Via Dylan at Handle The Truth, a fantastic article by one of my favorite writers, Michael Kimmel, regarding the so-called “Boy Crisis” in education.
After outlining the case for the Boy Crisis, Kimmel effectively goes over the reasons for doubting the “crisis” exists: That historically, panics over boys in crisis surface again and again (and women – whether in the form of female schoolteachers or of feminists – are always to blame); that wage gaps would lead us to expect boys to have less incentive to stay in school (someone who can earn $20,000 a year out of high school is a good deal more likely to drop out than someone who can earn $14,000);1 how “No Child Left Behind” has hurt boys who would benefit from gym and sports programs, and from counseling; and that far from being a universal among boys, the “boy crisis” is virtually all among boys from lower-income families and boys of color. Kimmell writes:
Why don’t the critics acknowledge these race and class differences? To many who now propose to “rescue” boys, such differences are incidental because, in their eyes, all boys are the same aggressive, competitive, rambunctious little devils. They operate from a facile, and inaccurate, essentialist dichotomy between males and females. Boys must be allowed to be boys—so that they grow up to be men.
This facile biologism leads the critics to propose some distasteful remedies to allow these testosterone-juiced boys to express themselves. Gurian, for example, celebrates all masculine rites of passage, “like military boot camp, fraternity hazings, graduation day, and bar mitzvah” as “essential parts of every boy’s life.” He also suggests reviving corporal punishment, both at home and at school…
I was one of the boys who failed all the “masculinity” tests; I was gentle, overly sensitive, and could no more catch a ball than I could catch a jumbo jet plane. I can’t imagine how I would have survived the kind of schooling Gurian wants to shove boys into. But because wimpy boys don’t fit into the biological-essentialist worldview, their needs are never considered by the boy-crisis mavens. Their allegedly “pro-boy” reforms are really only about helping the jocky boys; all other boys can go hang.2
A crisis among lower-income and non-white boys is still a crisis, of course.3 But to talk as if an inability to do well in contemporary schools comes with the Y chromosome is deceptive. There already are many schools in the USA, right now, in which boys do just as well as girls. Boy crisis mavens tend to talk about how boy brains can’t learn if they’re expected to sit still in class, to read novels, to do homework, and to follow rules; but in schools where boys excel, boys are expected to do all those things.
Nonetheless, it’s a fact that among some groups, boys are doing worse than girls. Why is this? Kimmel argues that a false and damaging conception of masculinity harms boys by dissuading them from putting as much effort as they should into their schoolwork, even as it encourages them to be overconfident about their abilities.
Kimmel has angry words for the anti-male ideology underlying the “boy crisis” panic:
It is not the school experience that “feminizes” boys, but rather the ideology of traditional masculinity that keeps boys from wanting to succeed. “The work you do here is girls’ work,” one boy commented to a researcher. “It’s not real work.”
“Real work” involves a confrontation — not with feminist women, whose sensible educational reforms have opened countless doors to women while closing off none to men — but with an anachronistic definition of masculinity that stresses many of its vices (anti-intellectualism, entitlement, arrogance, and aggression) but few of its virtues. When the self-appointed rescuers demand that we accept boys’ “hardwiring,” could they possibly have such a monochromatic and relentlessly negative view of male biology? Maybe they do. But simply shrugging our collective shoulders in resignation and saying “boys will be boys” sets the bar much too low. Boys can do better than that. They can be men.
Perhaps the real “male bashers” are those who promise to rescue boys from the clutches of feminists. Are males not also “hardwired” toward compassion, nurturing, and love? If not, would we allow males to be parents? It is never a biological question of whether we are “hardwired” for some behavior; it is, rather, a political question of which “hardwiring” we choose to respect and which we choose to challenge.
The antifeminist pundits have an unyielding view of men as irredeemably awful. We men, they tell us, are savage, lustful, violent, sexually omnivorous, rapacious, predatory animals, who will rape, murder, pillage, and leave towels on the bathroom floor—unless women fulfill their biological duty and constrain us. “Every society must be wary of the unattached male, for he is universally the cause of numerous ills,” writes David Popenoe. Young males, says Charles Murray, are “essentially barbarians for whom marriage . . . is an indispensable civilizing force.”
By contrast, feminists believe that men are better than that, that boys can be raised to be competent and compassionate, ambitious and attentive, and that men are fully capable of love, care, and nurturance. It’s feminists who are really “pro-boy” and “pro-father”—who want young boys and their fathers to expand the definition of masculinity and to become fully human.
I highly recommend reading the whole thing.
- Actually, Kimmel barely touches on the point about the wage gap, but it’s a hobby horse of mine so I’m including it on this list. [↩]
- And even the “help” offered jock boys is dubious; such “help” could be accurately termed “the soft bigotry of low expectations.” [↩]
- Let’s not forget, however, that the same crisis exists among lower-income and non-white girls, whose academic achievement is considerably lower than that of their middle-class white counterparts. The real crisis owes much more to class and race inequalities than to sex. [↩]