The Problem with Men and Why We Ignore It/Them at Our Own Risk
Many observers of contemporary Western societies are observing and occasionally commenting on the increasing “man problem” possibly fed by the “boy crisis.” In a nutshell the “man problem” is that very many young men are simply dropping out of the social order and electing to live dependently on parents or others. “Failure to launch” is one term for this. While women are forging ahead in business, politics, journalism, education, men are increasingly choosing not to compete. They are dropping out of school, choosing not to go to college, living in their parents’ or friends’ basements, drifting from one part-time job to another and spending most of their time playing video games, tinkering with technology (for their own enjoyment and satisfaction), and “hanging out.” In a nutshell the “boy crisis” is that boys are falling behind girls at all levels of education, retreating into themselves, failing to thrive as productive persons aimed at becoming successful men. In other words, they are choosing (whether consciously or unconsciously) not to “play the game” contemporary society has offered them.
All kinds of reasons have been offered for the “man problem” and the “boy crisis.” Few have found consensus agreement even among the experts. The “decline of men” (including boys) is evident; the reasons for it elude researchers. Many observers say they don’t care; it is what it is and if it correlates with the rise of girls and women it’s well worth it and doesn’t matter. Males are obsolete, meaning they have nothing to offer society as males. “Women need men like fish need bicycles.” The often heard advice to males is “Man up!”—meaning, choose to join the new order and make the best of it with the new rules or drop out and lose.
Some experts express some concern for boys. There is a slew of books about boys and a few about men. But still no social consensus even among experts about the roots of these problems or their solutions.
Why is this even a cause for anyone’s concern? If women can replace men in every role men traditionally played, what’s the problem? Men aren’t being locked out as women once were and still sometimes are. Even many men don’t see any real problem worth paying attention to in either the “boy crisis” or the “man problem.” Boys and men who drop out make their own bed of failure and deserve to suffer the consequences.
I suggest, however, that the problem, if left unaddressed, will come back to bite us. By “us” I mean society. When any large segment of society is left to flounder and fail to thrive, everyone suffers in the long run. That seems self-evident to me.
I am no expert on gender matters, but I’ve read a lot of the literature that exists and I’m not convinced by most of it. Oh, of course, there’s some truth in most of it, but I don’t think the experts have, by-and-large, hit on the right causes or solutions. But I admit that my own thoughts about this are based largely on my own observations of boys and men over six to seven decades of life. I consider myself a fairly keen observer of people’s behavior and not particularly bad when it comes to deducing their causes and concluding about some workable solutions.
I suspect, in fact I believe, that human males crave respect. For most males, boys and men, respect is somewhere near the top of their hierarchy of needs. I would go so far as to say that, if they were to be completely honest, when asked which they would prefer if they had to choose one over the other most males would take respect over love. And, perhaps unfortunately, part of that craving for respect is desiring to be respected for their maleness.
I recall that years ago a leading expert on child raising (was it Joyce Brothers?), was vilified in the press for suggesting that even small boys be shown special respect by parents just because they are boys. She did not say they should be afforded special privileges over or at the expense of girls. I understood her only to be saying that boys crave respect and the reality is that if they are denied it they will act out. She did not say they deserve special respect just for being boys. That is how she was interpreted which, of course, led to a severe backlash. If I recall correctly her career began to decline from that point on.
I am not suggesting that males deserve respect; not all do. And just being male does not equate with deserving respect. People need to earn respect. However, I think we fly in the face of a reality principle if we ignore the fact that most boys and men crave respect, perhaps above all else.
Today, especially in the media, but also in many sectors of the social order, boys and men get anything but respect. As humorist Garrison Keiller put it (paraphrasing): Being a man used to be a privilege; now it is just a problem. Amen to that.
Many wrongheaded critics will say “Well, men created this problem by setting up and supporting patriarchy, so they get no sympathy from us!” The reason this is wrongheaded is that it totally ignores the fact that today’s boys and young men did not set up or support patriarchy. They should not be punished for the sins of their fathers. But even more importantly, this approach does nothing to help the social problem being created by the “boy crisis” and the “man problem.”
A further observation is that when boys and men conclude they will not gain respect they turn to fear. That is, for many, creating fear of them in others becomes a substitute for respect. Fear feels, to them, like respect or at least is an acceptable substitute. Boys and men who feel respected rarely turn to fear as a substitute. They are satisfied with respect (or the real prospect of it). However, boys and young men who believe respect is out of their reach often turn to implied violence if not real violence such as intimidation.
Nothing I have said implies this is how things should be. However, I have concluded that this male habit of the heart is so deeply ingrained that it is unlikely to be changed by social engineering or anything else. We ignore it at our own cost as a society.
Three social fuels have merged to create the smoldering fire of male resentment which results in the “man problem” and the “boy crisis.” First, many boys are being raised without any strong male “father figure.” Society concluded long ago, for whatever reasons, that children do not need fathers. This is, in my estimation, an enormous mistake. Boys with fathers handle their need and hope for respect, even when it seems elusive, much better than boys without fathers. Second, and somewhat related to “first,” is that there are very few men teaching boys in schools. Boys learn better from men than from women; studies have proven it. Boys need to have male models who show them how to handle their cravings for respect and how to learn from women. Boys raised and taught by women only simply do not cope well with their maleness. Third, generational poverty and social/economic disadvantage feeds males’ sensitivity to lack of respect. When faced with the prospect of never succeeding in life in terms of power and money, many boys and young men will simply give up early and become parasites who often go around creating fear as a substitute for respect and honor.
Also, and possibly fourthly, many boys and young men perceive, rightly or wrongly, that in their world girls and women have unfair advantages in being held up as paragons of virtue. If girls and women don’t succeed it’s society’s fault, not theirs. If boys and men don’t succeed it’s their own fault, not society’s. That’s the impression many young men have about society’s general attitude toward males and females. In other words, they feel dishonored and disrespected from the start—just for being males.
Solutions are elusive. Many, perhaps most, simply don’t care. There is deep apathy about the problem which is often ignored or denied. I remember when George W. Bush was elected president a celebrity television “journalist” interviewed the First Lady about what roles she would play. The female television news anchor asked her what causes she would take up and promote. Mrs. Bush said “boys.” The interviewer looked shocked and say “Boys? Why?” Mrs. Bush said “Boys are in trouble these days.” The interviewer looked very skeptical and moved on to other questions. Mrs. Bush was right but, in the eventually, to the best of my knowledge, she did not follow up on her good intentions. I suspect her handlers advised her that this would not be a popular cause for her to champion.
Nothing I have said here implies anything detrimental to girls or women. I have a wife and two daughters and a granddaughter. I have urged them all (and will continue to urge especially my granddaughter) to disallow anyone putting any obstacles in their way toward their goals just because they are females. I support the full equality of women and men in every area of life—family, church, business, education, government, etc. I despise patriarchy and any abuse, physical or otherwise, aimed at women. But many, many people talk about this. Even if we have a way to go toward achieving full equality of women with men I believe that goal is on the horizon and is inevitable. I look forward to America’s first female president (and by that do not imply support for any individual’s candidacy). Girls and women deserve respect on a par with boys and men. All I am arguing is that we ignore boys’ and men’s craving for respect at our own peril. And we need to roll back our social tendency, which has grown over the past several decades, to portray boys and men in a generally bad light in the media and to establish ways in schools, for example, to support boys in their special needs as boys (e.g., with more male teachers). Above all we need to stop implying that boys do not need fathers; they simply do. We need to stop simply telling them to “Man up!” and find solutions to the “man problem” and the “boy crisis.”