If I Were a Parent of a Boy…

 

Contact our blog editor, Mark Sherman, at msherman@theboysinitiative.org

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By Michael Gurian

Michael Gurian (www.michaelgurian.com) is the New York Times bestselling author of 26 books in 21 languages includingThe Wonder of Boys, The Minds of Boys, and his latest, coauthored with Gregory Jantz, Raising Boys By Design. A family counselor and educational consultant, he is cofounder of the Gurian Institute (www.gurianinstitute.com).  The Institute has provided training to more than 60,000 teachers in more than 2,000 schools and districts.

For the next several months a group of writers focused on the issues of boys and men are collaborating through the writing and sharing of blog posts in order to bring greater awareness to the unique challenges boys and men face in the 21st Century.  Twice a month these writers will be posting the same posts on their various media formats to spread the word and to introduce their audiences to the great work of their peers.  Today’s post features New York Times Best-Selling Author Michael Gurian, whose book, The Wonder of Boys, is credited with launching the modern boy’s movement.

–Coordinator, Tim Wright, tim@faceofgrace.org

In working with her family therapy clients over the last twenty years, my wife, Gail, has said, “If I were a parent of a boy, I would really be worried.”  She is referring to her fear for the social, economic, emotional, and spiritual lives of America’s boys.

As we raised our daughters, we asked our girls what they thought of the gender landscape around them.  Gabrielle (then 16) came home from school in 2006 and said, “We had a discussion in social studies about boys and girls—everyone was talking like girls had it hard but boys had it easy.  They were in denial.”

Davita (then 19), came home from college for the holidays last year and reported a discussion with her college friends.  “I’m really glad I’m a girl, not a boy.  The boys aren’t sure what to do, but the girls are doing everything.”

These discussions were anecdotal, of course. Both girls and boys, and women and men, can experience suffering in our world.  Girls don’t have it easy.  Women don’t have it easy.

But it is also true that boys and men are in substantial trouble today.  They increasingly fill our principal’s offices, ADD/ADHD assessment clinics, and rolls of the homeless and unemployed.  Boys and men are more likely to be victims of violence than girls and women, commit suicide at four times the rate of females, and suffer emotional disturbance, behavioral and other brain related disorders in higher numbers. They are suspended or expelled from school in much higher numbers than girls, receive two thirds of the Ds and Fs in schools, and lag behind girls in standardized test scores in all fifty states.  They abuse substances and alcohol at higher rates than girls and are incarcerated at exponentially higher rates (for more data in all these areas, please see www.whitehouseboysmen.org).

Especially telling, the majority of government and philanthropic funding for gender friendly-programming goes to programs and innovations to help girls and women. The existence of this funding is to be celebrated, but the disconnect between the reality males face and the social justice attention males get needs to be examined by each of us.

We are in denial about our males.

I believe this denial will continue (and we will ultimately rue and mourn the dangerous, socially debilitating consequences) unless we change our academic, media, government, and philanthropic programming to include a new ideological truth:  just as the traditionalist paradigm regarding girls and women needed to be deconstructed and replaced by the feminist paradigm in the last century, the feminist paradigm, especially as it regards boys and men, needs to be deconstructed and, at least in part, replaced now if we are to meet the needs of both genders.

Why does it need to change?  Because it posits that females are victims of a masculine society that oppresses them systematically, and this isn’t true in the developed world anymore.  While individual girls and women can be dominated and demeaned by individual boys and men (and vice versa), we do not live in a culture that systematically teaches girls and women that they are second class citizens and boys and men that they are superior.

While some areas of life are still male dominant (mechanical engineering, senior leadership at some corporations and some areas of government), other areas of life and work are female dominant (management, medicine, education, mental health professions).  The original feminist paradigm posited systemic male dominance in our culture, but male dominance is only systemic in small pockets of the culture and female dominance also exists in others.

Can our culture open its mind to our new reality?  To answer yes, we will need to make a distinction between gender issues in the developed world and the developing world.  In many countries in the developing world, systemic and brutal patriarchy does prevail and the feminist model of male dominance/female victimization is essential for encouraging social justice.  My own parents, while they served in the State Department, helped build schools for girls in Afghanistan against impossible odds.  In that world, systemic degradation of females was and is prevalent.

But in the developed world, we can’t keep operating out of a gender lens that blinds us to reality.  If we do continue to remain blind, we will continue to avoid fulfilling our most human of imperatives:  to take care of our children.  If we do not fix what ails our sons–if we do not love them in the ways they need to be loved–we will create an increasingly dangerous society for girls and women, too.  No parent of either gender wants that.

Copyright Michael Gurian 2013

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An Open Letter to President Obama

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by Mark Sherman

Contact Mark at msherman@theboysinitiative.org

Mark Sherman, a big fan of the President, asks him to call the nation’s attention to the problems facing its boys and young men.

Dear Mr. President,

I am a lifelong liberal Democrat and a strong supporter of your presidency. A friend and I drove two hours to canvass for your candidacy in Scranton, PA during the 2008 primaries; I was overjoyed when you first won the nomination and then the presidency that year, and equally, if not more, ecstatic when you were re-elected last year.

I contributed by far more to your campaigns than I ever have to any other political candidate.

