Does Concern for Boys Put You In the Alt-Right?

Progressives still label worry about men’s and boys’ problems as conservative.

So there I was, reading a piece in the New Yorker by Steve Coll, titled “Donald Trump’s Fake News Tactics(link is external),” where Trump was seen as “draw(ing) on the contemporary idioms of the alt-right.” Quoting a report by researchers Alice Marwick and Rebecca Lewis, Coll describes the alt-right as best understood as “‘an amalgam of conspiracy theorists, techno-libertarians, white nationalists, Men’s Rights advocates, trolls, anti-feminists, anti-immigration activists, and bored young people.’”

One of those categories jumped out at me: “Men’s Rights advocates.” I don’t identify with that group. But as a man who is the father of three sons and grandfather of five grandsons, and an emeritus professor of psychology who has studied gender issues for more than 40 years, the idea of men being concerned about their rights does not seem terribly far-fetched. Cassie Jaye’s 2016 documentary about men’s rights advocates showed some legitimate reasons for their concerns. So to see this group linked in with conspiracy theorists, white nationalists, and anti-Semites troubled me deeply.

But it is simply an extension of the way any concern about men and boys—and the difficulties facing the latter (and their parents) have always been my focus—has been labeled, at least since the publication of Christina Hoff Sommers’ groundbreaking book, The War Against Boys in 2000. In one of my earliest posts here—“Boys and Young Men: A New Cause For Liberals,” published in 2010—I questioned this association and urged that liberals (progressives) take on this very important initiative. This has never really happened. Concern for men – and by extension, boys—is primarily expressed on the conservative side, and now even the alt-right. The only exceptions seem to be when someone is talking about the need to change our boys, e.g., Claire Cain Miller’s New York Times piece, “How to Raise a Feminist Son(link is external).”

I wondered what the authors of the report to which author Steve Coll referred actually had to say, so I consulted it directly(link is external). The title is “Media Manipulation and Disinformation Online,” and the subtitle says, “The spread of false or misleading information is having real and negative effects on the public consumption of news.”

Sadly, I found what I had reluctantly been looking for. It turns out that people concerned about men—and to me that always means boys too—were not directly lumped in with the alt-right; but they were in the same section of the report, which was titled “Hate Groups and Idealogues.” The report says of Men’s Rights advocates (MRAs) that “their central belief is that men and boys in the Western world are at risk or marginalized, and in need of defense. Most Men’s Rights Activists try to gain recognition for this cause and campaign for Men’s Rights in areas such as family law, parenting, reproduction, compulsory military service, and education.”

Perhaps one’s immediate reaction to this might be, What? Men and boys needing defense? But on closer examination, in many areas, this makes a lot of sense. Take just a couple that are mentioned on the list: education and parenting. Anyone who has looked at the data over the past 25 years knows that boys and young men are falling further and further behind girls and young women in education, who sharply outnumber them in colleges and are now ahead of them in graduate school enrollments as well. This is a particularly big problem in the black community, where two-thirds of African-American college undergraduates are female(link is external). Across races and ethnicities, women make up 57% of college enrollment.

And what about parenting? Warren Farrell, acknowledged as the father of the “men’s rights” movement largely based on his book The Myth of Male Power: Why Men Are the Disposable Sex, published in 1993, is cited in a footnote in that section of the report. Among the many problems faced by men, Farrell noted the dangers of concussion in football, which he felt should be a concern of parents. In this, and in much of what he had to say, he was at least 20 years ahead of his time. And in his latest book, The Boy Crisis: Why Our Boys Are Struggling and What We Can Do About It, due out in two weeks, Farrell spends a great deal of time on the crucial importance of fathers in the success and well-being of children, boys in particular. The data is very strong on this, but it has still not been embraced by progressives. Father importance has remained mainly the province of conservatives.

Do some (perhaps many) MRAs go too far? Yes. But much of what they say rings true to many good men and certainly should ring true for the parents of boys. To link all those concerned about boys and men – with Warren Farrell high on the list – with the most extreme elements is like lumping in all feminists with the most radical of them.

Incidentally, I am a liberal, who supported Bernie Sanders in 2016 and then voted for Hillary Clinton. Warren Farrell is a liberal as well, who supported Clinton right from the start. We both have a very hard time feeling good about how boys (and fathers) are seen by our fellow liberals these days.

I know I’m biased partly because of my experience as a father and grandfather of just boys — eight of them. But I do look at the data, and have for more than two decades (starting years before the birth of my first grandson); and it does not present a promising picture, not only in our country but across the developed world. I am hopeful that Farrell’s book will hit at just the right time; its current pre-publication sales data on Amazon are very encouraging.

It is important for our boys that this concern reaches the left. The other day, at lunch with a friend, two young women (probably not even 18) walked into the restaurant, and one was wearing a jersey which said “female equals future.” Should I get those for all of my grandsons (ages 9 months to 12 years)? Or should I look for one with essentially the same message: “male equals past”?



Marwick, A. & Lewis, R. (2017). Media Manipulation and Disinformation Online. Data and Society Research Institute.

Slater, R.B. (editor) (2018). The large gender gap in degree attainments among African-Americans. The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education.

This article originally appeared here.

Photo by lalesh aldarwish from Pexels 


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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