Males are keenly aware that when they go to college they are entering a hostile environment. Freshman orientation alone has had a distinctively anti-male cast for years: heavy emphasis on date rape, stalking, unwanted sexual attention, and sexual harassment amount to an unmistakable message that males are patriarchal oppressors and potential sex criminals. The lesson is quickly taught: only women are vulnerable, and men are the cause of their vulnerability. At one elite university, at least, the first thing a female freshman gets from the administration is a whistle to blow in the event that a rape-minded male accosts her. The freshman male is likely to acquire a new feeling about himself: he is the designated potential perpetrator until proven innocent.
This message will be reinforced by a barrage of gender courses, the attitudes of a good many faculty, and on many campuses, what Charlotte Allen calls “the scorched-earth war against fraternities.” The anti-fraternity movement is ostensibly about wantonness and excess (binge-drinking, hazing, date rape), but in reality it’s about erasing the best-known male refuge from the suffocating political correctness on campus and its theory of the evil male.
The only males likely to escape this pressure are gays, African-Americans, the transgendered, or the harmlessly hetero–docile guys who agree with the standard campus view that males are dangerous. The campus environment is so hostile toward men that it doesn’t allow hostility toward men to be considered a “hostile environment.” Only established grievance groups get to detect hostile environments.
Professors in engineering and the hard sciences don’t speak out much about the politics of male-female issues. What we hear emanates strongly from departments of women’s and “gender” studies and is adapted by psychology; social work; sociology; anthropology; literature; schools of education; and the seminaries. At the prestigious universities, most of these departments are now 80% to 95% female.
As a person who has taught in departments of women’s studies, psychology, political science and sociology in many universities (and the only man ever elected three times to the Board of the National Organization for Women in New York City), I can tell you that the core male-female message is: “we live in a patriarchal world in which men created laws to benefit men at the expense of women.” If our sons arrive on campus, they will inevitably be trying to date women who are exposed to and learning this negative attitude toward them.
“Gender” courses now study only liberal women’s view of women’s powerlessness, and liberal women’s perspective on male power. They don’t look at liberal or conservative men’s view of male powerlessness, or liberal or conservative men’s view of female power. Dissent is not tolerated and no administration will dare direct these closed courses to open up. It took twenty years for Boston College to do something about a rabidly anti-male professor who refused to allow males in her class.
As a result of the inattention to male powerlessness and female power, men are as ignorant about their own powerlessness and female power as women in the 1950’s were about their own powerlessness and male power. And as a result, men today are psychologically about where women were in the 1950’s. The last half century has not been a battle of the sexes, but a war in which only one side has shown up. Men have put their heads in the sand and hoped the bullets would miss.
When I did the research for my book, The Myth of Male Power, and began to articulate these thoughts in the university, I went from being a hero to unemployable by a top university. One way to become similarly unemployable is to challenge the misleading statistics on male and female pay. Many a social science class imparts the theme that “men earn more for the same work.” Students then have a choice: they can either think or not think. If they think, and say something like, “if men earned a dollar for each 80 cents women earned for the same work, who would hire a man?” and the gorgeous woman he is trying to attract looks at him like he’s a Neanderthal who just doesn’t “get it,” he’ll usually stop thinking.
On the other hand, he might continue thinking–or even do some research. When I did the research for Why Men Earn More I discovered, for example, that women who had never married and never had children earn 117% of what comparable males earn. Mentioning this will increase his potential for rejection–for being accused of “creating a hostile environment.”
When assumptions such as “history is men’s studies” and “the heterosexual white male is privileged” are mentioned in any class, the male will soon learn they are not statements open to intellectual investigation. If he were to make the mistake of bringing up the possibility that, throughout history, all societies that survived did so based on their ability to train their sons to be disposable (e.g., in war, or in work)–one of the themes I discovered to be common among cultures when researching The Myth of Male Power–he will not be admired for his thoughtfulness.
We have to bring back balance to male-female relations on campus. As long ago as the early 1990s, the now-dead magazine Lingua Franca was calling attention to the “chilly” attitude toward males on our campuses. Now it’s much worse, and we don’t know if the chill is a factor in the growing male aversion to higher education and the high male drop-out rate. But we do know that there are many ominous indicators. Here’s one: For the first time in American history, our sons will have less education than their fathers. When the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) studied the education attainment of sons compared to their dads in 31 countries, the U.S. ranked 31st.
Our colleges and universities can be justly proud of reaching out to women and improving their life prospects. Now they should do the same for men, and the first step will be to do something about the chilly anti-male culture they have allowed to spread on our campuses.
Dr. Warren Farrell has been chosen by the Financial Times as one of the world’s top 100 thought leaders. His books are published in over 50 countries, and in 15 languages. They include two award-winning international best-sellers, Why Men Are The Way They Are and The Myth of Male Power. Dr. Farrell is currently the Chair of the Commission to Create a White House Council on Boys to Men, and is co-authoring Boys to Men with John Gray.
Warren Farrell: Notes on the Broader Male Crisis
In one generation the boy crisis has become a national crisis. Not just in educational attainment, but in global leadership. Which in turn implies a crisis not just for our nation’s economic security, and not just for our sons’ financial security, but also for the financial security of our daughters.
Throughout history, a crisis in economic security foretells a crisis in national security. In brief, if the boy crisis is not addressed, it will mark an American transition from world leader to world loser.
