When I wrote "An Open Letter to my Fellow Men, Everywhere" this past weekend, I found that, while the conversation was rightly focused on discrimination in my neighborhood, (the Silicon Valley), the cultural problem—the real problem—was acknowledged by only a minority of readers. While many women applauded the article, (since it was written by a man and a few meatheads took potshots at me), very few understood that my article was really about power and the practical consideration of equality in the workplace, rather than an explicit ideological, moral, or ethical stance. This is a nuanced point that only a few people intercepted.
I am for the complete reevaluation of the questions of equality and fairness. Let me take that one step further: I hardly believe that it is the common man and woman who sets themselves against one another. Rather, it is a pervasive disregard perpetuated by those empowered to keep dualism and division alive and well so that no united front can be fomented. If there is enough media influence to make us believe we are at odds, we will be. Make no mistake: I do not think we are not each other's enemies.
On the same note, for all of its positive and negative press, #HeForShe presents a very polished PR approach to a problem that men and women will view as “First World" in essence. To get a sense of what I mean, all one has to do is take a look at their website. As much as we are now calling on men to join the fight for women, we must also ask: Is it #HeForShe and #AllForShe, or is it #WeforUs?
Again, I am interested in the emergence of new cultural values for men and women. I'd like to point out that feminism, in its own right, has its drawbacks. Allow me to forewarn my probable detractors as I did in my last piece: I am not minimizing the sexual harassment of women or ignoring history. I am pointing out that there is a lot wrong with how we think about boys and men these days, as well. Consider the following to be an intellectual exercise, in the very least.
What if you were told that Harvard did a study and discovered that a group of children were characterized as being:
- Four to eight times as likely to be drugged with Ritalin and other stimulants, which pediatrician Leonard Sax, calls “academic steroids.”
- Reading much more poorly than their peers.
- Three times as likely to commit suicide.
- 2 1/2 times as likely to drop out of high school.
- Severely underrepresented in college, and even more so among college graduates, thereby locking them out of today’s (let alone tomorrow’s) professional-level jobs.
- Almost 1/2 as likely to report sexual abuse, molestation or rape.
- You—yes, you—my educated and savvy progressive reader, would likely invoke such words as “sexism” or "racism" when looking for a cause. I hate to break it to you, but not only are all of the foregoing statistics true, they aren't about girls or any particular minorities.
These stats are about our boys.
Some of my detractors got a mouthful of feminist soap this weekend because their anger was misdirected, mostly at me for breaking ranks. In essence, this piece is clearly a follow up to my “Open Letter” piece, because I am urging men to be proactive about their role in society, and would like to address our attitudes about young men and boys in general. As evidenced by my own article this past weekend, in our politically correct world, if you point to an inequity against women or a minority, you are considered heroic and egalitarian. Conversely, if you dare point out any potential deficit suffered by males, you will be castigated as anti-female, hostile or, in some cases, irrelevant. I think this is unfair and biased.
*Elementary to high-school educators are overwhelmingly female (76.3 percent). In elementary school, it’s well over 90 percent. We can say without any shred of doubt that schools are, by and large, feminized. Competition, a favorite motivator of boys, has largely been excised in favor of “cooperative learning.” Stories of heroism and bravery are replaced by tomes about relationships and “sheroes." That sacred, rough and ready time called recess, where children get to go run around a fenced-in bit of asphalt to release pent up energy, is now largely monitored and boys are told to "tone it down." Girls, on the other hand, are told they can accomplish anything, while boys are taught that masculinity is an anti-social trait that ought to be restrained or controlled.