I continue to be a huge fan of yours — bravo for your stands on gay marriage and  gun control – but there is one thing about which I have been disappointed: your administration’s apparent lack of concern about how boys and young men are doing in America today. It is in this one area that I have found you, to my dismay, entirely silent.  I have been concerned about this issue for 20 years. When I started reading and writing about it I had three sons; they have since been joined by three grandsons. I would love to have had a daughter or granddaughter, but I have simply been blessed by boys.  (I suspect Abraham Lincoln may have understood my feelings. When 11-year-old Grace Bedell wrote to him in 1860, suggesting he grow a beard, she included this line, “Have you any little girls about as large as I am if so give them my love and tell her to write to me.In his reply, the President wrote, “I regret the necessity of saying I have no daughters. I have three sons…”)

I am sure you are aware that on so many measures boys are lagging behind girls, and have been for quite a few years now. 0ne of the best comparisons comes from Tom Mortenson, a senior scholar at the Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education, in his oft-cited “For every 100 girls…” Here is just a small sampling of his statistics: “For every 100:

• girls diagnosed with a learning disability 276 boys are diagnosed with a learning disability

• fourth grade girls who watch television four or more hours per day, 123 boys do.

• girls ages 9 to 11 years enrolled below modal grade there are 130 boys enrolled below modal grade.

• tenth grade girls who play videogames for an hour or more a day, there are 322 tenth grade boys who do.

• girls who are suspended from high school, there are 215 boys who are suspended.

• young women who earn a bachelor’s degree, there are 75 men who do.

• females ages 15-24 who kill themselves, 586 males do.

• women ages 18-24 who are in correctional facilities, there are 1439 men who are behind bars.”

I realize that women have still not achieved full equality — whether in terms of salary or position. But if one considers Americans under the age of 25 (and probably even going up to 30), there is little question that it is boys and young men who are lagging.

Even Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times, who is well-known for his op-ed pieces on the terrible problems facing girls and young women across the globe, has noted and written about the very different situation here in the United States (and it is one that exists in other industrialized nations as well).  In March 2010 he wrote a piece titled “The Boys Have Fallen Behind”, where he opens with these words:

“Around the globe, it’s mostly girls who lack educational opportunities. Even in the United States, many people still associate the educational “gender gap” with girls left behind in math.

“Yet these days, the opposite problem has sneaked up on us: In the United States and other Western countries alike, it is mostly boys who are faltering in school. The latest surveys show that American girls on average have roughly achieved parity with boys in math. Meanwhile, girls are well ahead of boys in verbal skills, and they just seem to try harder.

“The National Honor Society says that 64 percent of its members — outstanding high school students — are girls.”

There are efforts throughout the country to rectify this, but there is no movement even vaguely comparable to the effort made to help girls in areas where they have been behind. I believe this is because the effort to help girls came as an outgrowth of the women’s movement. Women understandably felt that they did not want their daughters to face the same obstacles they did, and both fathers and mothers of daughters have been excited by the ways in which they have excelled.

Until recently, and perhaps even today, mothers of sons have been excited by not only the success of women, but also of young girls. But I have found that more and more mothers – and grandmothers — of boys are becoming concerned about their sons’ future. A perfect example is Dottie Lamm, former first lady of Colorado, Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate in 1998, and a leading feminist in her state.  Ms. Lamm, who has three young grandsons, wrote a piece in the Denver Post in April 2010 titled “Our Boys Are Falling Behind in Education” (http://www.denverpost.com/opinion/ci_14893585). Her opening lines are “What’s the next battle for an aging feminist? Boys.”

Parents of daughters should be concerned about boys as well. Young women typically want to marry men who are their peers, or close to it, in education, ambition, and earning potential, but as the gender gap grows, finding a partner becomes more and more difficult. This situation is particularly pronounced in the minority community.

To parallel the White House Council on Women and Girls that you initiated after you took office, might I respectfully suggest a White House Council on Boys and Young Men? In the meantime, if in one of your speeches, comments, or press conferences, you could just mention the fact that America’s boys and young men need our nation’s attention, it would bring to me, and so many others, a great feeling of hope.

Thank you, Mr. President.

Sincerely yours,

Mark Sherman

Mark Sherman is editor of this blog. This is a very slightly revised version of his recent post on the Good Men Project 

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Boys will be boys?

by Dorothy Dimitre

“Shame occurs in many men who feel they have failed to live up to the heroic ideal.  Shame is what we feel when we experience ourselves somehow being wrong.  It’s immobilizing and destroys self-esteem. Much pathology, including a lot of male violence, arises in an attempt to assuage or repress this feeling.” – Aaron R. Kipnis, Knights Without Armor

If we as individuals or as a culture want to raise boys so we do not create rigid, insecure men out of sensitive boys; if we want boys to feel good enough about themselves so they do not become obsessed with power, control, invulnerability, dominance, violence, etc., we must provide constructive role models from involved, caring, accepting fathers to  sports and entertainment figures who model integrity, decency, and empathy.  We need to change the general attitude toward boys that, unfortunately, continues to permeate this culture in many ways and often starts from day one in a boy’s life.

