Snips and Snails vs. Sugar and Spice

Dear Mr. Dad: As a woman who grew up in the 1970s, I’ve always supported feminism, which did a great job of getting people to pay attention to women’s issues. But now, as the mother of three boys, I think we might have gone too far. Girl power is everywhere these days, and it has become perfectly acceptable to make fun of boys and cut them down. I see how this affects my sons and I’m really worried. What is going on here?

A: This may set off a firestorm, but here goes. First, you’re right—what feminsm accomplished in improving the quality of life for women and girls has been nothing short of spectacular. And I’d never want to take any of that back. Unfortunately, while females were advancing, boys and men have been losing ground. A lot of ground. Here are just a few examples.

  • Women live five years longer than men and have lower death rates of nine of the top ten causes of death. Females 12 and older are twice as likely as men to be diagnosed with depression, but four times more men than women commit suicide.
  • Seventy-eight percent of the jobs lost in the current recession had been held by men. In our society, where we tend to rate men by their paychecks, the “He-cession” has already led to increases in male depression and suicide.
  • Boys are bombarded with messages about how bad/dangerous/stupid males are. Girls as young as four believe they’re smarter, work harder, behave better than boys, according to a 2010 study. By age eight, boys also believe that girls are superior in these areas. The fault apparently lies with primary school teachers (about 90 percent are female) who demand that boys conform to a more feminine (AKA quieter) style of behavior, and reinforce the idea that boys are academically inferior. Teachers’ positive expectations for girls—and negative ones for boys—become self-fulfilling prophecies, say the researchers. No surprise, then, that in 8th grade, girls are twice as likely as boys to be proficient in writing, and 50 percent more likely to be proficient in reading? Or that throughout school, boys get worse grades, are expelled three times more often, and are more likely to repeat a grade or drop out entirely? Given that, it’s easy to understand why men account for only 43 percent of college students and receive only 40 percent of advanced degrees.

There’s a major crisis brewing in this country and we need to do something about it. Now. In 2009, President Obama created the White House Council on Women and Girls. For the past six months, I’ve been part of a group of men and women whose goal has been to create a similar council for men and boys, hoping to achieve for males what the women’s movement so brilliantly did for women. Sadly, the Administration has been reluctant to even look at the proposal.

I know that some people will say that it’s only fair that girls are doing better than boys. After all, the logic goes, men have historically done better than women. Whether that has ever been true is debatable—we’ll talk more about this in future columns. But as the father of three girls, I don’t want my daughters growing up seeing themselves as victims anymore than you want your sons to see themselves as victimizers—or hopeless cases. As a country, we can’t allow ourselves to focus so much on past perceived injustices that we ignore what’s happening right in front of our faces.

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