boys are in trouble

Boys Are in Trouble

The often-justifiable anger of women toward men has left boys in the lurch.

In one of my earliest posts on Psychology Today, back in March 2010, I wrote of how stuck I felt being a liberal who cared about boys (and young men). While the data clearly showed that boys were struggling in school, and in other ways, my political peers paid scant attention to this. Just before sending my post in, I was encouraged by reading a piece by The New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof—who had always written extensively and powerfully about horrific issues facing girls and young women—which recognized boys’ problems, a “problem that has sneaked up on us,” as he put it. As he wrote, “In the United States and other Western countries alike, it is mostly boys who are faltering in school. The latest surveys show that American girls on average have roughly achieved parity with boys in math. Meanwhile, girls are well ahead of boys in verbal skills, and they just seem to try harder.”

Because boys’ problems have been of concern for me for more than 25 years—heightened by the fact that I have three grown sons and five grandsons—I have continued to write about this topic, always hoping that boys’ needs would be recognized by the greater society, just as those of girls have been, and with great success, over at least that same quarter century. Occasionally, I really thought that things were changing, feeling in early 2015 that, in fact, we had reached a tipping point.

But the election of Donald Trump ended my optimism. I had voted for Hillary Clinton, even though I was concerned that her presidency would keep boys’ needs off the agenda. But I realize now that a Clinton presidency would likely have been much better for boys (and men), since I cannot imagine it having led to the outburst of women’s anger toward men (grown boys) that Trump’s presidency has, which has been dramatically intensified by the #MeToo movement, which started less than a year later.

The result of all this is that however incompatible liberal politics (typically informed by feminism) and concern for males seemed in 2010, here at the end of 2018, the distance between the two seems greater than ever. In fact, two recent opinion pieces in the Washington Post, make no bones about the authors’ negative feelings about males. The first, “Why Can’t We Hate Men?” published in June 2018, was by Suzanna Dunata Walters, a professor of sociology and director of the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program at Northeastern University. The second (October 2) was by Victoria Bissell Brown, a retired history professor at Grinnell College and was ironically titled, “Thanks for not raping us, all you ‘good men.’ But it’s not enough.”  

The ire toward men expressed in both these pieces upset me, not so much for myself or my sons but for my grandsons, who range in age from 1 to 13. I am always aware that when men are vilified in print, there is certainly an implication that boys are deficient and in need of a major overhaul. After all, what are boys but men in embryo?

In fact, many articles are straightforward as seeing boys in need of change, often saying in no uncertain terms that the violence or sexual inappropriateness long associated with young males will no longer be tolerated, and will not be excused by the simple “boys will be boys” refrain.

Indeed, there is so much attention paid to making sure boys and young men treat girls and women with respect that what gets far less attention is the need for boys to not fall behind. When I say to someone that boys are in trouble in our country, they will often nod their heads and make reference to their tendency to such qualities as keeping in their emotions, bullying, mistreating girls and young women, and drinking and drug use. But while I acknowledge the crucial importance of all of these issues, and the need for those behaviors to change, what I principally mean when I say boys are in trouble is that in school, at all levels, boys are not performing at their full potential, whereas girls do seem to be, leading, among other things, to a large gender gap in college enrollment—a situation that is particularly acute for young African-Americans. I imagine this is exciting for parents and grandparents of girls, but unless evolutionary psychology is without merit, a society in which young women constantly outpace their male peers is not one that bodes well for good male-female relations and thus for our society in general.

There is no reason progressives (liberals) should be any less concerned about this than those who are closer to the center of the political spectrum or on the conservative side. 

This article first appeared on Psychology Today.This article first appeared on Psychology Today.

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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