Does Advocating for Boys Mean Dissing Girls? A Final Rant

For the last two posts I have been responding to a column written in response to a column I wrote advocating for boys.  I usually don’t spend so much time obsessing over these kinds of things…but since so much of her argument is the current storyline in our culture, used to downplay the boy crisis, I couldn’t let this one go.  

I am going to reprint my column here and then wind it up with a few of the comments the author made in response…and add in another perspective as well.  Then it will be off my chest and I can go back to being the balanced, even-keeled boy advocate I want to be!
Here’s my column (I had a max of 650 words allowed)

How About Equality for Our Boys?
Equal Pay Day.  Women’s Equality Day.  A Day Without Women.  Bring Your Daughter to Work Day.  Title IX.  The White House Council on Women and Girls.

All good and noble expressions of our desire to fight for equality for our daughters and women.  As the father of a daughter and the grandfather of two granddaughters, I fully applaud these efforts.  My daughter has a law degree because of the hard work many did to fight for her equality.  My granddaughters are growing up in a world of unprecedented opportunity because women and men have worked hard—and continue to work hard—for their equality. 
But what about our boys?   

·      Boys have fallen significantly behind girls in every area of education from Pre-school through Graduate school

·      85% of stimulant-addressing medications (like Ritalin) prescribed in the world are prescribed to US boys

·      America has the highest rates of male incarceration per capita of any country in the world.  Among males 17 or younger, the boy-to-girl ratio in correctional institutions is 9:1.  Among 18-21 year olds, the ratio grows to 14:1

·      Boys are twice as likely as girls to be victims of violence in America, but in certain age groups the ratio is 6:1

·      Boys receive two-thirds of the Ds and Fs in our schools but less than 40 percent of the As 
·      Boys are twice as likely as girls to be labeled as “emotionally disturbed” and twice as likely to be diagnosed with a behavioral or leaning disorder

·      Boys are four times as likely as girls to be suspended or expelled from early childhood and K-12 learning environments

·      Over the last 20 years the reading skills of 17 year old boys have steadily declined

In 2015 the World Health Organization published a major study of mens’ and boys’ health worldwide.  In it the study’s authors—from Europe, the U.S., and Asia—provided statistics and analysis from all continents, including the most comprehensive health study worldwide to date, the Global Burden of Disease Study led by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

The study concludes: In most of the world, girls and women are doing better than boys and men in both physical and mental health indicators…In most parts of the world, health outcomes among boys and men continue to substantially worse than among girls and women.  Yet this gender-based disparity in health has received little national, regional, or global acknowledgement or attention from health polity-makers or health-care providers.

It seems as if, whenever the subject of our boys is raised, it’s rebuffed by charges of male privilege and patriarchy.

Do we really want to lose our boys?  Is our world better off with boys growing into underachieving, undereducated men, underappreciated men?  Imagine the negative societal impact if we continue to leave our boys behind!

For equality to work, it must be equality for all—female and male.  For the last 60+ years our nation has collectively and passionately taken up the cause of equality for our daughters.  In the 1960’s, for example, the Federal Government invested $100 million into getting our girls caught up in school.  Girls caught up in 1982 and have soared past our boys ever since.  But so far, with a growing decades-old boy crisis, not one dime has been invested into getting our boys back into the education game.

Who will fight for our boys?

Some of her reactions:

In a May 6 “My Turn,” Tim Wright asks why girls are getting so much attention and who is fighting for our boys?

I don’t see anywhere where I asked why girls are getting so much attention.  But I’ll let you decide.

He dismissively lists public policies that have attempted to level the playing field for women (who have been denied equal access to basic human rights for thousands of years).  Equal pay.  Title IX.  What will they ask for next?

I don’t see anywhere where I dismissed these important initiatives on behalf of our girls nor where I asked, What will they ask for next? or implied it.  But I’ll let you decide.

He says the fight for gender equality is good, but now we have gone too far and boys are suffering.

I don’t think I said that.  I certainly don’t believe that.  But I’ll let you decide.

If we’re going to have important conversations about our boys and girls we need to actually read/hear what people are saying.
 
Here’s another perspective from a woman who wrote to me:

It was with tears that I read your column in the Arizona Republic May 6th.  The subject of equality for boys has been heavy on my heart for some time, and I have been praying for someone with authority to start a campaign to make the public aware of how boys and men have been marginalized throughout the past few decades.

(I liked her letter better!  😏)

Final word: We need to continue to fight for our daughters and thankfully we have lots of energy on that issue nationwide.  What I, along with many boy advocates, am pleading for is equal energy around our boys without pitting one against the other.  Both are created in the image of God.  Both should be treated equally.  Let’s get at it and change the storyline for both our boys and girls!

