Attention Must Be Paid: Warren Farrell and the Boy Crisis

Warren Farrell focuses on fathers, sons, and our need to truly love them

I do understand, sadly, why men — and their real problems — don’t get the attention they deserve by the academy, the media, and government (what Michael Gurian calls “The Big Three” in his 2017 book, Saving Our Sons). But what I still can’t fathom is why boys don’t either, except that they are men-to-be.

Warren Farrell, who has been concerned about men for well over 30 years, has recently turned his attention to boys, and the result is The Boy Crisis: Why Our Boys Are Struggling and What We Can Do About It (which he has coauthored with John Gray). Actually, worry about boys is not new. In fact, a cover story in Newsweek magazine in early 2006 is titled “The Boy Crisis: At Every Level of Education, They’re Falling Behind: What to Do.”

So how is it that a problem recognized more than a decade ago — even longer, if you consider Christina Hoff Sommers’ 2000 book, The War Against Boys — has barely been touched by the “big three”? I believe, and have for years, that a major reason is that with women viewed as a major cause for progressives, the problems faced by boys (and men) have been more or less ignored. But not by Warren Farrell, a liberal Democrat, who has gone where the data and his conscience have taken him. Farrell was early into second wave feminism, and was on the governing board of the National Organization for Women in the early 1970s. When he did talk and write about men, it was in that context, and I first heard of him when I came upon his 1975 book, The Liberated Man, which was lauded by, among others, Gloria Steinem.

But he experienced a crisis of conscience when he saw that NOW clearly favored mothers over fathers in cases of divorce and custody battles. As he writes early in The Boy Crisis:

“As NOW and the perspective of feminists went mainstream, especially in the universities, my speaking career boomed. I was delighted that the expansion of opportunities for women had begun to exceed my expectations.

“Later in the seventies, as I began to witness a sharp increase in divorces, I also noticed that many of the children were living primarily with their moms. The cultural meme about dads was focused on dad’s money, not on his involvement. So when dads did not pay child support, we labeled them “deadbeats.” I accepted that meme. Until I also listened to these dads in my men’s groups.

“Once I listened, I was struck by how much the dads cared. When they vented their anger about discrimination against them in family court, they sounded legalistic, angry, and bitter. But when I asked them about their children, tears flowed down their cheeks. Their anger was but a mask for vulnerability — the powerlessness they felt as words like “visitation” and “custody” made them feel like second-class citizens, and how being able to see their children only every other weekend made them feel that anything they had to contribute would be washed away between visits.

This article first appeared here.

Photo by Nischal Masand on Unsplash

Mark Sherman, Ph.D.

View posts by Mark Sherman, Ph.D.
Mark Sherman is a professor emeritus of psychology at the State University of New York at New Paltz. After receiving his Ph.D. in psychology, he taught for 25 years at SUNY New Paltz, soon specializing in gender issues. By the early 1990s, his principal interest was -- and remains -- the crises facing boys and men (especially young men). He is a member of the multi-partisan coalition for the establishment of a White House Council on Boys and Men, and writes regularly for Psychology Today, principally on issues facing males -- especially those under the age of 30. His strong interest in this comes not only from his academic background and his social concerns, but are quite personal as well: Sherman is the father of three sons and the grandfather of five grandsons.

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