David Frum

02.21.13

How Can We Help the Boys?

Christopher Furlong/Getty Images ()

Christina Hoff Sommers and Michael Kimmel, in the latest for the Huffington Post's "Let's Talk" feature, seem to agree that men are falling behind women, but view the issues from opposing perspectives.

The facts don’t lie. In recent years, while boys and girls score the same on standardized tests, boys are more likely to receive lower grades than girls and are less likely to attend a 4-year college.

Sommers argues that the root of the problem is our changing education and workplace systems, which, by design, do not cater well to male nature.

[It is] my view that boys have been harmed by many different social trends and there is plenty of blame to go round These trends include the decline of recess, punitive zero-tolerance policies, myths about armies of juvenile "super-predators" and a misguided campaign against single-sex schooling. As our schools become more feelings-centered, risk-averse, competition-free and sedentary, they have moved further and further from the characteristic sensibilities of boys.

She calls for more recess, material that is geared towards boys (such as reading science fiction) and a return of single-sex education.

Kimmel agrees that more recess would help, but would not fix what he considers to be the root cause of the problem. He makes the point that in essence, Sommers is sereotyping boys and leaving out those who are creative, rather than sports heroes.

[Research] showed me that young men and boys are constantly and relentlessly policed by other guys, and pressured to conform to a very narrow definition of masculinity by the constant spectre of being called a fag or gay. So if we're going to really intervene in schools to ensure that boys succeed, I believe that we have to empower boys' resilience in the face of this gender policing. What my interviews taught me is that many guys believe that academic disengagement is a sign of their masculinity. Therefore, re-engaging boys in school requires that we enable them to reconect educational engagement with manhood.

Selfishly, as a female attempting to break into the business world, I revel in the fact that I will probably never be called ‘tootse’ in the office. But then again, it’s human nature that the dominant group never wants to relinquish power. Maybe that is the root cause of it all?