I was saddened but not surprised to read of my esteemed colleague Glenn Geher’s recent experience at our college (where I am an emeritus). At a meeting of administrators to discuss a panel of “highly successful female alumni,” where faculty were urged to encourage their female students to attend, Glenn said the panel was a great idea, but could the college have a “similar event for males”?
He was met with the same response I have received on numerous occasions in the past nearly 25 years when I have brought up issues faced by boys and men, and how it is time for the academy to address them: His remarks were met with a stunned silence.
Glenn was realizing firsthand the sad fact that, even though on virtually every measure of success in college – from admissions to retention and grades – women were doing better than men, the academy was not interested in encouraging the underachieving men nearly as much as they were in encouraging the already high achieving women.
I had known this for an unconscionably long time.
Here’s a brief and non-exhaustive chronology for me:
1994: At a conference on gender equity in schools -- when I already knew that boys and young men were seriously lagging behind girls and young women in K-12 education – I bring up this fact at the address by keynote speaker David Sadker, coauthor (with his wife Myra) of a bestselling book, Failing at Fairness: How America’s Schools Cheat Girls. The silence in the audience of some hundred people is bad enough; but Sadker more or less derides me.
1996: I write a letter, published in the New York Times, in which I make the case for caring about boys. It expresses my concern over New York City’s starting an all-girls school, when all the data I’m seeing clearly shows that boys in school need at least as much attention as girls do. My letter ends with this: “It may be that girls will do even better in an all-girls school. But an unbiased observer looking at the data would have to conclude that boys should be a more immediate concern.”
1999: The topic of the annual Women’s Studies conference at my college is education. I purposely delay a trip to a family event to go to the keynote there, and I raise my hand to say that along with all the concerns being expressed about girls in schools, girls needing mentors, etc., we also have to address the fact that boys are the ones who are lagging behind. In this case, there are about 300 people in the room, and the response is total silence. At least there is no derision from the speaker, so perhaps that is a very, very small step forward.
2010: One of my earliest posts for Psychology Today is “Boys and Young Men: A New Cause for Liberals." It’s based on something I’d written in my journal some three years earlier. I ask, How can liberals, “my people,” ignore what is happening to our boys and young men?
2017: Legitimate concerns about how young males are doing continue to be -- as Glenn sadly found out -- simply not PC. In fact, those who do have these concerns often have them welcomed only by those on the right. So when people like Glenn Geher, Philip Zimbardo, Jonathan Haidt, and Warren Farrell , all of whom – to the best of my knowledge -- tend to be left-leaning or centrist, speak out on behalf of males, it does give me hope. But I strongly believe that until liberals (progressives), including those who currently dominate college campuses, make boys’ and men’s issues an important part of their agenda, the gaps we see now will probably grow larger. And that won’t be good for any of us.