Will We Ever Notice Boys' Struggles?

Our nation’s neglect of half its children is shameful.

Posted Sep 19, 2016

I am obsessed with gender issues, and thus am constantly surfing the Internet, using various Google combinations to see what goodies I can find. My main problem is that after years of being a strong supporter of feminism, I discovered, nearly 25 years ago, that it was boys much more than girls who were struggling in school, not to mention in other even more significant ways – for example, committing suicide at around four times the rate that girls were. Having three sons (the youngest of whom was 12 when I made this discovery), I realized that my children were being ignored. Having later been blessed by the birth of four grandsons, my concern about boys as a group has only increased.

But the concern of our country hasn’t.

For example, in spite of data overwhelmingly showing the problems that boys struggle with, there is no White House Council on Boys and Men to parallel the one established for women and girls very soon after President Obama took office — this in spite of years of hard work by a bipartisan network of experts who have pushed for one (for full disclosure, I am part of this group). And the situation I wrote about here more than six years ago, in piece titled “Boys and Young Men: A New Cause for Liberals,” has barely changed. If you do see an article or book in support of boys or men, it is usually by someone known to be a conservative or it is on a conservative website. Consider the first well-known book on this issue, The War Against Boys, in 2000, by Christina Hoff Sommers (now with the American Enterprise Institute). Or a 2015 article in the National Review, titled “Why Do More Women Than Men Go to College?” My fellow liberals continue to focus almost exclusively on women and girls.

Yes, the New York Times occasionally writes on this theme (less now than they used to, it seems to me), but you’ll most often see concerns expressed on the conservative side.

In a sense, I get it. I’m 73 years old, so I don’t have to read books to remind me of how women were treated years ago. In 1968, a Harvard (then Radcliffe) undergraduate told me that when she was looking for an internship at a law firm, and asked if they hired women, she was told, “Well, perhaps we would; we hired a cripple last year.” (In how many ways was that an atrocious statement?!) I saw the life my mother-in-law led, a brilliant woman, born in 1922, who grew up poor, and at a time when girls, especially from poor families, were in no way encouraged to seek professions. I saw my wife treated shabbily by a succession of male (and granted, occasionally female) bosses. 

Have things totally equaled out? No. Are things radically different? Yes. Law firms hiring women? Today, approximately half the graduates of law schools are women. Poor women going to college? Today, young women of all socioeconomic strata are strongly encouraged to pursue a higher education. All this notwithstanding, there is a genuine memory for any woman over the age of 40 or so of sex discrimination (and much still exists); and what you remember stays with you. I call this the victim antennae. I have always had this as a Jew. My nervous system will automatically note almost before my mind does any comment that could even vaguely be construed as anti-Semitic. And I have had that same kind of sensitivity for years now as a father and grandfather of males. And I assume that many, many women have it too for anything they sense as devaluing women.

But let’s for the moment concentrate on one group only, absolutely the most important group of all:

Children.

Just for today, let us stop thinking about anyone over the age of 21, and simply consider the world of young people. Forgetting for now about the world of women and men, can anyone show me statistics showing that whether it is poor school performance, being the victims of homicide, suicide rates, absence of same sex role models in the home, being incarcerated, and being victims of drug overdoses, boys and young men are doing better than girls and young women? No, it is quite the opposite.

My grandsons, who range in age from three to 11, are doing fine, at least for now. But if they were old enough and sophisticated enough to appreciate media and academic coverage of gender, they would realize immediately that they live in a country that barely cares about them and their future. And they are the lucky ones. They are white (although one is half-Asian). They are privileged. For African-American boys, the situation is horrific.

I am for equality, which some feminists say is their goal. So I am not saying to forget about the girls and the important issues they continue to face. But let’s remember the boys too. And not just for today. Every day.

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