Please Read This about Boys (Politically Incorrect Warning!)

I’m a pretty “PC” (“politically correct”) guy most of the time. And I don’t mean that ironically–I really do think most of what is “PC” is right. But there are areas where I think our contemporary American perception of what is PC is off a bit. As anyone who has visited here often for a long time knows I happen to think the women’s movement has achieved great things for women and girls but that the time has come for society to pay more attention to boys and young men (and older men’s health). The pendulum has swung in some areas related to sex, gender and social change. In education and health especially girls and women have forged ahead so strongly in such a brief time that most Americans (especially in the media and in education and the health industries) have not caught up and show very little signs of caring for boys and men being left behind.

When was the last time you heard of a major “push” by educators or government officials to help boys and young men in education? And yet the drop out rate among males is much higher than among females. When was the last time you heard or saw a “walk” or “run” for an issue related to men’s health and well-being? When was the last time you saw a public service announcement (TV, billboard, print ad, whatever) about an issue related to boys or men (health, education, whatever)? When was the last time a law was passed named after a boy or man? Sure, I know these are symbolic, but they are symbolic of a general lack of interest in and concern for the well being of boys and young men and studies show that they are falling seriously behind girls and young women in social status, standard of living, progress in education, health and well-being, etc.

Just the other day I was driving in a major American city and saw a huge non-profit facility called “Girl Start.” I have nothing against that. But where is “Boy Start?”

Whenever I talk like this someone accuses me of “backlash” (against the women’s movement). Nonsense. I absolutely deny it. I am NOT arguing for LESS attention to girls and women; I am arguing for MORE attention to issues related to boys and young men–employment, education, health, mentoring, etc.

Recently a friend sent me this essay by a pastor–about these concerns but angled especially toward what churches can and should be doing for boys. I agree with the author:

I teach a course about “liberation theologies” and my students will testify that I am sympathetic to most liberation theologies–at least to their goals and aspirations and critiques of dominant culture and society. I have a wife and two daughters and a granddaughter and I have always only encouraged them to live self-determining lives and to not allow themselves to be hindered by social attitudes that are pro-male or anti-female but to forge ahead and fulfill their potential even in areas where women are normally not encouraged to go. My family and I have joined two churches pastored by women (in succession) and I have always promoted women’s full equality in church and society.

However, I am sensitive to shifts and changes in social attitudes and these days they happen rapidly. Many people do not catch up. In my opinion, the media in general have lagged far behind in bringing to public attention the plights of boys in our society. The same is true of governments and non-profit organizations. It is still much easier to get grant money to study girls and women than boys and men–and that has been the case for at least thirty years now.

Sure, there are areas of our social order that need major fixing with regard to opportunity for girls and women and help for those who are abused, oppressed and excluded. And lots of attention goes toward those areas. Of course, little can be done about men who are simply recalcitrant to women’s progress and self-determination except create laws that limit their ability to enforce their backward attitudes. Laws can’t change people’s inward attitudes. They can only change their freedom to act on them. So there will probably always be some men (and women) who have sexist attitudes.

However, public service announcements can inform people about problems facing special populations and that has been going on and keeps happening–with regard to women’s health, girls’ opportunities going into certain professions, missing and abused girls and women, etc. Very little public attention is given to boys or young men and yet they are now the ones facing major hurdles and obstacles in many areas–especially education (very few male teachers especially in the lower grades), health (very little attention given to preventing heart disease in men), employment (unemployment among young men is high and increasing), etc.

So what can be done to help boys and young men? The writer of the above linked essay appeals to churches to focus more attention on them. I think churches need to develop some kind of acknowledgment of boys’ transition from childhood into the adult world. Boys slip from childhood into adolescence and then into manhood almost unnoticed and with very little advice or help. Most spiritual formation is aimed at females or has a feminine “feel” to it. Much, if not most, religious training aimed at sex education and encouragement toward responsible sexuality is aimed at helping girls say “no” and making boys feel guilty for having sexual fantasies and wanting sex. That’s SO out of touch with teenage reality these days.

