Sunday, March 16, 2014

Do boys have it worse?

Ever read Matt Walsh?  I see him linked a lot.  Some of his articles I agree with -- like when he talks about education and points out you can succeed without college.  Others infuriate me -- usually the gender stuff.  He seems to be softpedaling the strict gender roles ideology by only talking about the less-controversial parts .... but one wonders just how far he really would go with it, if you asked him.

If you need an example, we can talk about his latest, An open letter to liberal feminists: girls don't have it any worse than boys.  He lists many problems boys are dealing with today, such as higher rates of ADHD, delinquency, crime, and suicide.

As far as that goes, he's entirely right, and it's scary stuff for someone with two sons to read.  He even missed a few: higher rates of autism spring to mind, as well as young men's lower achievement in college.

But then he concludes that feminists, by championing women's rights, are part of the problem and hurting boys.  He never offers any proof for this.  There's no evidence anywhere in his article that feminism is somehow sending boys to prison or giving them ADHD.

Let's take a few of the problems and talk about what does cause them.

Boys are more sensitive to ADHD because of differing brain chemistry.  Now I will agree that school is not an environment that helps kids who might be prone to attention problems; there have been anecdotal studies showing that ADHD symptoms decrease when a child switches to homeschooling.  But is this a "boy" problem or a problem with the educational system?  I don't believe that anyone benefits from being made to sit in a desk all day.  Perhaps boys will show more obvious disciplinary problems, but that doesn't mean the girls are paying attention either.  They may be staring out the window daydreaming (that was me) or anxiously trying to avoid getting called on, but quietness doesn't mean they're learning.

There is one point often raised that is quite true: there are very few male teachers in the elementary grades.  Some speculate that this causes boys to consider learning a "girl thing" and not be motivated to succeed.  This may be true.  But is feminism to blame for that?  Traditional gender roles dictate that women should be teachers and other nurturing roles.  Feminists would like more female CEO's -- but that implies that men will be stepping up to do some of the nurturing jobs once in awhile too.

Meanwhile, is there anything that can be done about the problem of gender contamination?  This is the phenomenon, known to anthropologists and marketing professionals, of men refusing to have anything to do with things they consider "women's things."  Where are boys learning this?  Is this innate, or do they learn it from us, when we tell them, "You can't play with that, wear that, do that, because that's for girls"?  Women don't experience this, and it's believed that it's because men have higher social status, so it is a step up rather than a step down to drive a "manly" car, drink a "manly" drink, or wear pants.  Again, perhaps feminism could help here.

Boys and men have always been more likely to commit crimes than women, so you can't really blame feminism for that.  It's probably due to increased aggression caused by higher testosterone, though there's something to be said for stronger muscles making it easier to commit crimes in the first place.  It seems to me that teaching boys other ways of managing problems besides aggression is definitely a good place to start.  Despite what Matt Walsh says, I don't really see how allowing toy guns in school will keep boys out of prison.  I do agree that excessive penalties for toy guns are stupid; but I never heard that feminists were the ones behind these stupid rules.

Suicide is a big one: why do men commit suicide much more often?  The difference appears everywhere, from progressive nations to patriarchal ones, and that in itself makes it hard to blame feminism.  But what are the causes?  One cause is that men are much less likely to seek help for depression, in part due to a cultural perception that psychiatric care is for the weak.  This is more the fault of machismo than of feminism.  Another reason is that men are less connected to supportive social networks than women are.  To some extent, that might be natural to men, but modern men are particularly estranged.  Why don't men make more close friendships?  Again, machismo is a major suspect.

Does this all have to be a zero-sum game -- for every gain women make, men have to lose?  I don't think so.  I think that when we tell people, male and female alike, "You don't have to follow a gender script -- you can choose to be what you want to be," everyone wins.  It seems to me that strict gender roles have winners and losers.  The winners are those who naturally fall into their chosen box: women like me, who want to stay home and raise kids, and men like my dad who never cry and are fulfilled through work.  The losers are those who don't: my girl friend whose dream was to be a Marine, my guy friend who hates sports and wonders why his male friends never hug him.  But I don't see what is taken away from anyone by broadening our vision of what a man can do or what a woman can do.

I've had people tell me they were sure I'd "ruin" my sons with my feminist ways.  I just don't think so.  I will teach them (like I would teach a daughter) that we use our words instead of pushing and hitting; that bossing our friends around is rude; that everyone cries sometimes and it doesn't mean you're not strong; that they can grow up to find something they love to do, and their dad and I will be cheering them on no matter whether they're hairdressers or football stars.  I'll also show them (like I would show a daughter) to take commitments seriously; to put up with their friends (and later spouses) even when they drive them nuts; to make sacrifices for others; to rock a baby; to fix a toilet.

