A British journalist described a childhood game played on the beach. After an ocean liner departed the harbor, children tried to time when the massive wave produced by the ship would crash ashore. Sometimes the wave took so long the children forgot about it, but when it finally arrived those not paying attention were swept away without warning.
In 2000, philosopher Christina Hoff Sommers published a book called: The War Against Boys, How Misguided Feminism is Harming Our Young Men. Sommers claimed, for decades women’s groups have insisted that there was a “girl crisis” because boys benefited from a school system that favored them and was biased against girls. According to these women groups, the “girl crisis” was compounded because boys were given to schoolyard violence and sexual harassment.
Sommers wrote, “Boys are resented, both as the unfairly privileged sex and as obstacles on the path to gender justice for girls…The idea that schools and society grinds girls down has given rise to an array of laws and policies intended to curtail the advantage boys have and to redress the harm to girls.”
But Sommers pointed out the conventional wisdom of the “girl crisis” wasn’t true.
The data revealed that girls received better grades, had higher educational aspirations, followed more rigorous academic programs, participated more in advance placement classes, and were slightly more enrolled in high level math and science courses. Girls outnumbered boys in student government, in honor societies, school newspapers, and debating teams. Girls read more books and outperformed boys on tests for artistic and musical ability.
At the same time, boys were suspended from school more than girls, more boys were held back, more boys dropped out, boys were three times as likely to receive a diagnosis of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, more boys were involved in crime, alcohol, and drugs.
The data revealed girls attempted suicide more often than boys, but it was boys who more often succeeded. In 1997, a typical year, 4,483 young people aged 5 to 24 committed suicide, 701 were females and 3,782 were males.
What was more troubling than the negative data concerning boys was that it was dismissed or completely ignored. Now, here are two facts that can’t be ignored. First, every boy born in 2000 is now a young man, and they have graduated from the “girl crisis” to the #MeToo era. Second, the ideas that carry the day in our institutions of higher learning eventually trickle down into the popular culture. These ideas (some good, some bad) surface in movies, music, and TV commercials.
Recently, Gillette, the razor company, aired an ad that received a lot of backlash. The commercial condemned bullying, sexual harassment, and toxic masculinity. The commercial is noncontroversial until you realize bullying and sexual harassment are not gender specific, but they were highlighted as examples of the ad’s central concern—toxic masculinity.
But what exactly is meant by that term?
“CBS This Morning” had a panel discussion about the commercial. The segment was introduced with this caption: Gillette ad raises questions about what being a man means, and a psychologist was asked: What does the science tell us about notions of masculinity? (You see how the topic changed from toxic masculinity to masculinity in general.) The psychologist said: Being a man in this culture comes with an extra measure of power…And men can either use that power to be violent or sexist or they can use that power to stick up for people that have less power and be positive leaders. (These are the only options? Is this really what the science tells us?) Then a chart appeared on the screen that listed five extremes of masculinity that are bad for mental and physical health.
The toxic five were: Powerful, fearless, strong, emotionless, successful.
Those who say the Gillette ad was just a commercial aren’t paying attention. The 2000 war on boys just shifted to the war on masculinity and in 2019 the wave finally hit the beach.
(J. Pharaoh Doss is a contributor to the New Pittsburgh Courier.)
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