Mimicry is perhaps the best answer we have as human beings. Explaining dutiful love theoretically is not as palpable as seeing the hands of a father made rough and strong through sacrifice. Boys learn much from the example of a good man….Virtuous femininity, masculinity, and marriages based on friendship draw us in with the attractiveness of goodness. Rather than pontificating in ivory towers about men and women, we are better served by going out into the world, finding good men, women, and marriages and imitating them.
Our Lost Boys
Multiple books have been released in recent years and the past few decades—The War Against Boys, The Boy Crisis, Men Without Work: America’s Invisible Crisis, and Of Boys and Men: Why the Modern Male is Struggling, Why It Matters, and What to Do About It—that demonstrate with staggering evidence and statistics that our boys are suffering and lost. But we have not yet fully determined how to respond to these troubles, and reasonable voices on the topic can be hard to find.
Despite the presence of polarizing reactions, we cannot overlook the fact that our boys are floundering and bereft of purpose. Young men commit suicide at six times the rate of young women, and as the knowledge economy grows, and boys fall behind academically, even their IQs are dropping. The absence of fathers, technological and economic shifts, and an education system that does not nurture boys, are all contributing factors begging for commensurate solutions. If men and women can work in unique ways—ways that acknowledge our interdependence—to urge our boys to be conscientious and strong, this may help ameliorate the crisis.
Good-willed individuals agree that our boys are faltering, but we can become reactionary in our discussions and solutions.
Identity politics leftists tend to portray all masculinity as toxic. They do not have a vision of what healthy masculinity looks like, and are likely incapable of providing one, given that they deny there are differences between men and women and reject a conception of virtue grounded in an unchangeable human nature.
On the other hand, male advocacy often devolves into the discordant. Conservatives can sometimes fall into the trap of delivering sweeping generalizations about rigid gender roles that make constructive conversation impossible. Some writers even stoop to bombastic so-called “solutions” like an author in Crisis magazine who wrote: “We should do one really sound and sensible thing: take away women’s right to vote.”
Such folks insinuate that feminism is the cause of all ills, for men and for the family. They suggest that we should promote a strict division of roles as we had in the 1950s, with women leading private lives in the home and men pursuing careers and public life. This is a blunt description that doesn’t match the complicated realities and mysteries of the partnership between men and women. Nor is it what most women desire, as 60 percent of mothers with underage kids prefer part-time work. These arguments tend to alienate women and enflame young men, which does nothing for a crisis that will require the partnership of men and women to abate.
What is the boy crisis? Contributing factors include the absence of fathers, economic and technological churnings, and policies within our education system.
According to The Boy Crisis, written by political scientist Warren Farrell and counselor John Gray, the primary driver of the boy crisis is the absence of strong fathers and male role models in the community (single-sex spaces can help offset the missing example of a parent). Almost every school shooter is a dad-deprived boy, and such boys “are more likely to be addicted to drugs, video games, opioids, and online porn, more likely to be depressed, withdrawn and to commit suicide, they are even more likely to have their life expectancy shortened.”
In Men Without Work, American Enterprise Institute political economist Nicholas Eberstadt details how men of prime working age are willingly unemployed and spending a great deal of time looking at screens. (The elephant in the room is the rampant addiction to online pornography exacerbated by the invention of YouTube and the smartphone, which will require not only policy conversations but religious renewal to subside.)
In The War Against Boys, Christina Hoff Sommers, a senior fellow emeritus at the American Enterprise Institute, raised the alarm over 20 years ago about our education system. She wrote, “Boys today bear the burden of several powerful cultural trends: a therapeutic approach to education that valorizes feelings and denigrates competition and risk, zero-tolerance policies that punish normal antics of young males, and a gender equity movement that views masculinity as predatory.” Identity politics has ascended even more since that time, and men (particularly white, heterosexual ones) are the prime scapegoat. Young men have reason to feel deflated and cheated.
They also have reason to be pessimistic about their futures. As indicated in The Boy Crisis, the median annual earnings of men with high school diplomas have dropped 26 percent in the past 40 years, while men today are simultaneously earning just 38 percent of university diplomas. Alimony laws can be disproportionately punishing, and many custody laws favor moms.
We have yet to work through comprehensive responses to these issues, especially as some of them, such as the growth of the knowledge economy, are not the result of deliberate discrimination or maliciousness.