For instance, many boys get the message that if you act like a baby, even though you are a baby, you will be punished for it.  If you do not want to compete and you are not good at athletics, something is wrong with you.  If you do not do well in school (and many schools aren’t set up to accommodate and enhance boys’ characteristics) we’ll put the pressure on you so we won’t look like failures.  If you freely express your feelings, we’ll condemn you for it.  And don’t ever let on that you can’t handle something or we’ll be very disappointed in you.  In other words, you must please us according to our expectations.

As Myriam Miedzian wrote in Boys Will Be Boys, “Research reveals that fathers, especially, tend to become deeply disturbed by any behavior in their sons that is not typically ‘masculine.’  This kind of father provides a role model that fits the masculine mystique even though he may not be violent, at least not uncontrollably violent -- he may use physical violence to punish his son.  He does not express much emotion.  He doesn’t cry.  He is very concerned with dominance, power, being tough…He may feel that a high level of involvement in childcare is unmanly. This kind of father is probably typical of a large number of basically decent American men who reinforce in their sons just those qualities that serve to desensitize them and make them more prone to commit violent acts or condone them.”

If, by chance, the boy knuckles under or is naturally competitive, athletic and aggressive he will be highly rewarded.  More than likely he will be exploited and become a hero (though maybe a complete flop as a human being) and put on a pedestal.  If he is unable or unwilling to fall victim to the masculine mystique, he will very likely be ridiculed, shamed, bullied, and/or ignored.  He will be considered by many to be a geek, wimp, nerd, loser, fag, etc..

We, as a culture, will warn you about the dangers of venereal disease, AIDS, and the risk of impregnating some girl, but idolize athletes and entertainers who act as if chalking up conquests is a natural and expected behavior of the big man. We may warn you about unwanted sexual advances but bombard you with sexual titillation at every turn. We will lament the number of babies born to unwed, unattached mothers, but we will not insist that you take responsibility for the new life that you have created.  After all, boys will be boys.

We’ll show you such TV shows as “The Simpsons” and “Two-and-a- half Men” and wonder why so many of you do not take parenthood seriously.  We will deplore violence in the streets but do nothing about the despicable violent TV fare, movies, computer  games, etc. that glorify the worst aspects of human beings.  “American boys must be protected from a culture of violence that exploits their worst tendencies by reinforcing and amplifying the atavistic values of the masculine mystique.” – Miedzian.

We live by the motto, “You are what you have” and let you worry about how you look and who you can impress, and allow corporate interests to brainwash you with their enticing commercials and wonder why so many of you grow up with such distorted values. We will tell you not to drink or do drugs but carry on our love affair with them and see your involvement with them as a high school and college student as some kind of male initiation rite.  We become irate if we catch you lying, but often idolize those who are greedy, narcissistic, unethical, immoral and/or exploitive. If you react to all of this by becoming insecure, confused, closed, hardened, you can’t blame us.  We tried!

Shouldn’t we do what we can to prevent the natural tendencies of boys for action, challenge, competition and conquest from turning into life-destroying violence and aggression and, whether illegal and/or sanctioned, in arrogant authoritarianism that can result everything from deadlocks in Congress to arbitrary wars?  What more important contribution to our legacy as human beings than the development of the positive qualities of any child’s natural inclinations to help make this world a better place for all?  What better than to teach them (by example) that, as Leonard Sax writes in Boys Adrift, “Being a man means using your strengths in the service of others.”

Since 1984 Dimitre has written over 600 columns for various local newspapers.

She graduated from UCLA with a degree in education in 1951. She taught first grade for a while before having two sons and a daughter.  Dimitre was presented with her first great-grandchild on March 30, 2012.  The new baby’s mother is the oldest of Dimitre’s 7 grandchildren, who range in age from 27 to 3.  Dimitre has always been interested in children’s issues.

 

 

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The Precious Self-Esteem Our Boys Need to Survive

anthony carter

by Anthony Carter

To all the boys who may or may not be queer. The boys picked last in sports but first for the latest in fashion, entertaining, and tasteful decorating. The boys who couldn’t catch a football but instead could clean a bathroom until it sparkles and offer serious, heartfelt care to a sick sibling.

I salute you.

I salute us. In this culture, our gifts go unrecognized or at worse, get criticized and mocked. I salute all the boys like me who were different. Yes, we are here to stay and more importantly will be leading the revolution when the time comes.

Did I mention the time is now?

We are through waiting patiently for the all powerful “they,” whoever the they happens to be this week, to allow us the privilege to “be.” We have been quietly watching from the sidelines learning to survive a very hostile world that is not ready for us.

However, no one is ever fully ready for change. It pretty much sneaks up on you.

As a young boy and now older adult, I have spent my life seeking kindness. I witness so much cruelty, domination, and coercion in the world.

What are boys and men like me to do if there is no urge to dominate or be dominated? What to do when we would rather have a great conversation and a cup of coffee than an opportunity to one up a friend or colleague?

In this world, the thinking man is a problem man. As a person seeking kindness, it becomes difficult to hold out for this seemingly unattainable entity. It seems almost an impossibility trying to survive amidst a world that seems so set on destroying everything that you are.

Almost impossible is not the same as impossible.