I think that's pretty feminist -- and I also think it will help them grow up into great men.


Anonymous said...

Men and women attempt suicide at the same rate, but men succeed more because they use more violent methods. (guns instead of sleeping pills, for instance)

Grim, I know! Sorry.

You write beautifully. Keep it up.

Enbrethiliel said...


As unfortunate as the term "gender contamination" is, I don't think it's a problem at all. I think men and boys will naturally seek a kind of "gentleman's club" for themselves. There may be some men who openly sneer at "women's things" and want to brand themselves with "men's things," but such shallow posing is a completely different phenomenon. I think we're talking about two different things here.

The first is men's desire for a place where they can "let it all hang out." It's not at all sexist. (The advocatus diaboli wonders: couldn't they do that with women around? I'm reminded of G.K. Chesterton telling a woman friend who asked him to treat her like she was a man that the minute he did that, she would order him out of her living room! And I've seen several cases of men simply being direct with women, and women interpreting it as the men being aggressive or even chauvinistic. So yeah, I do think that having women around is more of a hindrance than women can ever imagine.)

The second thing we're talking about is the idea that there are "men's things" and "women's things." Now, this I also take issue with, because it's all just branding, whether you're a man trying to build your identity with externals like the "right" car or the "right" beer . . . or a woman trying to flaunt your equality with the "right" job. The Last Psychiatrist pointed out that the year when the US senate had the most women was also the year when the US senate was considered the most manipulated and powerless. So how is that an achievement for women? But the real idea to consider is that when those women senators were little girls, they were encouraged to be lawyers, because that was where the power seemed to be. Now that they're senators, the power is with the bankers. So the little girls of today are probably encouraged to be bankers, but when they grow up and take over, the banks may start to seem manipulated and powerless. The problem with women's coveting "men's things" is that they're not the real source of the power women crave.

But men also have a problem with "men's things." A few days ago, I read a article by my favourite columnist, David Wong; it was about five "manly" symbols that will completely lose their meaning in a few years. One of them was the traditional war hero. Wong made the fascinating point that being a soldier won't be "manly" for much longer not because of more women in combat but because of more drones.
Now that you can beat the enemy by pushing a button from a hundred miles away, even a girl can win a war. (Notice the dig? It was deliberate. He also argues that women who think that it's such a huge sign of progress that so many women are in the military should stop crowing. They only let us in after they started changing the infrastructure of war so that we'd never be expected to do what all the male war heroes of the past did. It's not the same playing field any longer, so the supposed equality isn't real.)

Anyway, I don't think that identity comes from "things" and other externals. But this is also why I think that doing away with "gender scripts" isn't going to solve anything unless we accept that there are some societies which will form naturally. For as soon as we tell boys that they can be who they want to be, they will happily form a little "gentlemen's club."

Belfry Bat said...

A different take on the Gentlemen's club: I think it is very right and good that men should find women more than a little mysterious and mystical (which I do...), to which end it certainly helps not to encourage any ill-founded or false impression of over-familiarity between men and women.

Sheila said...

I have no objection to same-gender clubs. (Even same-gender classrooms -- I did that in high school, and it was one of the only nice things about high school! You don't have to spend all day posturing for the boys/girls, so you can spend your energy on more important things.)

But that's different from saying "If boys have a female teacher, they will think school is for girls." It's one thing to want some gender-separate time and entirely another to insist that all time is gender-separate and that nothing involving (or worse, led by) women is inferior. I don't know if I can stop my boys from having that attitude, but I certainly won't be *feeding* it to them by speaking disparagingly of "girl stuff" in their presence. (Which is an effort for me, because I think most "girl stuff" is stupid.)

Funny thing though: I was raised with the utmost respect for Guy Time. I always believed that Guy Time was sacred. But it seemed the Christendom guys -- well, some of them -- took advantage of this. Founding a club? The founding meeting just happened to be on guys' night, so they elected each other officers and only invited the girls in to take notes later. Working on the school paper? We guys already discussed how we want it, you ladies can copyedit.

If you pull "Guy Time" on us all the time, we're going to stop believing you! I kind of feel this way about .... don't stone me, y'all ..... altar girls. The main argument I understand against altar girls is that "once the girls join, the guys all quit." Well, that's lame, don't you think? There was no rule that the sacristy was going to be a cigar bar. I don't see why having a girl join makes it automatically uncool. If the boys have plenty of boy time elsewhere, why do they need it in church too? (This does not begin to address other arguments against altar girls; I'm not even going to try with that one because I don't care.)

