The Boy Crisis Is Bad News For Girls
I’m not a #BoyMom, and I’m not a #GirlMom. I’m abundantly blessed; I’m a #BothMom. So naturally, I want every opportunity for my daughters and my son. I don’t see the world as a zero-sum game in which my children can only be successful at the expense of someone else. I do my best to love my children equally and instill in them a sense of pride in who they are. But I’m concerned for all three of my children because of the way boys, especially, are struggling today.
My children are constantly inundated with messages about “girl power,” and these messages are even louder during the month of March, women’s history month. My six-year-old daughter recently learned that in history — as well as in some parts of the world today — girls have not had equal opportunities to learn, to work, to own property, to be financially independent, or to be free.
The struggle for women’s equality is an important part of our history and our present. But today, in the United States, it’s not my girls I worry about most. It’s my son. He’s only four years old, but already I am wondering: Does he see great men being celebrated in our culture? Does he see masculinity valued and elevated? What messages is he getting about what it means to be a boy — or to be a man? Does our society value the lives of men and boys?
And perhaps most relevant to my daughters: Does our society recognize that men’s and women’s interests are tied?
Richard Reeves’s Of Boys and Men is the latest book to catalogue the crisis facing males. It is preceded by similar books including The Boy Crisis by Warren Farrell, The War Against Boys by Christina Hoff Sommers, Boys Adrift by Leonard Sax, and others.
So the crisis facing men and boys has been widely documented. Consider:
In the world of education, boys have fallen behind their female classmates: Six percent more girls graduate high school than boys. Two-thirds of students in the top 10 percent of their high-school class are girls, while two-thirds of the bottom 10 percent are boys. Fifteen percent more women graduate college than men. Women also earn more master’s degrees,MDs, and JDs.
Men’s labor-force-participation rate has decreased starkly in recent decades: It was 97 percent in 1960; today, it’s 87 percent. Most men who are not in the workforce report bad health as their reason for not working. Forty-four percent of men who aren’t working are taking painkillers. Men’s real wages have declined 14 percent since 1979.
Sharp increases in suicide rates among male adolescents are alarming. As the CDC reports, a man in the U.S. takes his life every 13.7 seconds. Young men are four times more likely to commit suicide than their female counterparts. Likely related, today, 15 percent of men say they have no close friendships at all. This represents a fivefold increase since 1990.
Recent increases in crime, too, disproportionately affect men, who are more likely to be the victims, as well as the perpetrators, of violent crime. The inmate population is overwhelmingly male, and researchers have also pointed to incarceration as a factor in men’s reduced labor-force participation.
These facts are widely known. But is anyone in public leadership taking note of the ways boys are failing? Is anyone doing anything about it? It’s one of many crises fighting for public attention at this moment. Women and girls are facing problems as well. Women, particularly during the Covid pandemic, have had higher-than-ever rates of depression and anxiety. Many women are struggling financially because of the burdens of single motherhood.
But, of course, men’s and women’s interests are connected. It’s not as if when men’s earnings decrease, women’s earnings increase. This only appears true when women’s wages are presented as a proportion of men’s wages — not in absolute terms. The obsession with pay parity (on full display on “Equal-Pay Day”) focuses on dividing the economic pie into equal slices. It ignores the size of the pie: If my husband earns less money this year, it’s not as if I get a raise as a result. To the contrary, our household earnings have decreased, and I am worse off as a result.
It’s also not as if when a man commits suicide, a woman doesn’t. When men’s suicide rates go up, women’s do not go down. In fact, something like the opposite is true: The problems and pain afflicting men spill over and affect the women in their lives. Widowhood increases mortality. Fatherlessness increases mortality. When men suffer, women do too, and of course the same is true in reverse.
Family life, in particular, demands partnership. I worry that my daughters, in spite of the fact that the world’s their oyster, will struggle to find good mates. In entering higher educational and professional arenas, women took on more and more work and responsibility. This represents a huge expansion of opportunity for women, but, without partnership with men, this can be burdensome — particularly in the presence of children. Women want to have it all — but to have it all alone? This can also mean doing it all alone, and this was never the ideal.
One of the themes (or lies) of the sexual revolution was that women could be just like men. We could work like men, act like men, even have unencumbered sexual relationships just like men. We’ve learned that this didn’t work out well for women, who inherently and on average, want different things out of life, work, and relationships.
Today, I fear we are making the same mistake, only in reverse, by telling men (or boys) that they should be like women. They should like princess power. They should do more housework and perform more of the child care. They should work less and “lean out.” Men should go to therapy like women, cry like women, and be less assertive and more deferential.
When will we learn that we cannot work against nature? Let men be men and let women be women, for the sake of both sexes. Deep down, women don’t want men to be like us; we want them to be complements to us. Who wants conformity, anyway? What a boring world it would be without the diversity in people — and the two sexes are just another part of humanity’s diversity on display.
Just as individual women need individual men (and vice versa), the two sexes need one another in society. Our society has notably become more feminized, from gentle parenting and discipline, to sit-still education, to inclusivity and safetyism (never more on display than during the Covid pandemic). We desperately need more of the stereotypically masculine influences that stormed the beaches of Normandy, put men on the moon, and took down a gunman on a French train. We need risk-takers, sacrificers, protectors, providers, and people who will not back down from a fight.
Today, it seems to be a woman’s world. I just hope that my son (and other boys in his generation) can be a man in it. Not just for his sake, but for the benefit of our daughters, too.
This article was published by Independent Women’s Forum and is reproduced with permission.
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