Why? Boys are encountering the perfect storm. The first is being born on a boat with an exhausted crew. Today, one third of children are born into a family without a dad. In neighborhoods where fathers are most scarce, more than half of boys don’t finish high school.
What’s the big deal with dads? When I did the research for Father and Child Reunion, I found that the more time children had with dads, the better they did academically, psychologically, socially, and in physical health. What do dads do–more often with their sons? For starters, fathers tend to rough-house, tease, pretend to “compete” with their sons, play with them, push them to “get back up on the horse when they fail,” and not whine.
While moms and dads are similar in the way they set boundaries (e.g., “you can’t play your video games until you finish your homework”), dads are much more likely to enforce the boundaries they set. For example, with their mom, the boy might do an hour of homework and then manipulate her into allowing an hour of video gaming. With dad, it is more likely that manipulating a better deal is met with “the sooner you stop complaining the sooner you can finish your homework and start playing.”
The result? The children with dad learn they have to focus on doing what needs to get done (e.g., homework) to get what they want (video games). In the process, they learn postponed gratification. They learn to focus attention not just on what they want to do, but on what they don’t want to do. Perhaps that is one reason why children raised predominantly by dads are only about half as likely to have ADHD.
Dads bring these gifts to both their sons and daughters, but they tend to feel freer to bring them to their sons, and the moms give the dads more leeway with their sons. (Dads rarely exercise their unique contributions more than mom allows.)
Dads, by setting less mutable challenges and turning everything into a hands-on game, create engagement and motivation. As father involvement decreases, so does motivation of both sexes–but especially boys. The number of boys who said they didn’t like school increased by 71% since 1980, according to a University of Michigan study. Boys are much less likely to participate in student government, academic clubs, music, the performing arts, and student clubs. Only half as many boys are members of the National Honor Society.
Trouble with Boys
The smaller amount of positive motivation is also reflected in the greater amount of negative behavior. The delinquency rate of boys is almost three times that of girls. Boys are expelled from school three times as often as girls.
The outcome? Boys are falling behind in the “ripple effect” skills of reading and writing at an early age. By the eighth grade, 41% of girls are at least “proficient” in writing; only 20% of boys are proficient in writing.
Is it video games? Perhaps in part. Video games give boys competition, challenge, ownership, a harmless outlet for aggression, guilt-free violence, and control. It’s hands-on and interactive. School asks boys to be passive, and demonize both competition and anything to do with violence.
When girls were doing badly in math and science, we said the trouble was with the schools; now that boys are doing badly in virtually everything, we say the trouble is with the boys–thus book like The Trouble with Boys have become best-sellers.
There’s a “girls good, boys bad” attitude in school that is another contributor to the perfect storm. Three- and four-year old boys are now being expelled from pre-school programs for what many experts view as normal boy behavior.
Girls wearing tee shirts saying “Boys are Stupid, throw Rocks at Them,” were so popular the put-down was soon used as the title for internationally translated books, mugs, and posters. One Barnes & Noble reader called the “Boys Are Stupid” book, “Anti-boy hatred veiled in humor.” Yet the franchise gained enough notoriety to warrant a Wikipedia page and morph into a 100 million dollar per year business.
What’s working today is the encouragement of women to use their full potential and to pursue whatever combination of raising money and raising children works for them.
What doesn’t work is that many boys see no clear path to manhood. Many go from a mother-only or mother-dominated home to a female dominated elementary school, to a high school where “boys will be boys” has morphed into “boys should be more like girls.” “Girl power” is encouraged; “Boy power” sounds dangerous. No, it’s worse than that.
At some point during high school boys used to go from behind girls to ahead of girls. It was the “gender role transition moment:” the moment boys “got it” –that if they were to be valued as a man that they had better prepare to be a good breadwinner.
Now, though, the “gender role transition moment” has disappeared. As our sons look toward their future and see higher education as becoming increasingly a feminine pursuit, high school’s redefining moment of masculinity is as foggy as a morning over the San Francisco Bay.
Men’s perspective is not, of course, more than a half of the male-female story. But it is the untold half; if he dares express even a little of it, he will be ostracized and risk not being loved.
What is a balanced view that the departments of social sciences, education and the seminaries do not express? Something like this…
Rowing the Boat
Prior to the women’s movement, girls learned to row the family boat only from the right side (raise children); boys, only from the left (raise money). The women’s movement helped girls become women who could row from both sides; but without a parallel force for boys, boys became men who had still learned to row only from the left–to only raise money. The problem? If our daughters try to exercise their new-found ability to row from the left, and our sons also row only from the left, the boat goes in circles.
A family boat that goes only in circles is more likely to be sunk by the rocks of recessions. In the past, a man was a family’s breadwinner and he might be with one company for life. In the future, advanced technologies make economic change the only constant, increasing the need for a family boat with flexibility–with our sons eventually able to raise children as comfortably as our daughters now raise money.
How do we start to inspire boys? Begin by looking at what we’ve done to inspire girls. We’ve addressed girls’ challenges with a myriad of institutional efforts, such as a White House Council on Women and Girls. It is telling that there is no White House Council on Boys and Men. A White House Council on Boys and Men might, for starters, provide leadership to help our sons adapt to the next generation’s needs for more flexible family participation and more flexible work participation. And it might co-ordinate the efforts to bring our sons out of their shells and into our schools–so our colleges don’t need affirmative action programs to admit them in equal numbers. It might symbolically mark the end of the era of boys and men as a national afterthought. Ultimately, that would inspire boys to re-emerge on campus, and become men our daughters are proud to love.