And, as I’ve advocated here before, churches and schools need to develop programs aimed specifically at boys and young men about violence and aggression. We’ve done that for a long time with girls and young women–aimed programs at them to help them deal with social images and messages about their bodies to help them avoid anorexia, etc. But there are very few programs available to help boys and young men deal with social messages about masculinity and especially aggression and violence which are often equated with masculinity. But it needs to be MEN who do this. Women can help develop the programs, but boys and young men need to be helped by MEN to cope with social media and messages that surround them about sex, aggression and violence. Very little of that happens in churches or Christian educational institutions. In fact, I don’t know of any such programs especially for young males. And then we wonder…why?

In my opinion, our society is riddled with double standards related to gender. Those are bound to filter into our churches and Christian organizations and institutions.

But I must end by acknowledging that there are vast areas of social reality where girls and women still are behind in terms of achieving full self-determination and freedom to become all that they can be. I’m not advocating LESS attention to those areas where girls and women still need to have full equal opportunity with boys and men. I’m advocating MORE attention to those areas where boys and men need to have full equality of opportunity with girls and women–especially education and health.

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  • There’s Movember. That’s the only male-focused program/cause I can think of off the top of my head. And that, unfortunately, is usually treated more as good fun and less about the actual cause. I’m pretty active in improving the lives of women, but you’re bang on with how we often leave men behind in the process.

    • Roger Olson

      Yes, Movember is well-intentioned. If I didn’t already have a moustache and could grow a beard I’d participate! But the media treat it as a joke. And I’ve never heard of a major non-profit health organization getting behind it.

      • E.G.

        I agree with your post 100%.

        The exceptions prove the rule… like Grant’s Law:

        • Roger Olson

          Right–an exception. The only other law named after a boy or man I know of is Adam’s Law–named after the boy who was kidnapped and beheaded years ago. But since then, in the U.S., every time I hear about a law to protect a group of people it’s named after a girl or woman.

  • Susan M-H

    Thank you for talking about boys. As a feminist, I didn’t begin to think in terms of oppression and boys until I had a son. I think maybe the biggest plight of all for boys is having to adhere to The Boy Code (William Pollack). Due to social pressure, they often spend so much time and energy keeping up a front of invulnerability that they cannot develop emotionally. See my blog post (“Making the World a Safer Place to Be a Boy”) for more:

    • Roger Olson

      Apparently the blog program cut off part of the URL to your blog post. But it sounds like we agree. I certainly agree that ONE WAY society oppresses boys is this “boy code” you refer to. Having been a boy (I vaguely remember it so long ago!) I felt that especially in junior high school. The “popular boys” projected an air of invulnerability and never talked about any problems they faced. I learned to shut up about my personal challenges and pretend to be invulnerable.

  • Dave Patchin

    Christina Hoff Summers wrote about this a few years back in a book called “The War on Boys.” It’s not politically correct either, just factual.

    • Roger Olson

      There are quite a few books like hers, but when will the major media outlets (both news and entertainment) and educational establishments and non-profit organizations catch on and begin to develop programs for boys? When will churches do it? Thank you for mentioning her book. Two others are: Boys Adrift by Leonard Sax and Losers, Loners, and Rebels: The Spiritual Struggles of Boys by Robert Dykstra, Allan Hugh Cole and Donald Capps.

  • Joe Keysor

    Are you not aware that many feminists now are not seeking equality, they are seeking domination and are happy to hear that women are forging ahead and leaving men behind? That is their goal. You can say what you like, but the trend to exalt and lift up and magnify women while depressing men and putting them down will continue. By the way, what does the Bible teach? Does it teach that men and women are identical in social function?

