The Problem with Boys

January 27, 2006

Isn’t feminism. I am the mother of a two-year-old boy, but I refuse to join Laura Bush’s crusade and the media frenzy over boys’ declining performance in school. Yes, girls are more likely than boys to do well in school and graduate from college. Boys are more likely to die in gang violence and at their own hand — which has always been the case because men are more impulsive than women. This is not a new phenomenon, which is why I worry about people’s possible (over)reaction to the latest “crisis.”

Statistics not cited in Newsweek’s most recent cover story is that men still control government, academia and business. Women are disproportionately victims of domestic violence and still most likely to become the stay-at-home parent if that option is available. So you see, blaming “misguided feminism” as conservative mouthpiece Christina Hoff Sommers did in Newsweek’s recent cover story is narrow-sighted. Also, separating the sexes in the classroom as Newsweek seemed to highlight as a victory is worrisome.

I understand that most little boys are energetic and may cause disruptions in the classroom. But, my son, for example, is calmer than even many toddler girls. He likes to play by himself, never takes physical risks at the park, opting for solitude at the sand box instead. He has actually sat through flicks at the movie theatre! I think he would thrive in an all-girls’ classroom rather than the ideal boys’. Ditto with the high-energy girls who would benefit from the longer recesses and shorter instruction time in an all-boys’ elementary school.

Separating the sexes may only promulgate traditional gender roles and bring back the 1950s patriarchal family, which I think is worst for men — which leads me to my last point: Why haven’t the Laura Bushes, Christina Hoff Sommerses and men taken a lead role in giving men more options as to who they can be?

Women today can wear a skirt or pants, be feminine or masculine, stay home with their children or pursue a career. But if a man were to wear a dress or express feelings of hurt — even in school — he is told to “suck it up.” What a limiting role to play. No wonder men are more likely than women to commit suicide or end up in jail. Rather than attack feminism for the strides it’s made for women, we should encourage men to redefine the rules of gender, too.