The war on boys: Where feminists and men's rights activists go wrong
By Selwyn Duke
One problem with one-issue activists, it seems, is that they often view matters from only one dimension. This has always been one of the characteristics of feminists. Men get blame for being history's conquerors and killers, for instance, but no credit for being its innovators and healers. We will hear about how women "create life" while men only destroy it, but forgotten are the fruits of men's labors. Were it not for male medical advances that virtually eliminated female death during childbirth, many feminists wouldn't be around to crow about their fecundity.
Given this misandrist atmosphere, it's not surprising that an opposing group called "men's rights activists" would arise. They rebut feminist ideology, bring many important issues to light and usually make excellent points. And I tend to like them.
One issue they're front and center on is the "war against boys." This refers to the characteristic problems exhibited by modern lads – such as higher dropout rates, worse grades, and lower college attendance than girls and a far greater likelihood that they'll be targeted by the ADHD police for a pickling with Ritalin – and the causes of these things. As for the latter, men's rights activists implicate a prevailing anti-male attitude in a highly-feminized society. And I essentially agree with that analysis. Yet, despite this, like the feminists, they go badly astray. In fact, the two groups have more in common than they would care to admit.
Really, this is no surprise, as the problem I speak of isn't unique to an activist of a given stripe but is one of modernity. To introduce it, I will cite a recent article by one David Kupelian titled "The war on fathers." It's an excellent piece by a man who has much of value to say, and I encourage you to read it. Yet it also contains the following line,
". . . young boys . . . don't naturally thrive when forced to sit still at a desk listening to a teacher lecture for six hours a day . . . ."
The idea is that boys, a rambunctious, harum-scarum lot, cannot learn if they're forced into an overly-structured environment that suppresses their instincts. It's a thought so common that it's hard to read an anti-feminist article on boys' education and not encounter it. But does it really hold water? Well, let's try to gain some perspective.
Ironically, both men's rights activists and feminists are essentially in agreement on this point. Think about it: If I replaced the word "boys" with "children" and said, ". . . young children . . . don't naturally thrive when forced to sit still at a desk listening to a teacher lecture for six hours a day . . . .," wouldn't that sound identical to the sentiment the left has expressed for decades in advocacy of permissive, laissez-faire teaching models? You see, men's rights activists, you're simply packaging your aims incorrectly. If you want feminists – in fact, the full force of the Western left – on your side, don't frame this as a battle of the sexes but as the liberation of the human spirit. Victory will be yours. But be careful what you wish for.
The problem here should be obvious. While George Santayana famously warned of the perils of blindness to history, it's as if we have made forgetting the past an art form. It seems to elude all that scores of years ago, when boys were getting better grades in school than girls, the atmosphere was far stricter. Discipline was by the rule and the ruler; sitting still wasn't a request but a demand, enforced with the rod. Thus, if such structure quashed a boy's spirit and damned him to ignorance, how is it that the West was built on it? How is it that the great inventors and innovators of the last few centuries – virtually all of whom were male – cut their teeth in this rigid environment? No, such an explanation for boys' woes doesn't wash. But I will tell you what does.
Any fairly astute person will note that virtually all the revolutionaries throughout history have been men. When I say this, mind you, I mean it with neither a positive nor negative connotation, nor do I just refer to the political/military realm. Both good revolutionaries, such as our Founding Fathers, and bad ones, such as Vladimir Lenin, have been men. And innovators, inventors, and philosophers, who are themselves often revolutionary – just think of Galileo or Socrates – are virtually always men. I would put it this way: Generally speaking, girls are inside-the-box thinkers; boys are outside-the-box thinkers. Girls are more likely to follow the path society prescribes, right or wrong; boys are more likely to cut their own path, right or wrong. It's part of the complementarity of the sexes.
This is why a lack of discipline within academia will cause boys' performance to deteriorate more than girls' (this isn't to say girls aren't affected; however, the grade difference isn't as profound and the other effects will be more subtle). Girls will be more likely to apply themselves even once the reins are loosened because that is what they're "supposed" to do, whereas boys will be more likely to do their own thing. Now let's expand on this.