Those of us who have survived childhood and didn’t give into the self-hatred that is so seductive when you don’t toe the line, know a thing or two about not only surviving but thriving. Within the harshest of circumstances, human beings hunger for and create beauty.

As a man/boy learns to thrive beyond a prescribed masculinity, we totally thrive by repeatedly creating beauty.

Our refusal to stop being, doing, and developing the things that sustain us is the most important step in revolutionizing our thinking, our relationships and our planet.

Hurray for the a-holes that bullied us and bravo to all the young males who survived it, didn’t recreate it, and learned how to not stop simply because a wall of sh-t fell on their heads.

Anthony Carter is a writer, actor and teacher. He is adjusting to life on the West Coast after years of being a theater rat in NYC.  He was recently interviewed for the premiere issue of Proud to Be Out (an online magazine) where he discussed gay bullying, self esteem issues and how to support our youth in their efforts to be recognized for their greatness. He can be reached at his website, anthony-carter.com

 

 

 

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We Owe To Our Sons What We’ve Given Our Daughters

mark sherman

by Mark Sherman

On Sunday, February 3, my e-mails included a press alert from Dennis Barbour, CEO of the Boys Initiative, informing readers that that day’s New York Times Sunday Review had a major article on “why boys are falling behind.” And yes, when I opened my copy of the Times, there it was. You really couldn’t miss it. On the front page of that important section, with a graphic taking up more than half a page, was “The Boys at the Back,” by Christina Hoff Sommers.

The 1800-word piece started out discussing an important new study I had already heard about — re boys’ grades in elementary school being negatively affected by their behavior — and went on to mention data, very familiar to anyone concerned about this issue, showing the large gender gap in colleges, one which is particularly acute for minorities.  “Black women are nearly twice as likely to earn a college degree as black men,” Sommers wrote. “At some historically black colleges, the gap is astounding: Fisk is now 64 female; Howard, 67 percent; Clark Atlanta, 75 percent. The economist Andrew M. Sum and his colleagues at the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University examined the Boston Public Schools and found that for the graduating class of 2007, there were 191 black girls for every 100 boys going on to attend a four-year college or university. Among Hispanics, the ratio was 175 girls for every 100 boys; among whites, 153 for every 100.”

I sent the link to this piece to friends, including one with whom I had lunch a couple of days later. He was shocked at those numbers, which shows, once again, that the problems of boys and young men are still, amazingly, barely on the national radar. But, as feminists told us back in the late 1960s, often the personal is political. My friend has two daughters and one granddaughter; I have three sons and three grandsons.

In 2000 Sommers wrote one of the first major books on the problems boys were having, but her relative conservatism about feminism got in the way of a widespread readership among liberals – just those people who might make a real difference for boys. The book was titled The War Against Boys, and though her issues with feminism were evident in it, her data showing boys clearly falling behind girls in school and beyond was strong and should certainly have been convincing.  Many feminists might not have cared for the messenger, but there was no question that the message was an important one.

Since then, as she points out in the Times piece, many more books have been written on this subject (and, she could have added, countless articles). But still no tipping point has been reached (http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/real-men-dont-write-blogs/201210/we-forgot-about-the-boys). Having been concerned about this issue for years before Sommers’ book came out (http://www.nytimes.com/1996/07/21/opinion/l-girls-school-in-harlem-is-unlike-virginia-case-boys-need-more-help-003050.html), I continue to be immensely frustrated by this. And I find it hard to believe that a problem so salient still has not been addressed at the national level. I myself have written about this many times and am always startled to find that so many people still don’t know, for example, that girls and young women are significantly outpacing boys and young men at every level of school, right into graduate school.

When it was the reverse, when men clearly outnumbered women in colleges, the women’s movement looked at this and countless other areas in which women and girls were on the short end of things, and worked hard to change it. Why has the same thing not happened for our boys and young men?

In a workshop I gave some six years ago on “Helping Our Sons Do Better in School,” a father said that the movement to help boys should model itself on the women’s movement.  A good thought, perhaps, but there is a fundamental difference in a movement to help boys and the one that’s been going on for years that encourages girls.

The “girls’ movement” — special science programs for girls, the Sadkers’ work (Failing at Fairness: How America’s Schools Cheat Girls (1994)), “Take Our Daughters to Work” day, which started in 1993  — didn’t start on its own but rather came out of the modern women’s movement.  In fact, if we take the publication of Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique in 1963 as the birth of this passionate struggle, then it really was more than two decades before strong attention began to be paid to girls.  What is crucial to understand is that the impetus for encouraging girls came from women who had genuinely felt restricted, if not outright oppressed.

I also believe that fathers of daughters, excited by the new opportunities for their children, joined in this support of girls.

A similar situation has not existed for boys.  Men, as a group, have not felt especially restricted or oppressed, and so a men’s movement anywhere near the level of a women’s movement has never begun.  The kind of filtering down that occurred with women and girls has never had a chance to occur for men and boys. And children themselves do not start political or social movements. We could hardly expect boys, on their own, to start a movement to, say, pull themselves them away from videogames and into libraries. (Perhaps it’s time for a Take Our Sons to the Library Day!)