Are Boys Falling Behind Girls in School Because School is Girly? A Rant--Part 2

Per may last post, I’m venting/ranting about a response to a column I wrote advocating for boys.  For context, the author of the response is a mother of three daughters, who essentially turned my advocacy for boys into some sort of patriarchal plan to diss girls.
Stockbyte

Here’s what she wrote in response to my statement (which I backed up with statistics) that boys are falling behind girls in school:

Girls do seem to be catching up in math and science.  Girls tend to underestimate their abilities in these subjects and boys tend to overstate them.

The result is that girls who end up in STEM classes are the best and the brightest and boys are taking classes above their abilities.  This increases test schools for girls and decreases them for boys, making boys appear to be falling behind.

Appear to be falling behind?  Huh?  Girls are the best and the brightest and boys are in over their heads in STEM?  And this is an argument against what I’m saying?

English and language are the opposite situation.  Boys tend to say they hate these subjects.  They don’t see them as appropriately “masculine,” so they underperform.  Girls often love them because they get to discuss thoughts and interpretations, which is encouraged, and test scores reflect this.

Again, huh?  This is an argument against what I said?  She’s proving my point trying to disprove my point.  A girl’s brain is wired to be far more proficient in verbal/emotive skills.  If English and Language classes skew to a girl brain—encouraging the discussion of thoughts and interpretations—rather than an action-oriented boy brain, is it any wonder boys think these classes are girly?  Shouldn’t we change the system rather than try to reprogram the wiring of a boy’s brain (by the way, there are over 100 differences between a boy's brain and a girl's brain.)?

In the U.S., boys generally regard academic disengagement as a sign of masculinity.  Showing little care and effort toward schoolwork is a badge of honor.  Academic engagement is considered questionable, “feminine,” and frowned up by their male peers.

This wasn’t always so.  Up until 1982 boys were ahead of girls in education.  But that changed in 1982 when girls soared past boys and never looked back.  What happened?  Why did boys begin to believe that school was for girls?  Because, for all good reasons, we decided to teach more to verbal/emotive girls to get them caught up.  But in the process we forgot that boys learn differently than do girls and we started losing our boys. 

So boys have fallen behind.

Her conclusion:

The problem with academic differences is our rigid definition of what is means to be a “real man.”  (Again…huh?  How about some statistics or studies to back this up?  There are none!)  Blaming girls for boys’ problems is unfair and unproductive.  (No one is blaming girls for this.  We’re saying that the good work we’ve done for our girls has had some unintended consequences for our boys that we can easily address!)  This is not a zero sum game: Girls are gaining and boys are losing.  This means more resources, not punishing girls.  (No one has suggested punishing girls.  And I agree, this is not a zero sum game.  So why do we keep playing at it by constantly countering the boy crisis with these unhelpful broad generalizations and stereotypes?)

Friends, let’s stick to the studies, the facts, brain-science research, and the statistics.  The system—not our girls—is letting our boys down on several levels.  Our systems and emphases are the cause of the boy crisis, not girls.

But make no mistake, there is a boy crisis.  And no amount of trying to turn this back on boys or suggesting that to fight for boys is to fight against girls will change that fact.  Nor will it help our girls, many of whom will marry or work with these undereducated, underskilled men.

I’ve never heard or read any boy advocate even come close to suggesting that we should blame girls for the boy crisis or stop our battle on their behalf.

But I have heard and read over and over again girl advocates, claiming to be passionate about equality for all, continually denigrate boys and the boy crisis with stereotypical generalizations rather than facts.

One more rant to come…Then I’ll try to get back to my warm, fuzzy self!

How to Speak Man: A Brief Tutorial for Church Leaders Who Want to Reach Boys and Men


Men and women are different.    
www.churchformen.com

That’s my starting point.  If you can live with that, then I invite you to continue on.

It’s no secret that men have dropped out of the Christian Church in droves.  It’s no secret that homes without dads face higher rates of poverty, they suffer more emotionally, and are more likely to be held back in school.  It’s no secret that the US prison population is made up of 93% men, 85% of whom grew up with no father figure.

Pastors and other religious leaders called to make disciples of all people, including men, often find themselves at a loss as to how to reach men.  Patrick Morley, author of No Man Left Behind, says that ministry to men is like rocket science, perhaps even harder.

While there are many systemic issues that we need to address in calling men to follow Jesus, a good starting point is to learn how to speak Man. 