“Schools claim to celebrate diversity, yet insist on providing one-size-fits-all education. Whether in co-ed or single-sex classes, boys need boy-friendly instruction: more male teachers who have not been trained to “de-boy” boys, more competition, praise for boldness, more active learning (for example, drama and simulation), and less seat work, less relationship-centric fiction and more stories of adventure and heroism, teachers’ accepting that boys will, on average, wiggle more than girls, and that that does not require the kind of ongoing criticism which, not surprisingly, leads to more oppositional behavior, visits to the school psychologist, to the little yellow bus of special education, and even more often to Ritalin. By the time they reach high school, according to a report in the New York Times, an astoundingly dispiriting one-in-five boys will have been diagnosed with ADHD.”
Making matters worse, right alongside all the typical NFL, Rambo-wanna-be, Navy-Seal horse manure, (I’ve already trotted out my “man credentials”, so this is not a disparagement of those elite soldiers), men are depicted in a variety of unflattering ways. We are characterized as witless, dip-shit fools who rely on our wives to find our keys, hat, beer, and spine. It appears we are either hopelessly lost without our women, or (if we are not that brand of hapless wit), we are effeminate metros strapped into skinny jeans not quite sure what side of the fence we are on, deciding which moisturizer works best. Last, but certainly not least, is the hormone-addled cowboy: an F-150 driving Red Stater who works, grunts and drinks beer. Rarely, if ever, are there balanced views of men. Believe it or not, there is dimensionality to masculinity, folks. Either way, it's up to men to not only begin to redefine who we are, the roles we play in our relationships, families and communities, and how we can support and empower women, but to not lose sight of our power as men and our responsibility to boys.
Progress begins with consciousness. Marty Nemko, Ph.D writes:
“Boys represent half our future, so the problem with boys is a major problem for society. In addition, having so many children unnecessarily unhappy and underperforming is, in it, most sad. Over my 29 years as a career and education counselor, I’ve noticed a dramatic shift in the boys and men I’ve counseled. When I started, most of them were confident and ambitious. Now, disproportionately, they’re despondent or angry, while the girls and women much more often feel the world is their oyster. And they’re right, but it should be both sexes' oyster.”
In the bigger picture—you know, the actual word outside of the continental United States and Western Europe—it's worth pointing out that, in far-flung places like Sierra Leone and Timbuktu, in the Helmand Province and in the inner-cities across the U.S., men and boys are often recruited into war and violence that more often than not involves other men. Some of these soldiers are boys that suffer incredible ordeals of bloodletting and exposure to horrendous violence.
Men have fought and died in wars to secure freedom for millennia. Veterans of two failed wars in the Middle East are returning from combat with all manner of monstrosities ravaging their minds and bodies. If that weren’t enough, welcome back, dear vets, to a flaccid economy where your military training makes you invisible to that invisible hand that rewards only those of us who are young, expensively educated, and tech-savvy. Disturbingly, these "heroes" face a 9-month wait for medical benefits. According to investigative reporter Aaron Glantz, who was embedded in Iraq and has now authored The War Comes Home: Washington’s Battle against America’s Veterans, 9 months is the average amount of time a veteran waits for his or her disability claim to be processed after having filed their paperwork. In the past 5 years, the number of vets who’ve died before their claim has even been processed has tripled. Veterans who have returned from Afghanistan and Iraq have had to wait roughly 270 days, (up to 600 in New York and California), to receive the medical, moral and/or financial help which they urgently need, and to which they are honorably entitled, after having fought our battles overseas.
Men have done and will do great things. Men have perpetuated heinous violence and degraded both the planet and women. Men are also human beings with feelings, with potential, and with great promise. We need to pay heed to both sides of this equation.
The politics of #HeforShe tell us one thing; we need more #WeForUs. There is no future without equal care, equal rights and collaboration.
- Education's Great Divide: Girls Outperforming Boys
- Spornosexuality, Body Image and Boys
- 9 Tips for Communicating With Your Teenage Son
- Redefining Masculinity for the Greater Good
- What to Tell Boys When Role Models Fail
A great deal of this article was inspired by and paraphrased from The Problem with Boys, An Ignored Crisis. Published on September 19, 2014 by Marty Nemko, Ph.D