Mark Sherman Ph.D.

Real Men Don't Write Blogs

A Man's World but Not a Boy's

Those supporting women should also encourage boys.

Posted Nov 17, 2015

“It may still be a man's world. But it is no longer, in any way, a boy's.”

                 -- Michelle Conlin, “The New Gender Gap.” Business Week cover story, May 25, 2003.

I have high regard for Adam Grant, whose bestselling book, Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success, shows how altruism can be a key to accomplishment. And perhaps I should focus on that when I think about his post on Psychology Today, whose title is not quite as gracious. It’s “Dear Men: Wake Up and Smell the Inequality,” and it talks about how women still do not have an equal opportunity in the workplace, and that it’s time for men to work hard to change this.

But he is certainly not making it easy for me, a man, since not only the title, but the text itself addresses men in a condescending and patronizing way. Consider his two hypotheses as to why men don’t recognize the fact that women still don’t have the same opportunities to rise up as they do: First is “Men are stupid.” Granted, he admits that “not all men are idiots,” but this does set a tone.

His main hypothesis, however, is Number 2, “Men are blind.” He writes, “Many intelligent men have a hard time stomaching the idea that the world of work still isn’t fair. Not long ago, I was one of them.

As soon as I read Grant’s piece, which was on the day it was published, I wondered, and wrote in my journal, “Does he have daughters?” So when I clicked on his link “I was one of them,” and found that yes, he does -- I was not surprised.

He had written, “My eyes started to open when my wife and I welcomed our first child, and then our second—both daughters. All of a sudden, I found myself worrying about their future, and noticing how different the world was for them. I learned that the daughter effect isn’t unique to me. In Working Fathers, Jim Levine and Todd Pittinsky report that companies were most likely to become family-friendly and embrace flexible work schedules when a male CEO’s adult daughter was working in a less supportive environment. And two years ago, I wrote enthusiastically about evidence that having daughters motivates male CEOs to pay their employees more generously and male legislators to vote in support of women’s reproductive rights.”       

My question to Professor Grant is this: What is someone like me to do? While I had a mother I loved and respected, and I have a wife I adore, my children and grandchildren – for whom, like every parent and grandparent, I want the best – all happen to be males, all seven of them: three grown sons and four young grandsons. What do I tell my sons? That they should encourage their sons to support the aspirations of girls, girls who are already surpassing them in school at all levels, and going on to graduate schools in larger numbers?

Also, if there is any truth at all to evolutionary psychology, which tells us that women prefer mates who are achievers, what will it mean to Grant’s daughters and the daughters of others, when their pool of eligible men diminishes due to this still not well-known gender gap?

I cannot think of any time when a group that was stagnating in their achievements was being asked to support the aspirations of a group that is outdoing them. Is the situation for women in the workplace what Grant describes? Perhaps so, in which case, yes, steps should be taken to rectify it. But when the current wave of young people comes ashore as adults, there is no reason to believe that girls raised for years on the idea that they can do anything, and supported not only by women but by their fathers, will excel and move up as far as they want. Gloria Steinem is 81 and Sheryl Sandberg is 46. Neither of them grew up in a world anything like what my grandsons’ female peers are growing up in.          

For the past nearly 25 years, with all the attention given to girls -- from “Take Our Daughters to Work” Day, which started in 1993, and Failing at Fairness: How America’s Schools Cheat Girls, published in 1994, to the White House Council on Women and Girls, which was established in 2009, and Gap, Inc. now lending its support to girls -- boys, with their overall poorer school performance, less likelihood to go to college, higher suspension rates, and far higher suicide rates, have been all but ignored.

And a recent New York Times article  shows where a major part of the problem may lie. “Boys are falling behind,” writes author Clair Cain Miller. “They graduate from high school and attend college at lower rates than girls and are more likely to get in trouble, which can hurt them when they enter the job market. This gender gap exists across the United States, but it is far bigger for poor people and for black people. As society becomes more unequal, it seems, it hurts boys more.

“New research from social scientists offers one explanation: Boys are more sensitive than girls to disadvantage. Any disadvantage, like growing up in poverty, in a bad neighborhood or without a father, takes more of a toll on boys than on their sisters. That realization could be a starting point for educators, parents and policy makers who are trying to figure out how to help boys — particularly those from black, Latino and immigrant families.”

To Professor Grant, whom I do greatly respect, I would humbly request this: Please wake up and smell the other gender inequality – in our homes, schools and on our streets.

I very much hope that along with your efforts to support women in the workplace, you use your highly intelligent and well-known voice to publicize and address the very serious issues which America’s boys and young men are facing today.