Let's Not Take It Out on the Children

It's time for feminism to address the needs of boys

Posted Sep 29, 2015

I get it.

I do understand what led to feminism. It’s not just from reading and listening and watching, but from being married for more than 45 years to a woman who, like virtually every woman of her age, has experienced sexism. Or from watching as my late mother-in-law, one of the smartest people I’ve known, took jobs well beneath her abilities, and was treated badly -- as my wife often was -- by male bosses.

So I get it. I do understand why women who went through the kind of discrimination and ill-treatment that so many did for most of the 20th century (and surely before that) would very much want their daughters not to have that kind of life. And fathers of these girls would want the same. However, when the modern women’s movement began to turn its attention to girls – as in books like Failing at Fairness: How America’s Schools Cheat Girls (published in 1994) – they were already doing better than boys on many measures of educational achievement, including college enrollment. And this gender gap – favoring girls -- has only widened in the more than two decades since.

But we don’t hear much about that, certainly not compared to how much we hear about the pay gap between men and women (which is more complex than the simple mantra of “77 cents for every dollar” would suggest). Or the “1-in-5” female college students who is sexually assaulted during her years on campus. But I’m not even arguing about that data here -- though  good arguments have been made. I am simply saying that this does not imply that we should – as we have done since the early 1990s – take this concern out on half our children: our young sons.

When I say “take this out on,” I don’t mean that we necessarily treat boys badly. I mean that, relatively speaking, we simply ignore them and their needs, their relative lack of achievement, and who they are. Again, think of how often you hear or see something in the news about how women are being treated badly. (And much of this may be true.) But how about the fact that boys are not doing so well. How often do you hear about that?

I’m not the only one who has noticed this. Google “boys outdo girls” and you get 556 results; do it for “girls outdo boys” and you get 75,700. And yet, honestly, how often have you heard about this gender gap? The Minds of Boys: Saving Our Sons From Falling Behind in School and Life, a wonderful book by Michael Gurian and the late Kathy Stevens, was published in 2007, and has an Amazon sales rank of 115,100, while Mary Pipher’s Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls, published two years earlier, ranks at 8,652.

One definition of feminism is that it stands for full equality between the sexes. Strange as it might sound, this kind of feminism should now, among its other campaigns, fight to make classrooms more boy-friendly (which does not mean making them girl-unfriendly), doing what it can to make sure that boys as well as girls reach their full potential.

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