War Against Boys Essay, Research Paper
It is a bad time to be a boy in America. As the new millennium began, the defining event for American girls was the triumph of the U.S. women?s soccer team. For boys, the major event was the mass killing at Columbine High School. It would seem that boys in our society face great difficulties and risks as they grow up. Yet the best-known studies and the academic experts are telling us that it is girls who are suffering from a decline in self-esteem. The experts say that it is girls who need extra help with academics and elsewhere in a society that favors boys.
Christina Hoff Sommers, a Ph.D. in philosophy and a former professor of philosophy at Clark University, disagrees with the increasingly popular feminist views. Sommers believes that it is boys who are being “shortchanged” in a society that is rapidly becoming overrun with feminist views. There is no girl crisis, says Sommers. Girls are not being pushed aside, “shortchanged,” or repressed in American society argues Sommers. Girls are outperforming boys academically, and girls? self-esteem is no different from boys?. Sommers believes that it is boys who are lagging far behind girls and Sommers attempts to prove this in her book: The War Against Boys: How Misguided Feminism is Harming our Young Men.
Sommers argues three main points in this book. First, boys encounter more difficulties growing up in America today and being successful in schools and colleges, than do girls. More boys than girls are involved in crime, alcohol, and drugs. Girls attempt
suicide more often than boys, but boys actually kill themselves more often. In a typical year (1997), there were 4,493 suicides of young people between the ages of five and twenty-four: 701 females, 3,792 males (Sommers 26). Research shows that boys, not girls, are on the weak side of an educational gender gap. Boys, on average, are a year and a half behind girls in reading and writing; they are less committed to school and less likely to go to college (Sommers 14). More boys than girls are suspended from school. More are held back and more drop out. Boys are three times as likely as girls to be enrolled in special education programs and four times as likely to be diagnosed with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)(Sommers 25). Larry Hedges and Amy Nowell, researchers at the University of Chicago, warned that the larger numbers of males who perform near the bottom of the distribution in reading comprehension and writing also have policy implications. It seems more likely that individual males with such poor literacy skills will have problems finding jobs in an increasingly information-driven economy (Sommers 34).
Second, boys are being confronted with challenges that arise from a society and educational system that are increasingly biased towards them. A boy today finds himself caught up in the social crime of “shortchanging” girls. Yet the supposedly silenced and neglected girl sitting next to him is likely to be a better student. She is not only more expressive, she is probably a more mature, engaged, and well-balanced person. He may be uncomfortably aware that girls are more likely to go on to
college. He may believe that teachers prefer to be around girls and pay more attention to them. At the same time, he may also be aware that he is considered to be a member of the unfairly favored “dominant gender”(Sommers 43). More and more schoolboys inhabit an environment of disapproval. Often considered protosexists, potential harassers, and perpetuators of gender inequity, boys live under a blanket of criticism, in a permanent state of responsibility.
Third, this bias comes from the acceptance of certain major assumptions of feminism that have spread like wildfire through science, academia, the media, government, and more. The main promoters of a “gender equal” academic system have a lot of power in schools, but they are far too irresponsible with the truth, far too removed from the boundaries of common sense, and far too negative about boys to be properly playing any role in the education of children (Sommers 51). Feminists have been telling our culture for years that girls are falling behind in school, they?re being repressed in society, and losing out to boys in every aspect of life. All around them, boys find themselves being condemned on the basis of sex, while girls are receiving official sympathy for being a “historically under-served population.” At the same time, boys are obviously aware that girls are outpacing them. Boys believe that teachers prefer girls, are more interested in teaching girls, and think that girls are smarter than boys. Yet boys are being told that society is based on a patriarchy in which men are unfairly and
unequally “in control of the country, businesses, schools and…family”(Sommers 58). If girl advocates are ignored and the relative conditions of both boys and girls are considered fairly, it is boys, not girls who are suffering academically.
Data from the U.S. Department of Education shows that girls are far from being in crisis. In fact, girls get better grades. They have higher educational goals. They follow a more rigorous academic program and participate more in the Advanced Placement program (Sommers 24). Nancy Leffert, a child psychologist at the Search Institute in Minneapolis, reported the results of a very large survey that she and her colleagues recently completed of more than 99,000 sixth through twelfth-graders. The kids were asked about their “developmental assets.” The Search Institute has identified forty critical assets (”building blocks for healthy development”). Half of these are external, for example, a supportive family, adult role models. The other half are internal, for example a motivation to achieve, sense of purpose in life, interpersonal confidence. Leffert found that girls were ahead of boys in thirty-four of the forty assets. On almost every important measure of well-being, girls had the better of boys: they felt closer to their families, they had higher aspirations and a stronger connection to school (Sommers 37).
