Our culture is very bad for boys. It’s bad for girls, too. It’s bad for everyone. But I think we fail to recognize and appreciate the unique struggles that boys face. Partly we fail to recognize it because we are too busy worrying about the Patriarchy’s persecution of women. Partly we fail to recognize it because, collectively, we just don’t care that much about boys. Partly we fail to recognize it because men are not as likely to talk about their own plight. And partly a man will not talk about it because everyone, even his fellow men, will only laugh at him and downplay the problem.
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There are many factors at play, and they all lead to a pretty dire situation. Men are told about their privilege, but if you look at things honestly you will not see much evidence of this privilege. On the contrary, you will see several profound disadvantages suffered by men in general and boys in particular.
Here, I think, are the four biggest:
1) Our culture preys relentlessly on a boy’s weaknesses.
Let’s imagine the world the average 13-year-old boy inhabits. He has long since been exposed to hardcore pornography, and probably watches it regularly. Then puberty hits. His hormones are going haywire. His brain is hardwiring itself to focus obsessively on sex. He cannot really help it. He is now fertile, even as the girls his age, for the most part, are not. He feels the biological impulse to go out and find a sexual partner, though he does not understand this urge and his conception of human sexuality has been perverted and confused by the porn habit he developed in sixth grade.
The boy cannot escape sex. It is all over his computer. All over his phone. All over social media. All over the TV. All over the music he listens to. He goes to school and his female classmates are dressed like strippers. He goes anywhere and that’s how the women are dressed. It seems that everyone is doing everything they can to make a degenerate and a creep out of him, even as they demand that he control himself. We ask for self-discipline and self-control from the boy while providing him with no tools to develop them. Rather than tools, we give him temptation. Non-stop temptation, everywhere he goes, all day, every day, right at the moment when his brain is least capable of overcoming it.
And even if the boy possesses the almost superhuman moral fortitude required to pursue chastity and purity in the midst of the sex-choked fog that engulfs him, he will only meet mockery and discouragement from our society. The very people who demand that he “respect women” and “control himself” will heap scorn on him if he tries to do exactly that. Again the boy will need to call upon his superhuman courage to ignore the jeers, just as he rejects the temptations, so that he can walk the path to virtue on his own, with no help from anyone.
Most boys do not have this courage. Most adults do not have it. Yet we expect of our boys a virtue that we do not possess and have never demonstrated.
2) There is a catastrophic lack of male role models.
17 million kids live in homes without fathers. In the black community, around 70 or 80% are fatherless.
Almost all kids have mothers. And they have mostly female teachers. They’re even more likely to have grandmothers than grandfathers, as men die significantly earlier. A girl will have no shortage of female role models, which is a fact worth celebrating. It’s also a profound advantage that many boys, with their “privilege,” do not enjoy.
Even the boys who have dads may not have male role models. Very often, despite the father’s physical presence, the mother is still the spiritual leader of the household. There are plenty of fathers who stick around but then refuse to take part in their children’s moral formation. They are warm bodies taking up space, and perhaps bringing home a paycheck, but they neither lead their families nor provide a worthwhile example to their sons.
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If a boy wants to know how to be a man, he will have to depend on his mother to show him the ropes, or else he will turn on the TV and imitate whatever he sees on the screen. He will learn about masculinity from musicians and movie stars and superheroes. He will develop a hollow, cartoonish idea of manhood and he will become a hollow, cartoon man.
What else can we expect? It’s hard to be a good man nowadays. It’s nearly impossible if nobody has ever shown you how.
3) The eduction system is designed for girls.
There is a reason why girls outperform boys in school. Girls are not smarter, on average, but they have an easier time because the classroom is set up to reward the calm and organized demeanor more natural to them. Boys are more rambunctious; they have more physical energy; they are less able to sit still and less able to focus attentively on one dull task for a prolonged period of time. The typical classroom environment is torture for a boy. It penalizes him for being himself. It penalizes him for being a boy.
As a result, boys get lower grades. Boys are more likely to drop out. Boys are more likely to be expelled. Perhaps worst of all, boys are twice as likely to be diagnosed with ADHD. By high school, 20% of boys — 20% — are diagnosed. Yet we never stop to ask ourselves why boys are more susceptible to this mysterious mental condition. We never stop to consider that perhaps we are not so much diagnosing boys as we are diagnosing boyhood.
If the school system were not predicated on sitting still and memorizing things (and it need not be), there would be no ADHD. We have arbitrarily decided that every child must be the sort of child who thrives in that environment, even if we have to stuff pills in his mouth to force the issue. Girls are not drugged nearly as often because most of them are already the sort of people the school system prefers. The system may not prefer girls, but it does prefer people who have characteristics more common in girls, which is the same thing.
4) Masculinity is denigrated.
You might think we’ve already done enough to these boys. We’ve made our point. We’ve shoved sex in their face, deprived them of role models, and forced them into an education system that treats their personality as a disease. But we are not satisfied. Finally, in case any have survived the gauntlet, we attempt to bury them in self-loathing.
Femininity is attacked in our culture as well, but not nearly so explicitly or directly. Nobody would ever call femininity itself “toxic” or “fragile.” Nobody talks about female “privilege,” even though, as I have demonstrated, females enjoy many unique privileges. Nobody would label all women “dangerous” or “potential monsters to be feared.” These are the special denigrations reserved only for manhood.
This wouldn’t be so bad if not for the fact that boys are emerging from childhood already broken. They are in no condition to endure the anti-male onslaught. So, they will stay broken, and we will not acknowledge that they are broken, and we will not face the fact that we are the ones who broke them.