Knowing mothers who only have sons and who, in spite of the data, continue to be supportive of girls and not boys, indicates to me that many adult women continue to feel a sense of  unfairness re gender, even if girls do not. (I remember a female friend who had one child – a son – proudly wearing her “Take Our Daughters to Work” day button in 1994.)  And I suspect most fathers of girls continue to delight in the unprecedented achievements of their daughters.

I truly believe that the focus strictly on girls that began in the 1990s and has only begrudgingly made room for boys is one of the principal reasons that boys are struggling the way they are today. The “girls’ movement” didn’t care if a child was rich or poor, white or minority. If the child was a male, he was excluded. We are paying a high price for this.

Though I don’t have answers, I desperately hope that parents of sons can be supportive not only of their own children, but of all boys and young men — the way so many adults were supportive of girls and young women when they needed encouragement and support. This will mean, as educators like Michael Gurian tell us, not only supporting your own sons (and grandsons), but other boys and young men in your community; and I would add that it means beginning to lobby our elected officials too, to join in.

Soon after President Obama took office in 2009, he established a White House Council on Women and Girls. Soon afterward, major supporters of boys’ interests, led by Warren Farrell, pushed hard for a parallel council for boys and men.  A suggested name for the organization was the Council for Boys and Men, and the proposal to establish it ended with these words:

“A White House Council on Boys and Men can…provide leadership toward helping parents and our culture teach our sons that the facade of strength is a weakness. It can provide leadership to help us help our sons row on both sides of the family boat—so our daughters may have equal partners. It can co-ordinate the nation’s best efforts to parent, mentor, and teach each of our sons to discover who he is. It can end the era of boys and men as a national afterthought. It can provide leadership to raise young men our daughters are proud to love.”  (http://whitehouseboysmen.org/blog/)

Unfortunately, as Tom Golden, a member of the group that submitted this proposal, wrote on the site’s blog – on September 12, 2012, “Our report met with interest at the White House—but three years of effort have resulted in nothing.”

I am grateful to those with only daughters who wholeheartedly support the aspirations of boys, and I applaud them — people like Warren Farrell, and Michael Gurian (whose books include The Minds of Boys: Saving Our Sons From Falling Behind in School and Life (2006)).  But I think the Farrells and Gurians are rare in this world.  Parents of boys will need people like them as allies, but the key is for these parents to wholeheartedly support a movement for their sons with the same passion that mothers (and fathers) of daughters supported a movement that is has helped to thrust their children into the forefront of achievement in today’s world. We have left half our children behind, and this cannot be good for America’s future.

Mark Sherman is editor of this blog. This is a very slightly edited version of a post which recently appeared on his blog on Psychology Today.

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Why You Should Care About International Men’s Day

jennifer fink

By Jennifer L.W. Fink

 

 

Did you know that there is an International Men’s Day (celebrated every November 19)?

I probably wouldn’t, despite the fact that I’m raising four future men, except for the fact that I write a blog about boys. And when one writes about boys, one tends to search out news that is boy- (and men-) related.

The fact that I’d never heard of International Men’s Day says something, I believe, about the state of the world we live in. Even as of November 19, 2012 (that’s just two months ago), there are people who consider the very idea of a day for men to be a very bad joke. Don’t believe me? Check out some of these Tweets:

 ‏@CarterEsq

there’s an international men’s day? Felt like we had all 365 of them

@criticalbrit

I think possibly my favourite claim made by international men’s day is that there needs to be more of a focus on men’s health.

@Megaroooo

Happy International Men’s Day, or “Monday”

Clearly, some people still feel that there is little need to focus on the needs of men and boys — so little need that devoting even one day to raise awareness of those needs seems like too much.

But the fact of the matter is this: Men and boys are not doing universally well. True, men still run most countries. True, men still earn more than women, penny for penny, especially when expanded across the lifespan. And in many parts of the world, the simple biological fact of being male confers certain advantages and rights.

But it’s also true that not all boys and men are doing well. Male suicide rates are far higher than female suicide rates. Men are less likely than women to seek medical care — which means that many men don’t seek help until their health issues become severe. And men and boys are increasingly falling behind academically: Boys are far more likely than girls to flunk or drop out of school, and far more likely to be found in special education classes. They’re also less likely to graduate from college.

To ignore those facts is to ignore the very real needs of half of our population. And to attend to those needs — to see what can be done to improve male health and education — does not mean that we must forget girls and women.

I’m the mother of four boys, and while I strongly believe that girls and women should have equal rights and access to the world, I also believe that my boys — and yours — deserve a chance to be successful. I don’t want my boys growing up in a world where being male is considered a liability; I want my sons to grow up in a world that accepts them as boys and supports them on their journey to become men.

We have a long way to go. The pendulum has shifted so far toward supporting and encouraging girls and women that I’m afraid we’ve forgotten the boys and men. I see it in school structures and educational styles that naturally dovetail with the learning preferences and styles of female students and teachers, in schools that demonize energy and experimentation and physicality. (For the record, I think girls could benefit from a more active learning environment as well!) I see it in social conversations: It’s OK to talk about female health disparities, but not as OK to talk about the unmet health needs of males.

