Men And Boys In Crisis: What Do We Do?

Nov 5th, 2022 | By | Category: Culture & Wordview, Featured Issues

The mission of Issues in Perspective is to provide thoughtful, historical and biblically-centered perspectives on current ethical and cultural issues.

Years ago, G.K. Chesterton wrote, “When men choose not to believe in God, they do not thereafter believe in nothing; they then become capable of believing in anything.”  There is no better characterization of the state of Western Civilization than Chesterton’s acerbic observation.  In a culture where we gather in comfortable silos of thinking and the ideology of that silo prevails over everything, truth is no longer important.  The obvious, common sense conclusions are ignored and what the Bible calls foolishness reigns supreme.

Within American evangelical Christianity, combative Christianity tries to differentiate us culturally, politically, or racially from those deemed to be the irredeemable enemies.  Russell Moore observes that “when we look at the wreckage that is American evangelical Christianity right now—the splintered churches and fractured friendships, the leadership scandals and revelations of abuse, the politicization and grievance-based identity politics, and the ambitious hackery often disguised as culture wars—is it not obvious that we need revival?”  What we need in evangelicalism is not a combative faith but a confident Christianity that constantly reminds us that this life is less important than the next.  It demonstrates something of what it means to forgive and serve one another and to be on mission together within a true, visible local body of believers—the church.

There is, therefore, such a serious disconnect between the grave challenges we face and the public discourse that is supposed to be addressing them.  Gerard Baker of the Wall Street Journal writes that “Modern technology has created a platform that elevates extreme voices at the expense of saner counsels.  But what is it about our current condition that seems to make so many people predisposed to believing and propagating those extreme voices?  Its inescapable that part of the answer lies in the collapse of the traditional institutions of authority.  The stability of the two-parent family, the primacy of faith and the cohesion of a wider community not only conferred an order on people’s lives but established a larger sovereignty of truth on them.  Loving but firm parental leadership, the eternal verities of religion, the obligations to a wider social unit of shred values imposed a structure of epistemic guardrails . . . It established the prior understanding that there is such a thing as a higher truth that mocks propositions and ideas that defy it.”

What is the state of the two-parent family in which men and boys have a clear understanding of themselves and of their roles?  Few would observe that the family is a healthy, vibrant institution.  This is precisely Baker’s point:  Without the stability of the two-parent family, disorder, chaos and confusion will reign.  The crisis of the family is magnified by the crisis of men and boys in our civilization.

Richard V. Reeves, senior fellow in Economic Studies at the Brookings Institute, recently published Of Men and Boys: Why the Modern Male Is Struggling, Why It Matters, and What To Do About It?  It is a profound and worthwhile study reflecting one of the most important crises in our civilization.  The major theme of the book is “The male malaise is not the result of a mass psychological breakdown, but of deep structural challenges.”  Christians should take note.  Here are several of the salient observations Reeves makes in his notable study about men and boys:

  • They are struggling in the classroom. American girls are 14 percentage points more likely to be “school ready” than boys at age 5, controlling for parental characteristics. “Boys are 50% more likely than girls to fail at all three key school subjects: math, reading and science.”  By high school, two-thirds of the students in the top 10 percent of the class, ranked by G.P.A., are girls, while roughly two-thirds of the students at the lowest decile are boys. In 2020, at the 16 top American law schools, not a single one of the flagship law reviews had a man as editor in chief.
  • Men are struggling in the workplace. One in three American men with only a high school diploma — 10 million men — is now out of the labor force. The biggest drop in employment is among young men aged 25 to 34. Men who entered the work force in 1983 will earn about 10 percent less in real terms in their lifetimes than those who started a generation earlier. Over the same period, women’s lifetime earnings have increased 33 percent. Pretty much all of the income gains that middle-class American families have enjoyed since 1970 are because of increases in women’s earnings.
  • Men are also struggling physically. Men account for close to three out of every four “deaths of despair” — suicide and drug overdoses. For every 100 middle-aged women who died of COVID up to mid-September 2021, there were 184 middle-aged men who died.
  • David Brooks shares that “learned a lot I didn’t know. First, boys are much more hindered by challenging environments than girls. Girls in poor neighborhoods and unstable families may be able to climb their way out. Boys are less likely to do so. In Canada, boys born into the poorest households are twice as likely to remain poor as their female counterparts. In American schools, boys’ academic performance is more influenced by family background than girls’ performance. Boys raised by single parents have lower rates of college enrollment than girls raised by single parents.”
  • “Second, policies and programs designed to promote social mobility often work for women, but not men. Reeves, a scholar at the Brookings Institution, visited Kalamazoo, Mich., where, thanks to a donor, high school graduates get to go to many colleges in the state free. The program increased the number of women getting college degrees by 45 percent. The men’s graduation rates remained flat. Reeves lists a whole series of programs, from early childhood education to college support efforts, that produced impressive gains for women, but did not boost men.”
  • “There are many reasons men are struggling — for example, the decline in manufacturing jobs that put a high value on physical strength, and the rise of service sector jobs. But I was struck by the theme of demoralization that wafts through the book. Reeves talked to men in Kalamazoo about why women were leaping ahead. The men said that women are just more motivated, work harder, plan ahead better. Yet this is not a matter of individual responsibility. There is something in modern culture that is producing an aspiration gap.”
  • Finally, Reeves makes a convincing case that boys benefit from male teachers and that Black boys benefit from Black male teachers.