Sommers also discusses how “feminized” education can have harmful consequences on boys. Teachers are beginning to think that it is their job to correct the “gender inequality” in schools. Society will be on a path to genuine fairness when
school boards, principals, and teachers begin to focus in an objective way on the moral and cognitive development of all the children in their care. Children and teenagers need strong moral guidance from the people they look up to. They need firm discipline in a school environment that does not tolerate egregious nastiness or gross incivility, whether sexual or nonsexual. If parents begin to stand up for their sons, if they refuse to allow schools to subject them to the mercies of the self-made equity “specialists”, the future of America?s boys will improve (Sommers 71). Gender reformers are shaping the attitudes and policies of many schools. Educators have been convinced that it is good for society to break down male stereotypes at a very early age. None of them wonder whether they are harming boys by encouraging them to be more feminine. They haven?t considered the resentment of the pressure to be more feminine as anything more than an expression of very outdated attitudes (Sommers 80).
Despite the numerous studies and factual data that Sommers presents in her book, there are many people who disagree with her argument. Brooke Lea Foster, a writer for The Washingtonian, argues that Sommers is making a unproductive attempt to prove that boys and girls are naturally different and not raised “gendered.” This debate is alive in academia, but Sommers is foolish to think that she can settle it by repeating other people?s studies. Sommers declares that all the research was “made up” to bring boys down. Carol Gilligan?s findings and Mary Pipher?s book Reviving Ophelia are pummeled and pummeled until
Sommers makes her final point: Girls are doing great. Foster truthfully states that it is hard to trust someone who, instead of conducting her own studies, looked at raw data such as grade-point averages and the percentage of women attending college. Foster says that the media, the government, and school officials latch on to the girl-as-victim mentality for one reason: there is research to back it up.
Mary Carroll from the American Library Association believes that Sommers is as much of a crisis monger as those she critiques. In the place of the feminists? “Rousseauian philosophy of ethical romanticism,” Sommers recommends directive moral or character education, inspiring a sense of responsibility and respect in all children, but particularly boys.
Based on Sommers arguments, I conducted an interview of eight male and female college students between the ages of eighteen and twenty. I asked each person four questions: 1) Do you think boys encounter more difficulties growing up than girls? Why or why not? 2) Do you think the educational system is biased towards boys? Why or why not? 3) Do you think that the ideas posed by feminists have affected the way that the government, the media, academia, etc. view boys and girls? Why or why not? 4) Do you think that boys are lagging far behind girls in life (academically, socially, etc.)? Why or why not?
Nearly every student disagreed with Sommers arguments.
Every student disagreed with the statement that boys experience more difficulties. Most of the students stated that, if
anything, girls experience a slightly larger amount of difficulties. Most of the students agreed that the difficulties were evenly spread out for both sexes. Two of the males stated that they thought the educational system was biased towards males. They agreed that males are expected to do better and excel academically which negatively affects them. One female agreed that teachers expect less academically of males. The males are expected to be slackers. All of the male students agreed that feminist views have changed the way that males and females are viewed in society. The males agreed that it was more difficult to talk to girls with the threat of sexual harassment looming close by. The females all disagreed with this statement. All but one of the students disagreed that boys are lagging far behind girls. The male student that agreed stated that the use of drugs and alcohol have a large affect on the academic performances of young males.
Sommers attempts to prove that boys are lagging behind girls. Throughout her book Sommers analyzes the work of leading academic experts, Carol Gilligan and William Pollack, and finds it lacking in scientific thoroughness. Sommers makes many important points about the way boys are being treated in society. Feminism has indeed changed the way that many people view America?s boys.
I was not very impressed with the arguments in this book. In addition to reading this book, I have also read Mary Pipher?s
Reviving Ophelia. Pipher uses personal stories from females as
well as factual research and data to substantiate her arguments.
Sommers does not show her reader any real factual data or research studies as a basis for her arguments. Despite the fact that boys may be lagging behind girls in reading and writing abilities, they are “ahead of the game” in many other aspects of life. They are offered the better positions in companies, they are paid higher wages , they are able to advance farther in the work force, and much more. Don?t get me wrong, I think that girls have many more opportunities than they used to, but boys are still considered to be the “better” sex by the majority of the population.
Carroll, Mary. “War Against Boys Review.” Booklist.
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Finn, Chester E., Jr. “Puppy -Dogs? Tails.” Commentary
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Foster, Brooke Lea. “The War Against Boys: How Misguided Feminism is Harming our Young Men.” Washington Magazine Inc. http://www.washingtonian.com/book/waragainstboys.html
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Hoff Sommers, Christina (2000). The War Against Boys: How Misguided Feminism is Harming our Young Men. New York: Simon & Schuster.