That’s why International Men’s Day exists. That’s why our boys need our help. So in honor of the recent International Men’s Day, and in thinking about the next one, I ask you: What are you doing to help the boys in your life?

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Comment on the Tragedy of Newtown

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Dennis J. Barbour

Friday’s tragedy in Connecticut was wrenching.  Once again an apparently troubled young man devastated a community.  Once again our nation searches its soul, asks how it could happen, and asks how we can prevent such a nightmare from happening again.  Who among us can forget the moment we first saw the images of those children who died so violently?   Like the images of those who perished on 9/11, they are now indelible.

There are so many reasons why such horrible events keep occurring, and why so many of them are at the hands of young white men.  The issue is very complex.  Yet, the fact remains that while many of our young men are troubled, a larger issue is that our nation’s young men as a whole are in trouble.

Very serious trouble.  Even the stable young men in our country are not keeping up with rapid changes within our society, and they are beginning to fall between the cracks.

Both the data and personal anecdotes of parents tell the story.  Boys are not doing well in school.  Their rates of disengagement, maladaptive behavior and suicide are alarming.  If they enroll in college they acquire only 40% of bachelors and advanced degrees.  That percentage has been dropping steadily and shows no signs of abating.  Once graduated, young men may be unable to find employment, so they return home to at least have a roof over their head.  Middle class manufacturing jobs once the mainstay of male employment and identity are vanishing more quickly than men are able to adapt to it.  There are reasons to celebrate the many young men who innovate, adapt and flourish in our rapidly changing and challenging environment.  But there are also reasons to be concerned about those larger numbers of young men who are confused by rapid changes in the definition of their role as males and are deeply depressed about their futures.

The failure of young men to thrive has been attributed to numerous factors – family breakdown, pop culture, video games and the culture of violence, drugs and the prevalence of guns, to name just a few.   Another important factor, mentioned in the wake of Newtown, is mental health services.  Or, for male adolescents, it should be characterized as the lack thereof, especially within the context of overall health services for young males.  The fact is, unlike many adolescent and young adult females, adolescent and young adult males do not typically interact with the health care system.  

Health care for young males is largely passive and does not focus on screening and prevention, except in the most superficial ways.  High school and college males largely show up for health care only after they’ve had an acute injury, like a concussion.  Once treated they usually don’t interact with the healthcare system until another crisis develops.  Even if a health care professional perchance is confronted with evidence of a medical condition in a clinic visit, underlying mental health issues can be overlooked, left untreated, or cleverly hidden by a troubled patent, with devastating and irreversible consequences like last week’s event.  In short, our healthcare systems for adolescent males handle all of their needs poorly.  Given that, even if we were to invest in funding for mental health services for adolescent males, the current system could not absorb it in a productive way.

This can change, and it must change.  We can start by calling on the health and medical communities to join together in an examination of how we can construct a more coherent and comprehensive system of healthcare for young males.  Adolescent and young adult males should be provided a range of health care services, from reproductive health to substance abuse.  Mental health is certainly one of the most important, but it cannot be adequately identified and treated in isolation – to be effective it must be part of a larger range of services that most accurately reflect the multi-dimensional aspect of all health care.  Beyond that challenge, not only do we not have adequate systems in place to provide these services, but we’ve not developed the strategies for engaging young males in their health care.  Further, medical professionals have not yet developed the medical guidelines that can assure the best care.  With that said, medical providers and researchers have spent years exploring these issues and proposing solutions to many of these challenges, albeit often in isolation.  In short, to address the mental health issues of young males most effectively we must address them within a constellation of health services.  As complicated as that may sound, we know what we can do in this regard, and we know what we must learn to make it possible. 

The problem so hideously exposed in Newtown is complex.  But we cannot allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good.  We have no choice but to make a start somewhere.  Better and more coherent healthcare for adolescent and young adult males is one place to start.  The pieces to make that happen do exist.  We just need to bring them together.

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Boy Toys: Pink or Blue for You?

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Dennis Barbour 
December 9, 2012

With the holiday season fast approaching, the war on boys (as well as on Christmas), is heating up, spurred by a recent decision of the Swedish government to encourage “gender equality” in a number of areas, including toys. In response to government pressure and changing Swedish cultural norms, TOP-TOY Group, a licensee of the Toys “R” Us brand, has published a gender-neutral toy catalog for the Christmas season in Sweden. The publication includes images of girls playing with toy guns and pictures of boys playing with toy blow-dryers.

As might be expected, the Americans, who have strong views about all matters Swedish, have taken up arms on the matter. The first major American opinion piece on the subject, You Can Give a Boy a Doll, but You Can’t Make Him Play With It
by Christina Hoff Sommers, appeared on the website of the Atlantic on December 6.

In her article, Sommers, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute whose book The War Against Boys caused its own stir some years ago, challenged what would appear on the face of it to be utopian silliness on the part of the Swedes. Sommers argues that innate differences between boys and girls, and hence the things that they like to play with, do exist. “They (boys and girls) are different, and nothing short of radical and sustained behavior modification could significantly change their elemental play preferences. Children, with few exceptions, are powerfully drawn to sex-stereotyped play,” she said.  Addressing the troubling issue of how any society could enforce such a mandate, Sommers makes the point that “To succeed, the Swedish parents, teachers and authorities are going to have to police—incessantly—boys’ powerful attraction to large-group rough-and-tumble play and girls’ affinity for intimate theatrical play. “

For the first two days after it appeared the post was featured on the Atlantic‘s front page and more than 2200 readers “recommended” it. It has also been on the Atlantic‘s “Most Popular” list for two days.