I must add an additional observation:  Western Civilization manifests an utter confusion about gender and sexuality that feeds the confusion and crisis so central to Reeves’s work on men and boys.  For example, in much of the federal government and certainly in much of public education, it is nearly impossible to discuss the topic of gender and sex differences.  Christina Hoff Sommers writes “Many gender scholars insist that the sexes are cognitively interchangeable and argue that any talk of difference only encourages sexism and stereotyping.  In the current environment, to speak of difference invites opprobrium, and to advocate for male-specific interventions invites passionate and organized opposition.  Meanwhile, one gender difference refuses to go away: Boys are languishing academically, while girls are soaring.”  While the US remains at best indifferent to the academic plight of boys, Great Britain, Australia and Canada have not:  They see this disparity as a national threat.   A nation with too many languishing males risks losing its economic edge.  Hence, these nations have established dozens of boy-focused commissions, task forces, and working groups.  “Using evidence and not ideology as their guide, officials in these countries don’t hesitate to recommend sex-specific solutions.”

To illustrate the absurdity of ideology trumping evidence, recent research demonstrates that enrollment in high school vocational programs has dramatic effects on students’ likelihood of graduating from high school—especially boys.  But the effort to engage more boys in career and technical programs faces a formidable challenge.  In a series of scathing reports, the National Council of Women and Girls Education (NCWGE—a 38-year old consortium that today includes the AAUW, the National Women’s Law Center, the ACLU, NOW, the Ms. Foundation and the NEA) has condemned high school vocational training schools as hotbeds of “sex segregation.”  The reality today is that due to successful lobbying by NCWGE groups, high school and college career technical training programs face government sanctions and loss of funds if they fail to recruit and graduate sufficient numbers of female students into “non-traditional” fields.  Sommers writes, that “over the years, untold millions of state and federal dollars have been devoted to recruiting and retaining young women into fields like pipefitting, automotive repair, construction, drywall installing, manufacturing, and refrigeration mechanics.  But according to Statchat, a University of Virginia workforce blog, these efforts at vocational equity ‘haven’t had much of an impact.’  Despite an unfathomable number of girl-focused programs and interventions, ‘technical and manual occupations tend to be dominated by men, patterns that have held steady for many years.’”  In March 2013, NCWGE continued this absurdity by releasing a report urging Congress and other political agencies to provide more funding and challenge grants to help states close “the gender gaps in career and technical education (CTE); mandate that every state install a CTE gender equity coordinator; and impose harsher punishments on states that fail to meet ‘performance measures’—i.e., gender quotas.”

The more I study developments such as this in American culture, the more convinced I am of the truthfulness of the bedrock propositions of genuine, biblical Christianity:  God has revealed quite clearly His actions as the Creator, His values and morals as a holy, righteous God, and His ethical standards by which we are to live.  As humans, we have the freedom to ignore or even flaunt those propositions, but then we must accept the consequences.  God created the human race male and female; and men and women are completely different, physically, emotionally, and psychologically.  That is why imaginative play among little boys and girls is so radically different.  That is why boys enjoy rough sports and girls do not.  That is why women excel in some fields and men in others.  But American culture is now driven by an ideology that seemingly ignores, indeed even mocks gender differences.  The result today is that boys and men are suffering the consequences of this ideology.  Nations such as Great Britain, Canada and Australia, to some extent even more secular than America, are waking up to how serious this gender inequity really is—and are doing something about it.  America is caught in the ideological morass of NCWGE and our nation is hurting because of it.  We remain blinded to the obvious, believing a lie and calling it wise!

See Gerard Baker in the Wall Street Journal (27 September 2022); David Brooks, “The Crisis of Men and Boys” in the New York Times (29 September 2022); Michelle Goldberg in the New York Times (4 October 2022); and Christina Hoff Somers:  “How to Make School Better for Boys” in  (16 September 2013) and “School Has Become Too Hostile to Boys” in (20 August 2013).

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