A grandfather of four boys worries about their future in a girl-centered society.
I would imagine that it must feel great to see your two daughters each achieve double doctorates, as David Barash proudly talks about in “Women Rising,” and to see it as part of a “sea change in the achievements of women generally.” But, to go on to say as he does, citing Melvin Konner in his book Women After All, that “women are, in nearly every way that really matters, superior to men,” is very similar to the kinds of things said about men (vs. women) many years ago—which feminists have appropriately deplored. For example, consider this from The Bold and the Brave: A History of Women in Science and Engineering (2009) by Monique Frize: “The common belief in the inferiority of women became even more entrenched in 18th century Europe than it had been in the 17th century.”
Do we want to visit the same kind of bias on men as we for so many years did (and perhaps still do) on women?
I think it makes sense for people to care deeply about their children, whether this means to be excited by their accomplishments (as David Barash clearly is) or worried about their not doing so well. Whether your children are part of a group that is either on the rise (as are his daughters—who are part of his “women rising” title), or stagnating or struggling (as are young men as a group, and young men of color in particular), you are going to care what happens to the group your children are in.
It’s hard for me not to envy Dr. Barash, though I hate myself for saying that. It just so happens that two of the people he loves the most in the whole world are part of the group that is rising. (And he is not the only person to recognize this; Hanna Rosin’s well-known 2012 book, The End of Men had the subtitle “And the Rise of Women.”) But I have no daughters and no granddaughters. I do, however, have three sons and four grandsons and Dr. Barash could not love his daughters any more than I love my sons and grandsons. The difference is that the greater society, the progressive society, loves his children too, whereas it pays little attention to mine or to my grandchildren. Warren Farrell, who chairs a multi-partisan group of experts working hard toward the establishment of a White House Council on Boys and Men, has used the term “cultural shrug” to describe how American society views the problems of its young males.
Fortunately, this no longer includes all its young males. When your children are being arrested in huge numbers, dying from homicide at a high rate, and often victimized by the police, you are going to protest vehemently, and that will get Washington’s attention. This is the situation for America’s young men of color today, and it has led to the President’s forming My Brother’s Keeper. This is a necessary and vital program, but I believe part of the reason that young men of color have been struggling so much is that the programs that got going in the early 1990s, such as “Take Our Daughters to Work Day” (which started in 1993) paid no attention whatsoever to them (along with white boys). If you weren’t a girl, you were simply not included, no matter what your race—even though already girls and young women were doing better in school than boys and young men.
And this continues in spite of women, and even more obviously, girls continuing their ascent. Reading of Dr. Barash’s excitement over one of his daughters getting a degree in veterinary medicine reminded me of a local news segment I watched recently from a Seattle television station. The headline for the story was “‘No Boys Allowed’ Day Teaches Girls About Science and Math.” This was a one-day Saturday workshop held in March 2015, and sponsored by Seattle University’s Science and Engineering school. It attracted 500 girls from all over the state of Washington.
It opens with the reporter saying to one of the adults running the program, “I couldn’t help but notice there was one thing missing from all the classrooms we were in.” “What’s that?” says the teacher with a knowing smile. “Boys,” says the reporter; and the teacher laughs. She says, “The boys are doing other things today.”
The reporter later talks about how the girls are learning self-confidence. “They can be tomorrow’s veterinarians, chemists, and engineers.”
Tomorrow’s veterinarians? Given the data, showing that approximately 80 percent of the students at vet schools are women, do girls truly need further encouragement to go into this field?
So is it right to give special attention to a group that is already doing better in school while we mostly ignore the group that is doing worse, keeping in mind that both groups are our children? And as for the category of young people that is struggling the most, when you look at the video of that Saturday program, yes, you can see black girls. But no black boys.
Google “‘boys are struggling in school’ 2014,” and you get close to 5,000 results. Do it for “‘girls….’ 2014,” and you get six. And yet how many programs are there aimed at boys vs. those aimed at girls? There is a White House Council on Women and Girls, but none for Boys and Men.
Yes, historically women have suffered in terms of schooling. David Barash talks about his wife, who got her MD in 1974, being one of only seven women in her medical school class of 110. And her mother, who graduated from medical school in 1943 was one of only three in a class of 130. (Incidentally, today approximately 47% of medical students are women.) I get it. My late mother-in-law, an exceptionally bright person who was born in 1922, had menial jobs well below her abilities – largely because she was a woman. She finally entered an excellent college (Clark University in Worcester, Mass) and, though going part time she took 12 years to graduate, she did, with honors, at the age of 70.
And while my wife went to college at the traditional age, she was often treated very poorly by male bosses during the late 1960s and into the ’70s. She did take a professional position in the 1980s, finally to be seen as the highly intelligent and capable person she is.
But my three daughters-in-law are in a very different world, a world in which 57% of college students are women. A few years ago I asked one of them, who was born in 1977, if she had heard of “women’s consciousness raising groups.” She hadn’t.
Times have changed. My daughters-in-law have done well, and my sons are doing pretty well too, though my youngest has grown up in a generation of males many of whom just don’t have the ambition their fathers and even older brothers have. But the ones I worry about are my grandsons. Already two of them have gotten in occasional trouble in school, and neither is even 10 years old.
Women rising? Even more so it’s girls rising. What’s worrisome is that boys are not.
Fortunately, in addition to “My Brother’s Keeper” and the efforts toward a White House Council on Boys and Men, there is now a research center at an all-boys school in Chattanooga, TN. It’s the National Center for the Development of Boys, and it will be “a research and resource non-profit entity that helps educators, counselors, parents, and others who work with boys to understand more deeply the ways in which boys develop, learn, and grow, as well as the challenges and opportunities boys face.”
Our sons and grandsons comprise half our children. And they will be interacting everywhere with our daughters and granddaughters. To be so excited at the ascent of the latter that we more or less forget the stagnation or descent of the former spells nothing but trouble for our future. If you have a son or grandson who is struggling, it’s truly time to see this as part of a national (and even international) problem, not just his, yours and your family’s.
This article originally appeared on Psychology Today
Photo credit: Getty Images