The Boy Crisis
In a post-modern “feminized” era in the West, some believe that cultural construction of gender favors’ girls’ educational achievements. When New Jersey Republican Governor Chris Christie was accused of illegal “Bridgegate” practices in 2014, Fox News anchor Brit Hume commented, “In this sort of feminized atmosphere in which we exist today, guys who are masculine and muscular like that in their private conduct, kind of old-fashioned tough guys, run some risks.”[i] Other authors also worry that feminism is undermining masculinity, as elucidated in Christina Hoff Summers’ The War Against Boys (2001), Boys Adrift (2009) by Leonard Sax, and Kay Hymowitz’ Manning Up (2012). These role reversals alarm elders: In Japan, aimless young men who reject the work ethic of their fathers are called “herbivores,” while their female peers are “carnivores” or “hunters.”
Chinese boys unanimously told an American teenage interviewer that girls are better students and Chinese experts refer to a “strong female, weak male” phenomenon.[ii] Xiao Meili told the BBC’s “100 Women” series, “Sexism is in every corner of life in China, and people get so used to it that it’s easy to ignore it. People got used to the idea that men did things better than women. But when women started to excel [in university admissions], people got scared and thought of that as a problem,” similar to the US.[iii] We’ve seen that globally more women than men are university students (51%)–31% of females and 28% of males are enrolled in higher education,[iv] although about 8% of boys are illiterate compared to 13% of girls.[v]
Although boys are more likely to attend school, girls have lower dropout and repetition rates in all developing regions and the gender gap has closed in most countries.[vi] In almost one-third of developing countries, girls outnumber boys in secondary school. Teachers and students I’ve interviewed globally often report that girls work harder in school, while boys are more distracted by games. In India, boys told me they play better than girls and a boy joked that girls do better in school because the boys help them; these comments generated laughter in the classrooms I visited.
In his classic book Love and Death in the American Novel (1960), Leslie Fiedler shows that American fiction centers on boys and men running from the civilizing control of virtuous girls like Becky Thatcher, epitomized by Huck Finn, Tom Sawyer and Holden Caulfield and other books found in the children’s section of the library. New York Times film critic A.O. Scott updated Fiedler, maintaining that the popularity of comics and teen fiction like The Hunger Games for adults indicate the continuation of juvenile entertainment that doesn’t address adult issues like marriage.[vii] He thinks TV and films show the allegorical decline of the adult white male; “It seems that, in doing away with patriarchal authority, we have also, perhaps unwittingly, killed off all the grown-ups.”
Scott’s examples of bad men who don’t make it are Tony Soprano in The Sopranos, Don Draper in Mad Men, and Walter White in Breaking Bad. Scott concludes that shows like Girls and Masters of Sex indicate “nobody knows how to be a grown-up anymore.” Actress Frances McDormand, age 57, added to the discussion about US fear of aging; “There’s no desire to be an adult. . . . No one is supposed to age past 45 — sartorially, cosmetically, attitudinally. Everybody dresses like a teenager. Everybody dyes their hair. Everybody is concerned about a smooth face,” but not her.
Scott warned that film characters played by Adam Sandler and Seth Rogen and “bro comedy” films like The Hangover portray “the rebellious animus of the disaffected man-child directed not just against male authority but also against women,” with solace found in male buddies. Examples of movies that illustrate boorish male buddies who get drunk together and do stupid things are The Comedy (2012) and The Hangover series of films, as well as the TV series Entourage. An Indian film called Dil Chahta Hai (2001) shows four male friends who are also confused about their futures and make some bad decisions. The extreme end of the “crisis of masculinity” is young lonely men who commit mass shootings in public places like schools or a theater or church. The only shooting I know of by a duo occurred in Columbine, Colorado, in 1999. These incidents have occurred in the US, Finland, Germany, Australia, England, France, etc.
Professor Michael Kimmel describes “guyland,” a stage of development from adolescence to manhood inhabited by young men, referred to as “laddism” in the UK and Australia.[viii] Kimmel says their sexist motto is simple, “Bros before Hos.” Their world revolves “almost exclusively around other guys.” These young men feel entitled as males but realize male privilege is eroding. They tend to be homophobic, anxious, competitive, lonely, confused, aimless, and desperate to prove their manhood, without adequate male guidance. Kimmel advocates that a new model of masculinity is needed that involves the courage to stand up for what’s right rather than conforming to their band of brothers.