When I was growing up, it seemed all the *good* stuff was for boys. The Boy Scouts got to go camping and hiking ... Girl Scouts made lanyards. (And my parents wouldn't let me join anyway, for political reasons.) At boys' church camp, they slept under the stars and went to a shooting range ..... we did arts and crafts and sang songs. I don't know if this is because my tastes don't match traditional girls' things, or because the girl activities were just plain lame. All I know is that the message I got was, "You have to content yourself with second-rate, your brother is the one who gets all the good stuff."

However, if my husband wants to go have drinks with a guy friend or two, I am the first to support that. After all, he never crashes my afternoon playdates. But I'd be pretty darn ticked if he said that debate society, Young Republicans (his current obsession), or our Catholic discussion group had been turned into male-only activities. You can't just label everything good "guys only" and expect women to respect that.

Sheila said...

Bat, I pondered your comment for a bit. I do think there's always going to be some level of mystery between men and women -- but I don't think that can be removed by socializing with each other. In fact, it seems by avoiding mixed-sex social situations, you wind up with three risks:

1. Remaining single forever -- most people would rather be friends before getting married; I know it was a non-negotiable for me that I wouldn't date a stranger.

2. Seeing *only* the mystery in the opposite sex, and thus failing to see the humanity in that other person.

3. Being really, really confused if one happens to get married. The opposite sex is confusing enough already, even when you have siblings and classmates and siblings' friends to practice interacting with (in a nonsexual way) your whole life long.

Now I agree with Chesterton that sticking 50 girls and 50 boys on the same playground won't turn them into comrades. But if you have five girls and five boys around your dinner table -- or, as we had, one boy and one girl -- you can hardly help associating with one another, and I think it does some good. You learn that the other sex isn't frightening, that they have thoughts and feelings like you have, and that they have some differences which you learn to account for.

In other words, school won't "cure" anything. But that doesn't mean men and women -- and girls and boys -- shouldn't socialize.

Belfry Bat said...

Goodness, I'm not arguing against men and women (or boys and girls) socializing! I certainly would argue against classing an all-boys Altar Service with other guy-time pursuits (not that it can't degenerate into that, but that it used to be pre-seminary, which is harder to maintain with girls) but never mind that for now.

As it happens, the difficulty you mention re. student clubs and study groups sounds like something rather close to an excessive sense of familiarity: it suggest a private decision that particular other folk have nothing interesting to add because they aren't guys. Of course, if something like that is a problem again, one could try to surprise them with something like, "oh, I'm sure you're bright and strong enough to do that hard work [secretarying/proof-reading/tuning] yourself".

(I should add, however, that I haven't found any of men from Christendom to be persistent bloggers, or if they are then they don't write much about it when they do blog, so I don't really know their take on the story, which might well sound different.)

Enbrethiliel said...


I skimmed the Matt Walsh post today and I don't think he's saying, "If boys have a female teacher, they will think school is for girls." His point seems to be closer to, "If boys have a teacher who bans dodgeball, punishes them for pretending toys are guns, and medicates them for being unable to sit still, they will hate school." And that teacher would probably be a woman.

Sheila said...

Matt Walsh didn't say that, but I've heard it elsewhere, particularly from MRA's who seem to think the lack of male teachers is proof of male oppression, rather than a lack of interest in men for being elementary school teachers. If you think it's a problem, why not be a teacher? I can't figure this out. I know my own black male elementary school teacher was a great role model in a neighborhood where most of the boys were poor, black, and had no father or one in jail.

The global rules like no guns, no dodgeball, etc. are usually made by (frequently male) principals and school boards. I certainly had no problem with rough games at recess, provided everyone who was playing wanted to be.

Medicating kids for hyperactivity? Gotta blame (mostly male) doctors for that one. And, of course, parents -- because parents have to consent to any medication regime, or it doesn't happen.

BB, they probably would have shrugged and just cut us out of the paper we'd helped found. The only way I managed to get anywhere with those things was to be a bit pushy. It's not my temperament, but I was tired of seeing a badly-written paper when I could do better. I see copies of it from time to time, and from the bylines it seems it's now a co-ed outlet at last.

Enbrethiliel said...


The principals and the doctors may be male, but as long as the "face" of school is a woman teacher's, that is the strongest impression the boy students will get.

Now that I'm thinking about the "face" . . . I'm reminded of a male friend who doesn't think a school where women teachers outnumber male teachers is automatically bad. In fact, he would think a school which didn't have that ratio was weird! But he draws the line when women teachers who are overweight outnumber everyone else. He says they are man-haters whether they know it or not and he doesn't think they belong anywhere near boys. (I bring it up because it occurs to me that we're making huge generalisations about "women" and "men," when we could probably break the groups down further, for more clarity.)

