls who are suspended from high school, there are 215 boys who are suspended.
• young women who earn a bachelor’s degree, there are 75 men who do.
• women ages 25-29 who have at least a bachelor’s degree, there are 83 men who do.
• women ages 25-29 who have a doctoral degree, there are 80 men who do.
• females ages 15-24 who kill themselves, 586 males do.
• women ages 18-24 who are in correctional facilities, there are 1439 men who are behind bars.”
Those numbers should be a wake up call for anyone with boys in their families. With the exception of the first statistic (I know people love to hate on videogames or whatever popular thing boys like, but honestly playing videogames more than girls is hardly the problem), the above numbers are troubling. They show a society that seems to discount boys to such an extent that it would rather have them drop out of school. lock them up or have them kill themselves rather than have them succeed.
Sherman goes on to state:
… [M]y three daughters-in-law, all born between 1961 and 1983, knew they could do whatever they wanted. They are, of course, the beneficiaries of a women’s movement that was necessary and important—and still very much is in many parts of the world. But in our country today, and in much of the developed world, even the most casual look at statistics will show that it is our young males who need our help and attention far more than our young females.
Ultimately, I believe the impetus will have to come from the parents and grandparents of boys, though I can sense in feminists with sons the conflicts they feel around this issue. […] Closer to home, I have listened to a feminist friend talk with concern about her only child, a son in his early 30s, who has struggled with work and relationships. […] I know she is worried about her son, but, as I have seen so many times when parents talk about the problems their sons are having, she sees it as an individual problem, not as a social one. I am sure it is hard for her to accept the possibility that the feminism she so strongly believes in might have, by ignoring boys, allowed a progressively more unbalanced situation to develop, one in which her son is caught up.
Sherman’s observation about feminism’s impact on boys is nothing new. Plenty of people, from Warran Farrell to Christina Hoff Sommers, talk about how the focus on girls resulting in people ignoring boys. Yet it is not just that people ignored boys, but that they also set up institutions to work against boys. The education system in its current form is heavily geared towards girls. The prison system is built around putting more boys and men in prison. The social service programs either focus on girls specifically or women’s issues.
When groups, schools, and organizations break these molds and decide to help boys, they do not always get support. There are plenty of feminists who support single-sex schools and classrooms, but only for girls, despite that boys in single-sex classes and schools classes do much better academically than boys in mixed sex classes.
It should be a no-brainer that focusing only on one group would cause problems for those being ignored. It should also be a no-brainer that boys and young men who appear unfocused are probably that way because no one has ever tried to motivate them. Our culture spent the last forty years telling its daughters that they could do and be anything they wanted, yet it forgot to say the same thing to its sons.
While some people have a wealth of internal motivation, much of what pushes a person to achieve is outside support. If parents, teachers, and the community never tell boys they can achieve whatever they set their minds to, never encourage them, never motivate them to put forth the effort, never support their interests and goals, how can we as a society act shocked when boys and young men drift through their lives?