Niobe Way’s study of boys in the US and China found that boys tend to lose their close friendships they say kept them from going “wako” as they pass through adolescence. During this difficult time they became more distrustful of other boys, fearful of homosexuality—“no homo” was a frequent phrase, feeling increasingly isolated and alone under pressure to become men.[ix] Yet Way states that close friendships are important for self-worth and feeling connected to others leaving boys in a “crisis of connection.” Way advocates programs like “Roots of Empathy” used in Canadian schools to help boys develop emotional well-being and critique gender role stereotypes of connection as feminine.[x]That role division leaves girls as symbols of success and goodness.
Men’s liberationist author Warren Farrell agrees there’s a boy crisis in the US, as they’re addicted to video games, too many lack enough contact with their fathers (one-third of children are raised in father-absent homes[xi]), boys are not doing as well as girls in school, and they’re more medicated as with drugs for Attention Deficit Disorder.[xii] The award-winning film Boyhood (2014) illustrates a boy growing up in a single-parent family without consistent contact with his father, with two abusive stepfathers, actually filmed over 12 years as the actor and his sister grow up. In 2013 only 19% of households consisted of a married couple and their children; 25% of mothers with children under 18 don’t have a partner, and 41% of births in 2012 were to unmarried women.[xiii]
Farrell advocated a White House Council on Boys and Men to study the problem, which President Obama created in 2014, along with a program called “My Brothers’ Keeper” to encourage men to mentor boys of color. Youth are more likely to commit assaults in areas where men are scarce, according to a University of Michigan study.[xiv] Young black men are especially at risk of absentee fathers, resulting in the boys more likely to out of school, out of work, or incarcerated.
Other authors bemoan The Demise of Guys: Why Boys Are Struggling and What We Can Do About It (2012). Authors Philip Zimbardo and Nikita Duncan write that addiction to video games and online pornography created a generation of shy, risk-adverse and emotionally unexpressive boys. Another book that addresses boys’ problems is Masterminds and Wingmen: Helping Our Boys Cope with Schoolyard Power, Locker-Room Tests, Girlfriends and the New Rules of Boy World by Rosalind Wiseman (2013). In Hollowed Out: Why the Economy Doesn’t Work Without a Strong Middle Class (2015), David Madland argues that male unemployment is higher than female unemployment and male’s education attainment is lower, “which doesn’t bode well for the future.” As a consequence, the Pew Research Center reported that 40% of Millennial men live with the parents, compared to 32% of young women.[xv] One-third of these young men are unemployed, many others work part-time, and two-thirds haven’t married.[xvi] One in three men ages 25 to 54 has a criminal record and three in 10 men over 20 don’t work, compared with one in 10 in the 1950s. One in three men between the ages of 18 and 34 live near the poverty. The median income for men under 34 is only $10,400 according to the Census Bureau. Author Gary Cross calls them “boy-men,” Andrew Yarrow calls them Peter Pans, and others refer to Millennials’ delayed adulthood.
Unemployment rates for US men aged 25 to 54 tripled since the late 1960s to 16%. Their children are less likely to succeed, leading a Harvard economics professor to warn, “We could be losing the next generation of kids.”[xvii]
Three-quarters of the eight million jobs lost in the US Great Recession were men’s jobs, mostly in manufacturing. With the disappearance of manufacturing jobs for men in the US, women-headed families dominate working-class families and 40% of babies are born to unmarried mothers. In 2011, only 81% of working-age men were employed (and 69% of women), compared to 95% of men in 1969, and they’re earning less than before. One in six men in prime working age are unemployed, and more than two million are in prison.[xviii] One in 8 men is an ex-felon.
The social revolution of the 1960s and 70s undermined white males’ power and control with reforms like Affirmative Action and prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex as well as race. A Brookings Institution study found men’s earnings have fallen more than women’s and increase in income inequality has become permanent for decades now that the 1% owns 38% of the US wealth and the bottom 40% own less than 1% of wealth.[xix] In most of the biggest US cities, young childless women earn 8% more a year than men, 17% more in New York City.[xx] “These women haven’t just caught up with the guys; in many cities, they’re clocking them,” says James Chung of Reach Advisors, which analyzes Census Bureau data. However, overall even young single women’s earnings lag behind men’s salaries. Women cluster in traditional female university majors and jobs, so that women with doctorate degrees earn 77% of what their male colleagues earn.
Are men expendable for educated career women, as some feminist second wave separatists advocated? A growing global phenomenon is well-educated employed young women who remain single either for lack of an equally successful partner or they like being single. Researchers named this the “first new global sociological phenomenon of the 21st century.”[xxi] This trend occurs not only in Asia (China’s “leftover women”) and the West, but in the Middle East as well.[xxii] Japan’s “single parasites” single women in their 20s live with their parents and enjoy spending their earnings without having to pay for living expenses. The phenomenon hasn’t hit India yet. The BBC interviewed a single 28-year old woman who faces discrimination in India, stereotyped as having a “bad character.”[xxiii] She said she’s scared all the time and has trouble finding a landlord who will rent to a single woman.