As for the other issues you bring up, I understand why someone would say that schools are awful and not want to be a teacher. I think there are lots of problems with schools these days and will explain them in detail to anyone unlucky enough to be in my captive audience, but I definitely don't want to be a teacher again. In fact, I think the whole school system should be scrapped, starting with the centralised control of the Department of Education. I don't think it's possible to fix it from within.

Nor do I think that the buck stops with school boards or with principals. These people are ultimately hostage to parents. When I was teaching, I hated parents. All the teachers did. They were the enemy because they kept interfering when we tried to teach. LOL! You have no idea how many crazy rules are implemented, to the detriment of students and teachers, because one parent went crazy over something and the teachers just wanted to avoid a repeat of the drama.

Sheila said...

Oh, I have *every* idea .... remember I was a teacher too! The parents would call me at home, on my cellphone, any hour of the day or night, to scream at me about what their precious darling told them I said in class. I wanted to say, "If you don't like the way I'm doing it, teach them yourself!" It would save everyone a lot of trouble.

But then, I think you and I are in exactly the same boat -- been behind the scenes at school enough to never, ever want to send a child there.

I sure hope *you* don't agree with the overweight-female-teacher hater! What a ridiculous way to categorize people.

Today, the headline of the day was "School orders boy to stop wearing My Little Pony backpack, says it makes him target for bullying." "Emasculating"? Not really. Bad? Absolutely. But it's what happens when you try to control large numbers of kids by arbitrary rules.

Enbrethiliel said...


I should have made it clear that my "hater" friend and I don't see eye-to-eye on that point! So rest assured that I don't automatically judge a school by the weight of its teachers! =)

There were many times when I wanted to point out to a micromanaging parent that the ideal solution for him would probably be homeschooling . . . but I couldn't do that as a teacher because the school was being run as a business and couldn't do that as a tutor because I really did need the work at that time. (Now that I've brought it up, the school-as-a-business model really bothers me, especially if we're talking about a Catholic school. I think that the big mistake of the teaching order which ran my school was hiring laypeople to take over in the classroom while the sisters focussed on administration and expansion. As a business, my old high school is currently worth millions . . . but it's also now elitist and soulless. =( What a bad tradeoff! Especially when you remember that the teaching order was founded for the education of girls from poor families!)

Sheila said...

Yes, I got in trouble with the principal of one school for telling a mother her child would be better off homeschooled, since she was home all day and we all knew her son wasn't prospering and we didn't have the resources for him. The principal needn't have worried -- the mother herself said that she wouldn't dream of pulling her son because it would be bad for the school! Talk about crazy priorities! But it was a new startup and everyone was concerned with making it a success.

If school is not a business, what is it to be? A charity would be nice, I *think,* but most schools in America are bureaucracies, which are so much worse. A business at least has to be accountable to the parents, but a bureaucracy always finds a way to be accountable to no one. (There is all kinds of fuss about that right now, with this new "Common Core" which many parents consider to be indoctrination, but there is nothing anyone can do about it.) In fact every option seems bad, when you think that, on the one hand, money is needed, and on the other, you will never find a solution that will please all the parents.

I had one principal I very much admired who would tell me, on hearing of a dispute with a parent, "Let them pull their kids if they don't like it. There are many other fine Catholic schools in the area, and we have a long waiting list." It meant a lot to me to know she had my back -- but I imagine she said the exact same thing to the parents. And I'm sure they would knuckle under because the school *was* acclaimed, despite the crumbling buildings, non-certified teachers like myself, and basically no heating or cooling. I can't really figure out how they made it work. One of the principal's goals was to have a school that was economically diverse -- aka that non-crazy-rich people could attend -- and the awful buildings were how she could afford to do that.

If I *had* to send my kids somewhere for school, that is where I would choose. It was a good place, like family, I felt. But still .... it was school, and had all the truly inherent flaws in the system. If I'd taught at *bad* schools, I could hope for a good school, but I've seen some excellent ones and they were still so incredibly frustrating.

Enbrethiliel said...


I think that school should be a community effort. Of course, money will be involved no matter what and books will need to be kept. But when I say that I don't like schools which are "businesses," I mean that I don't like the idea of abdicating responsibility to "professionals" and then being upset when you don't like the way they do their job.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you wholeheartedly. I often think it's why God "gave me" boys.

Maybe it's true for you too...

(yes, I am a scientist, I know how we got boys genetically, but my faith lifts me up too) :)

Hope you are well.

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