Researchers tell us that are at least 100 differences between a woman’s brain and a man’s brain.  This is nature stuff.  This is hard-wired into the brain stuff.  Nurture is a different matter.  As my friend Michael Gurian observes, often the challenge with understanding males and females comes from trying to start the discussion with nurture.  When we do that we tend to impose a more female way of relating to the world onto men.  Instead, Michael says we need to start with nature—how it is that men are wired to relate to the world and build from there.

A few examples:

Men tend to process events and experiences on the left side of the brain—the rational side of the brain.  Women, on the other hand, process events and experiences on both sides of the brain—on the rational and the emotional sides.  As a result, women can almost instantly access an answer to the question: What are you feeling?  It can take a male anywhere from minutes to several hours to grab that answer.  (It often proves easier for a man to answer the question, What are you thinking?  But see the next point.)

Because of the way a woman’s brain is wired, she is generally more verbal-emotive than a man.  She consumes almost twice as many words in a day as does a man.  Men tend to be more spatially oriented—they remember things where movement and action are involved.  Men, generally speaking, use their words sparingly, which can be maddening for highly verbal people.

Because men tend to use only one side of the brain, they are able to focus on a specific task better than women.  Another way of saying it is that men can enter a focus-cave where they can tune out everything else.  Women, on the other hand, take in more with more senses at once.  They are better able to juggle many tasks at once.

Because of testosterone, men tend to bond through activity.  Because of oxytocin and estrogen, women tend to bond via words and emotions.  Men work off stress through physical activity.  Women tend to work off stress through talking.

With that small background, here are a few ways to speak Man:
1)   Men speak action.  Much of church language/discipleship language today is relationship language.  Are you experiencing intimacy with Jesus?  Do you have a vibrant relationship with Jesus?  Jesus wants to live in your heart.  Women tend to gravitate more to this language because of how they are wired brain-wise and hormone-wise.  Men, however, are wired for action.  That’s not to say that they don’t invest in relationships, but men want to be called to do something.  Jesus spoke the language of action: Follow me. 
2)   Men speak problem solving. The default for most men is to move into the fix it mode.  They want to put the pieces back together.  Women focus more on the process and the relationship along with words to bring about a resolution.  Congregations that build disciples only through small (talking) groups with no call to take the mountain and build a better world will not inspire men to follow Jesus.
3)   Men speak competition.  Competition stimulates a man to action.  It energizes him.  It releases his creative juices.  Most churches downplay competition replacing it with a strong emphasis on nurture and getting along with everyone.  While a church needs both, God created men with a competitive spirit for a reason—to stimulate them to get God-stuff done.
4)   Men speak hierarchy.  Men tend to respond best to a leader/follower model.  Again, notice Jesus always called people to follow him.  Hierarchies tend to scare the average church leader because they can create confrontation and competition.  These are often deemed anti-Jesus-like behaviors.  Women tend to seek more egalitarian models, emphasizing equal participation and interaction among all.  But men want to know their place in their organization, they want to know who they follow or who follows them, and they want to go!
5)   Men speak command. Meaning, men tend to get to the point. They don’t use as many words as do women so when they speak they get to the point quickly and directly.  And they want that same kind of communication aimed at them.  Where women tend to be more inviting—What do you think about this?  Would you mind doing such and such…? men prefer a direct word or command that they can hear and respond to.  In a highly relational church, commands and direct speech don’t come easily.  But you may be missing men because of it.  Look at how Jesus often spoke:  Follow me!  Love your enemies!  Turn the other cheek!  Love one another!  Be merciful as your father in heaven is merciful!  Ask anything in my name and you will receive it!  (Note: for you law/Gospel Lutherans—this is a communication style, not a proclamation of law!  J)
6)   Men speak risk.  Testosterone is a risk-taking hormone. On average men take many more risks than do women.  A safe church, often more comfortable for women, repels men.  Men want to be a part of something grand, world-changing.  Jesus is the greatest risk taker of them all.  I will use you to fish for people! Go into all the world…Want to reach men?  Build risk into your ministry.  What’s one thing you can’t do unless God makes it happen?
7)   Men speak sacrifice.  Men are wired to rush into burning buildings, to leap tall buildings in a single bound, to lay their lives on the line.  What’s the great cause that will speak to the men in your congregation? Greater love has no one than this than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

Jesus knew how to talk man.   What language does your congregation speak?

(For more on how men and women relate to life and each other, check out my friend Michael Gurian’s excellent book: Leadership and the Sexes: Using Gender Science to Create Success inBusiness)