Where are the men?
It seems a bizarre question to ask, yet given the current situation in the education system and many community centers, it is one we must ask.
For almost three decades we have watched men lose their position in society. It is not only reflected in the education and community support systems. It also appears throughout pop culture. Gone are positive fathers from TV and film. Now fathers are the comic relief. Our commercials feature men barely (and often not) more intelligent than pets. Articles, talk shows, and studies abound touting the “inherent” uselessness and pointlessness of men. We are constantly told that men essentially do not matter, except in how they can benefit and protect women.
If the message is not the above, then it is the claim that men are predators who ruin the world for everyone, particularly for women. Men are harassers, bullies, batterers, and rapists. Men need to be taught not to rape, not to beat, and to learn affirmative, enthusiastic consent lest they remain villains.
The net result of this is that men stop engaging. The impact of that is that boys lack positive male role models. What they get instead are a host of conflicting messages that ultimately tell them that being male is wrong.
It should come as no surprise that boys now lag behind girls across many social and educational spectrums. Dr. Leonard Sax noted this recently:
Last June, Boston Public Schools announced its list of high school valedictorians for 2016. Of the 37 top achievers, only 11 were male. Those numbers don’t surprise Leonard Sax, M.D., Ph.D., who has been studying gender for more than 15 years.
“If you look at the proportion of graduates from American four-year universities, 58 percent are women and 42 percent are men. In Canada, it’s 61 to 39. College-educated women under 35 outnumber men 3 to 2,” he says.
In his book Boys Adrift, Sax points to five factors causing boys’ current situation:
Prescription drugs for ADHD
The devaluation of masculinity
It is doubtful that video games are the problem. They are, however, a symptom of the failed teaching methods, over-drugging, and devaluation of masculinity. When boys are stripped of their sense of purpose and worth, video games can provide a degree of comfort. In those games, boys can have value. They can be useful. They can be good. They can be men.
If one listens to the popular refrain, boys do not need men, nor do they need to be men. Masculinity is just a social construct. Boys will be fine never having any positive men in their lives. Or at the very least, the only men they need to see are men who “value” and “respect” women.
Yet as Sax explains:
Sax argues positive male role models are essential because emotional maturation, unlike puberty, doesn’t happen automatically.
“Every enduring culture has rules, has a notion of what it means to be a good man,” he says. “Boys are not born knowing those rules. They have to be taught.”
Not only do boys need to be taught these rules, they are often eager to learn them. This is something I learned through volunteering. Boys crave older male attention. The more confident and in control that older male, the more boys look to him for guidance, reassurance, and discipline.
Losing that man’s respect can be a far more devastating punishment than anything else. Likewise, gaining that man’s respect can change how a boy treats others and how he thinks of himself. As Sax notes:
While Sax is quick to acknowledge women can teach boys plenty (and men can teach girls a lot), he says gender roles are best modeled and taught by someone of the same gender. Citing the work of anthropologist David Gilmore, he says, “Cultures that endure have strong bonds across generations for boys to learn from a community of men and for girls to learn from a community of women.”
In Boys Adrift, for example, he describes a carefully planned program called Boys to Men that provides mentoring and camping opportunities for teens. But he also cites the example of J.R. Moehringer, who found his community of men at a local bar long before he was old enough to drink. (In his memoir of that time, The Tender Bar, Moehringer writes, “To be a man, a boy must see a man.”)
The last line could not more true. Manhood is something learned, and while one can certainly learn what not to be from bad examples, the best method of learning how to be a man is having men in your life who act as role models. Sax mentions that these role models do not have to be significantly older, but it is often better if they are:
He describes a conversation with a teacher who had invited a retired electrician to help with his robotics club. The boys arranged themselves in a circle around the man and listened intently as he explained how to deal with high-voltage lines and described the time a friend had been electrocuted.
“The boys were just entranced,” Sax says. “The teacher said to me, ‘I saw a tribe being formed.’”
The latter is something that many people would contend creates an environment for misogyny. Yet this could not be further from the truth. Boys need those all-male communities in order to learn how to become men and, more importantly, to learn that they will be held accountable for their failings.
It may seem odd to some people how important this is, yet when one looks the gaming community it becomes obvious just how much boys and men crave that bond.
Shaming men and devaluing masculinity does not “free” men and boys. Neither does confining them to a box of being an inherent predator who needs to check his privilege every five seconds. Men and boys need other males to show them the way, and they need to be able to have that environment without anyone demonizing them for wanting it.