As any astute parent of boys has observed, they, more than girls, always need to be doing something, preferably of their own design. For instance, while they might commonly immerse themselves in an activity such as building plastic models or rocketry, finding girls with such tunnel-vision devotion is rare. When boys are interested in something, it often becomes an all-consuming passion, and when they're not interested in something, often only the rod can make them do it. Generally speaking, the zeal for an interest and indifference to dislikes that are commonly exhibited by boys cannot be matched by girls. I put it this way: Boys have a tremendous amount of "creative energy." This force is powerful, and it will either be focused constructively or destructively. If the former, they can be Einsteins; if the latter, they may be Genghis Khans. It may make the difference between being a drug inventor and a drug user. Thus, another tragedy of today's permissiveness is that it greatly decreases the chances that boys' creative energy will be focused correctly.
Another mistake many make when analyzing this matter is to assume that "feminizing" curricula helps girls. This falsehood carries weight because, first, since they are doing better than boys, it's easy to believe all is well. But this is no different than thinking that there is no problem with chastity among whites because their 27 percent out-of-wedlock birth rate looks good next to blacks' 70 percent one. Then, some will say that girls don't seem to be doing worse than their grandmothers in terms of grades and test scores, but this misses an important point. We are not judging the generations with the same yardstick because tests and curricula have been so dumbed-down. Blame this on political correctness, which has both demanded laxity so that failure will be minimized and made laxity necessary because, since political correctness has eliminated accountability and hence obedience , it's impossible to teach students effectively (how can someone learn from you if he will not first listen to you?) A multitude of studies have borne this out, by the way, revealing how little many high school and college students actually know.
Does this really surprise anyone? A quarter of a century ago I attended one of the best high schools in the nation, and, while I was a slacker (I'm chagrinned to admit) and didn't mind the lack of discipline, I full well knew even as a teen that my schooling was a cakewalk as compared to that of earlier generations. And, yes, that cake does now have frilly, pink decoration on top, but again, of what good is this? I remember reading about a school that was offering extra credit if its teen students decorated their notebooks, a feminine exercise if ever there was one. But while girls certainly will get better grades if that reflects the curriculum's character, what is actually learned? Unless it's a class in interior design, it has no value.
And casting feminized curricula as beneficial to girls creates numerous problems. First, inherent in the notion is that one sex can only be helped in a coed environment at the expense of the other; if you give boys their blue, girls cannot have their pink. This is a flawed analysis, and if we make an incorrect diagnosis, we can't prescribe the correct cure. Moreover, it lends the dumbed-down, emotion-based, untraditional education paradigm of the left credibility it doesn't deserve. It's not so much that we need to tweak the system for boys or provide them a parallel one – we need to pull it up by the roots and reclaim tradition. Lastly, the idea that it's either blue or pink and ne'er the twain shall meet creates a battle of the sexes, causing opposition to the cure that, in a measure, wouldn't exist otherwise.
Having said this, there is no doubt that a departure from traditional schooling, which today means the subordination of logic, objective Truth, and hard facts to feel-good schemes (e.g., self-esteem nonsense), is more unpalatable to boys. As the Oprah Winfrey show proves, the fairer sex has a great affinity for encounter-group settings, whereas boys are more likely to say "This makes no sense, is bunk, and I'm not doing it!" However, echoing earlier points, just because kids – in this case girls – may like something doesn't mean it's good for them. As for the boys, while I can certainly sympathize with notebook-decoration overload, the solution is not to say we understand why they're goofing off. After all, no matter how sane the schooling, it's always more fun to be the grasshopper than the ant.
So we have two obligations. First, to secure a disciplined environment in which exists that prerequisite for learning, obedience; then, we have a duty to ensure that the system is worth being obedient to.
Thus, it's tragic when the prescription for boys' woes is to allow them freer rein, for this is precisely the opposite of what they need. In point of fact, boys would be far better off in a militaristic atmosphere, an environment with well-defined hierarchies, where following directions and applying oneself are viewed as a matter of duty and honor, as the exhibition of manly virtue. It is this, immersion in a masculine environment and an appeal to their masculinity, that will inspire them to greatness. It would work today just as it always has, and it has always worked; that is what history teaches. And, if we cannot even learn and apply the simplest lessons of the past, how can we expect our children to learn their lessons in the present?
Get weekly updates about new issues of ESR!