The non-Swedish reaction to the Swedes’ move has been harsh and strong, on both sides of the issue. Just google “Swedish toys” for a taste. In the meantime, Sommers’ critique has garnered support from a number of conservative American commentators, including Andrew Sullivan, John Tierney @JohnTierneyNYT, Byron York @byronyork, Eli Lake @EliLake, Mark Perry @Mark_J_Perry and David Frum. Sullivan, while generally supportive of Sommer’s view, had his own unique personal perspective on the matter as a gay man: “..by showing that gender non-conformism is not abhorrent, and even part of the childhood landscape, a little bit of freedom opens up for some children, and a little less stigma. I’m ok with that.

“And the stigma does hurt. I remember my grandmother watching my younger brother run around the house with a toy truck at Christmas, while I was withdrawn and reading. “Well at least you have one normal son,” she told my mother, who was, as I recall, speechless. And a little part of my 8-year-old self-esteem shattered.”

I had a similar experience as a child. One Christmas I asked for a doll. My horrified mother instructed my father to buy me a chemistry set instead. Since even at that early age I had more interest in the arts than the sciences I had no clue what to do with that chemistry set, nor any interest in it. I cannot remember how it came to its demise, but to that it surely came. Undeterred, the next Christmas I asked for a kitchen set. This time my father, oddly enough, overruled my mother and bought me a kitchen set. I could not have been more delighted. 

The issues of gender are long-standing and extraordinarily complex. These days they have been made even more so by changing definitions of what it means to be a man, or a woman. The roles of both men and women in heterosexual relationships are changing in ways that blur the lines between “masculine” and “feminine”. At the same time the very definition of marriage is changing rapidly as same sex unions are legalized. Then, there is the ever increasing issue of gay parenting.

What it means to be male or female is now up for grabs. That’s a bit chaotic, but in that chaos we need to listen to both and all sides of the debate about how best to rear our children. In the end we all have their best interests at heart, as well as the best interests of our society.

In the meantime, I say that if the Swedes don’t stop with this sort of silliness they’re going to jeopardize their OECD Better Life rankings . Those show the Swedes are ahead of us Americans in education, environment, civic engagement, health, life satisfaction and work/life balance. But all this nonsense. What is wrong with those people?

Dennis Barbour is a Co-Founder and the Executive Vice President at The Boys Initiative.  He can be reached at dbarbour@theboysinitiative.org.

 

 

 

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Maybe It’s Time for a Boys’ Day

by Dorothy Dimitre

“Fathers have the power to inspire. By modeling the best traits of masculinity rather than a caricature of machismo or emotional illiteracy, fathers have enormous influence over the template of their sons’ manhood.” – When Good Men Behave Badly by David B. Wexler, PhD.

Recently a concerned parent wrote a letter to the editor (of the San Mateo (CA) Daily Journal) suggesting that since there is an “International Day of the Girl” that there should also be the same for boys who need far better role models for what it means to be a man, especially a father. I’m not sure what particular approach this person had in mind in relation to promoting the above, but he got my attention. Over the years, I have written several columns about the plight of boys in our culture, and such awareness and concern continue to be badly needed.

For some time now, authors who have the welfare of boys at heart have been trying to inform us about what boys and men have to deal with on a daily basis in our culture. On my bookshelves I find at least 10 books specifically about the challenges of raising boys other than those quoted here. One of the best is Guyland by Michael Kimmel. I have at least 10 more about parenting in general – one of my favorites is Raising Happiness by Christine Carter PhD. — and many others with specific relevance to the male dilemma in today’s culture, including Your Children Are Under Attack by Jim Taylor, PhD.

The premise of all of these books is that male characteristics should be respected and channeled into productive pursuits, that this doesn’t just happen, and that parents (hopefully two of them) have an inherent responsibility to guide young males and give them what they need to fulfill their purpose. They all emphasize that boys must receive dedicated and nurturant parenting in order to grow into a well-functioning adult who contributes positively to society.

As Wexler wrote: “A child has a compelling need to look into the face of his mother and see reflected back to him eyes that say, ‘You are wonderful!’ and a smile that says, ‘You make me happy’… A father’s belief in his son is one of the most powerful mirrors that a boy will ever experience…We never shed the need and longing for positive mirroring, the need to look in the mirror of an important person and see a reflection of ourselves as fundamentally good and valuable.”

It seems that as girls and women have been making so much of the noise – earning important advances for their gender — that many boys and men are feeling somewhat  intimidated – like the wind is being taken out of their sails. Some haven’t found a good way to compensate for their perceived losses. Instead of rising to the challenge, they either shrink back into their shell or pump up their macho side, unsure of how to cope.  They must have a purpose, a way in which they feel accomplished, potent and in charge on their way to being, as Dr. Phil has said, a provider, protector and teacher. Boys need to feel important and challenged and if they don’t find a positive way, they will take it out on society by causing all kinds of problems for themselves, those around them, and society.