    • Roger Olson

      Have you been reading my blog for a while? Not long ago we discussed these issues. I have never said the Bible teaches that men and women are identical in social function. Go back and re-read some of what I have written about fathers and mothers. I do not seek or advocate identity of men and women; I seek and advocate equality. Those are different things.

    • fiona64

      Somehow, I suspect you don’t know many feminists at all.

      • Lauren Bertrand

        Absolutely. Bra-burning is so 40 years ago.

  • Benjamin Hegeman

    For years I have agreed with those who have grieved over the dumbing down of the male race in commercials, billboards, jokes, movies -and in a way never seen with their female counterparts. I’ve told boys and young men to suck it up; it “ain’t going away anytime soon, guys”. Yet treating “boys” as now needing the same help as “girls” have had may add insult to injury because it presupposes boys are merely ‘just like girls’ but with boy-bodies. There are real reasons why all of human history -until John Dewey came along- taught young men and boys seperately from their female age groups during the formative teen years. They knew something our secular worldview supresses: gender differences go to the core of their identity; they are not just mere social constructs needing tweeking. The problem is systemic, not social. (Benjamin Hegeman)

    • Roger Olson

      Well, I certainly didn’t advocate treating boys as needing the same help as girls have had. I advocate offering boys help appropriate to them and their social experiences.

  • Martha Paxson

    I appreciate this article tremendously. I agree that most of the focus has been on the needs of women and girls in our society. Yes, there has been a need for this, and I’m sure that the battles in that arena will continue for years to come. However, as you stated we should not give the women/girls LESS attention but the boys-to-men MORE attention. Whether or not we like to admit it, our world is often controlled by men, and to bring young men who have not been prepared for it on all levels of “selfhood” into those positions of power is creating new problems. Any truly thinking individual will not see this as a political or gender-related issue, but a social and spiritual issue that needs to be addressed. Thanks for reminding us.

    • Roger Olson

      Thank you for the expression of agreement. Whenever I say things like this publicly I get shamed for allegedly either 1) being goofy, or 2) contributing to a “backlash” to feminism. I think there are a lot of us who see the problem rightly (need for more attention to boys, not less for girls) but we speak up and nothing seems to happen. People in power (media, non-profit organizations, government) just don’t seem to want to touch this issue–probably out of fear of the inevitable accusation of caring less about girls and women.

  • Guest

    I completely agree with the author but feminist groups will never allow any initiative to help boys. In fact, the only time feminists address boys is when they’re accused of doing something horrible to girls.

    • Jim4146

      It has now come to a point where men can no longer remain chivalrous to a group that has such blatant contempt for them. There’s no reason for men to wait to receive permission from any feminist. Men should not allow anyone to decide our fates as a group. We know what is in our best interest and “No” is not an alternative or should it be accepted. This nation was overwhelmingly built and its freedom purchased with the lives of men . Time to take back the rib.

      • Roger Olson

        This is certainly not my sentiment. I wish you would be a little more specific. I’m not sure what you’re advocating.

      • Lauren Bertrand

        These descriptions on feminists fall fully into the hyperbole category. The vast majority are not Andrea Dworkin. From this angle, you’d almost think the men were placing themselves as poor, gelded victims.

        Roger, I think you are right about the problems boys are suffering socially, though I do think there’s a great awareness than you credit. Some of it, however, may be that double-edged sword: men have long identified (and all evidence supports) the notion that they are the more individualistic of the two sexes. But the resistance to complying with social normalization may also explain why men have poorer health outcomes–they often don’t comply with doctors (if they even visit them) and live shorter lives as a result. While I’m making a blanket generalization here, the evidence supports it: not a single country in the world where men live longer than women.

        • Roger Olson

          My question is why this isn’t more of a public health issue. Why do we see so few (hardly any) public service announcements aimed at men to get them to live healthier, longer lives (or at the women in their lives to help them do that)? When men die before their wives, their wives often fall into poverty or near-poverty. So this is a women’s issue, too.