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: http://ireport.cnn.com/docs/DOC-976165.
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.