As Kathleen Parker writes in Save the Males, “A man who has been initiated into manhood by his father has no need to be macho. An insecure, uninitiated man takes on the symbolic, exaggerated masculine role because he has never been given the real thing.” Boys need to observe and experience how good men operate, how they do good things and make something of themselves instead of the idiots they see in movies and TV and other media.

How about a “National Day (or year) of the Boy” that would emphasize the following?

  1. The importance of dedicated quality nurturing by mothers and fathers and/or others who have the boy’s best interests at heart.
  2. The importance of the positive male characteristics that benefit society and how they can be nurtured.
  3. The way our despicable media encourages the negative aspects of males by featuring terrible role models for boys to emulate.
  4. That studies need to be done to bring to our attention what has gone wrong when a boy turns to violence and what to do about it.

It all boils down to this: “We who care today about the lives of boys and men have an immediate and profound mission, inherent in our position as mothers and fathers, teachers, mentors, citizens, and friends. Our mission is nothing less than to help each boy develop into a creative spirit, trustworthy friend, moral leader, and meaningful man. Our mission is nothing less than to protect and nurture the future of humanity.” – The Purpose of Boys – Michael Gurian

Since 1984 Dorothy Dimitre has written over 600 columns for various local newspapers.

She graduated from UCLA with a degree in education in 1951. She taught first grade for a while before having two sons and a daughter.  Dimitre was presented with her first great-grandchild on March 30, 2012.  The new baby’s mother is the oldest of Dimitre’s 7 grandchildren, who range in age from 27 to 3.  Dimitre has always been interested in children’s issues.

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Misguided drug polices can create tragic, unintended consequences

By KATIE BAIRD

As part of an introductory course in economics, I used to teach my students about the unintended consequences that usually accompany well-intentioned attempts to make particular transactions illegal. I would draw on current drug policy to link theory with reality.

One thing that I learned from these conversations was that many students felt that discussing drug legalization was immoral. This sort of belief is one of the challenges we’ve faced in confronting failures in our drug policies.

November’s passage of initiatives in Washington (I-502) and Colorado to legalize recreational marijuana use offers promising signs that change is now in the air.

Research by the economist William Evans and his colleagues, just published by the National Bureau for Economic Research should also encourage this change, as it spotlights tragic consequences stemming from our over-reliance on criminalizing rather than treating drug addiction.

A backdrop to the Evans study is a large and puzzling gap between black and white males’ high school graduation rates. What’s perplexing is that this gap steadily shrank over a 20-year span; by the mid-1980s it was half what it had been. If progress had continued, we’d now see black and white males graduating at the same rate. Yet since the mid-1980s the gap has grown, and now is about where it was in the 1960s.

Many have attempted to explain this fall in black males’ graduation rates by pointing to changing labor markets, growing income inequality, and declines in urban schools and teacher quality. But no one has come up with much evidence to support their explanations.

Until now.  In their study, Evans et al empirically establish a causal link between the crack-cocaine epidemic that began tearing through urban communities in the early 1980s, and the declines in black males’ high school graduation rates.

But the link they show between crack and graduation rates is not what you might think. It isn’t that as crack came to (largely black) communities, black youth got caught up in the crack culture and the self-destructive behavior and addiction that often result. Crack was never the substance of choice for teenagers.

Rather, Evans traces black dropout rates to the murder and incarceration that quickly accompanied the crack epidemic. As crack spread from the coasts inland over the 1980s and 1990s, cities and states saw the murder rates of young black men double and triple as suppliers fought over and defended their territory. In some cities young, black men faced a greater than one-in-ten chance of being murdered in the near future. At the same time, their incarceration rates tripled and quadrupled.

Based on their analysis of the data, Evans et al argue that these factors – a higher probability of winding up dead or in jail – influenced black youth’s propensity to abandon their education. “When life around you appears short and brutal, why invest in the long run?” might be the simplest way to sum up their argument and the evidence for it.

What’s important to note is that the violence and imprisonment that accompanied the spread of crack is not a consequence of the crack itself. It’s a consequence of our policy toward it. Evans’ study presents us with another tragic illustration of the unintended consequences of our drug policy. If they are right, our crack policy not only led to higher rates of murder and incarceration, it has and continues to adversely affect the educational choices of hundreds of thousands of black youth.

This study is timely. Over the last few years we’ve dramatically improved our ability to think clearly about drug policy. Without any prompting, my students now regularly and openly cheer the revenue that legalized marijuana could bring. And it’s not just the stereotypic students you might imagine who do this, but others representing a wide range of political beliefs and personal backgrounds as well.

Evans and his colleagues’ research underscores that when it comes to drug policy, moral arguments cut both ways. Hopefully we’ve reached a point where we now recognize this.

Katie Baird is an associate professor of economics at the University of Washington Tacoma. She’s also a regular columnist with Tacoma’s The News Tribune where this article was originally published (November 8, 2012).   Her book Trapped in Mediocrity:  Why are schools aren’t world class and what we can do about it was just published by Roman & Littlefield.  Reach her at kebaird@uw.edu.

 

 

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