China’s one-child policy led to around 50 more million men than women, but it’s difficult for successful women to find a partner. The phrase yin sheng, yang shuai means the female is going up while the male is going down. Because a couple is expected to support both sets of parents, having a good job is the top draw in a marriage partner. The head of the largest matchmaking site said men want a traditional woman, a teacher or nurse who would be a good mother, hopefully with large breasts.[xxiv] A male marketing consultant in Shanghai revealed, “I would feel ashamed if the woman I’m with is on my level. I would lose my confidence and male status.”[xxv] Women search for height, salary, and ownership of car or house. A female marketing director says, “I want equality from a marriage and it’s hard to find Chinese men who offer that. I’ve been at work all day, too, so why should I do the washing-up, the cooking and look after the baby as well?”
Hopefully we’re moving towards equality rather than reversal of power and motivation to succeed. Zoe, 17, (California) doesn’t think men have anything to worry about:
I’ve noticed that unmotivated young men is the case sometimes at the high school level, but I don’t think that’s going to be a problem. I think boys will grow out of it. We hit our primes at different times. Women are 51% of the population so they should be that percentage in the Senate and House, but there’s no danger of having women take over every sphere of life.
[i] Herbert Dyer, Jr., “Fox News Analyst: Christie’s Problems Due to ‘Feminized Atmosphere’ of Media,” All Voices, January 13, 2014.
[ii] Michael Stanat. China’s Generation Y. Homa & Sekey Books, 2006, p. 45.
Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, ed. Adolescent Psychology Around the World. Psychology Press, 2012.
[iii] Celia Hatton, “100 Women: The Jobs Chinese Girls Just Can’t Do,” BBC News, October 16, 2013.
Population Reference Bureau, “The World’s Youth 2013 Data Sheet.”
[v] Adult and Youth Literacy, UNESCO, 2013. http://www.uis.unesco.org/literacy/Documents/fs26-2013-literacy-en.pdf
[vii] A.O. Scott, “The Death of Adulthood in American Culture,” New York Times, September 11, 2014.
[viii] Michael Kimmel. Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men. HarperCollins, 2008.
[ix] Niobe Way. Deep Secrets: Boys Friendships and the Crisis of Connection. Harvard University Press, 2013.
[x] Frank Bruni, “A Star Who has No Time for Vanity,” New York Times, October 15, 2014.
[xi] “Children in Single-Parent Families by Race,” National Kids Count, 2012.
[xiii] Emily Babay, “Census: Big Decline in Nuclear Family,” Philly.com, November 26, 2013.
[xiv] December 20, 2013
[xv] Richard Fry, “A Rising Share of Young Adults Live in their Parents’ Home,” Pew Research Center, August 1, 2013.
[xvi] Andrew Yarrow, “Male Poverty Marked by Unique Set of Problem,” San Francisco Chronicle, October 4, 2015.
[xvii] Binyamin Appelbaum, “The Vanishing Male Worker: How America Fell Behind,” New York Times, December 11, 2014.
[xviii] Andrew Yarrow, “An Endangered Species—the American Male Worker,” San Francisco Chronicle, April 3, 2015.
[xix] Jason DeBacker, et al., “Rising Inequality: Transitory or Permanent?” Paper presented to the Brookings Panel of Economic Activity, March 21, 2013.
[xx] Belinda Luscome, “Workplace Salaries: At Last, Women on Top,” Time Business, September 1, 2010.
[xxi] Linda Berg-Cross, et al., “Single Professional Women: A Global Phenomenon Challenges and Opportunities,” Journal of International Women’s Studies, Vol. 5, No. 5, June 2004.
[xxii] Rami Khouri and Vivian Lopez, eds., “A Generation on the Move: Insights into the Conditions, Aspirations and Activism of Arab Youth,” report from American University of Beirut, 2011, p. 27.
Linda Berg-Cross et al., “Single Professional Women: A Global Phenomenon Challenges and Opportunities, Journal of International Women’s Studies, Vol. 5, Issue 5, June 2004.
[xxiv] Sarah Keenlyside, “You Do Not Want to be a Single Lady Over 28 in China,” Business Insider, July 30, 2012.
[xxv] Isobel Yeung, “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” SCMC.com, April 27, 2014.