Boston Globe

Thursday, October 24, 1996

The War Against Boys

By Christina Hoff Sommers,
a philosopher and well-known writer on feminism
The Boston Globe

Johnathan Prevette, the 6-year-old punished for kissing a classmate, is not alone. When a Worcester mother picked up her son from school recently, the teacher told her that he had been made to sit in the "time-out chair." He had violated the behavior code by hugging other students. "He's a toucher," the teacher said. "We are not going to put up with it."

The mother was startled, not by her son, who is loving and likes to hug, but by the school for punishing him. Her son is 3.

For the past 10 years, feminist groups, such as the American Association of University Women, the Ms. Foundation for Women and the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund have been successfully lobbying the federal government to impose strict harassment codes in the schools. In August, the US Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights issued a 26-page guideline on the subject of "peer harassment." No age limits were specified.

As Norma Cantu, an assistant secretary of education, explains, "What our regulation anticipates is that harassment could occur at any age."

A spokeswoman for the National School Boards Association complained that the OCR's guidelines "appear to be more involved with trying to help plaintiffs' attorneys win cases against school districts." Fearful of lawsuits, schools feel they have no choice but to punish 6-year-old "harassers" like Jonathan Prevette or even toddler "harassers" like the 3-year-old Worcester boy.

The young boys are casualties of a movement that scapegoats men and boys and seeks to protect women and girls from what Gloria Steinem calls the "jockocracy." Such feminists as Patricia Ireland and Gloria Steinem believe that ours is a sexist society that wages an "undeclared war against women" (Susan Faludi's subtitle to Backlash). Such feminists think most adult males are incorrigibly sexist and that boys must be retrained the earlier the better.

Nan Stein, a director at the Wellesley College Center for Research on Women, refers to boys who chase girls in the playground and flip their skirts as "perpetrators" and "gender terrorists." Sue Satell, a sex equity expert in Minnesota, justifies strong harassment policies for children as young as 5 because "serial killers tell interviewers they started sexually harassing at age 10 and got away with it."

While the boys need re-education, the girls need all the help they can get to survive in the "patriarchy." Consider the girls-only holiday "Take Our Daughters to Work Day," an annual event organized and run by the Ms. Foundation.

Reacting to growing protests over the boys' exclusion, the Ms. people decided to initiate "Son's Day," an annual holiday for boys. Among the suggested activities for "Son's Day" are:

In short, this punitive little holiday was contrived by women who are convinced that what our male children need most is indoctrination.

The facts do not support the idea that sexual harassment is just something boys do to girls. In a survey conducted by the Louis Harris polling firm, a random sample of 1,500 boys and girls (grades 8-11), "85 percent of girls and 76 percent of boys surveyed say they have experienced unwanted and unwelcome sexual behavior that interferes with their lives."

The solution does not call for a gender-divisive policy that regards girls as members of a victimized class and boys as culprits, but a policy that protects boys as well as girls by giving the schools greater power to control antisocial behavior of all kinds. Instead of encouraging litigation against the schools by doing the bidding of NOW and the AAUW, Secretary of Education Richard Riley should be looking for ways to make schools places of safety and respect for all children.

Embarrassed by the negative reaction to the Prevette episode, feminist activists are seeking to distance themselves from the case. "Clearly Title IX doesn't reach a little boy kissing a girl," says Verna Williams of the National Women's Law Center. Nan Stein of Wellesley says, "Those of us involved in research and law would never call this sexual harassment."

Wouldn't they? It was the Women's Law Center's support of "peer harassment" lawsuits and Stein's incendiary descriptions of little schoolboys as perpetrators and gender terrorists that have brought us to this sorry pass. As long as Stein, Williams and others in the flourishing gender-bias industry exert their anti-male influence on government policy and the schools, male children will continue to be targeted.

© Copyright 1996 Globe Newspaper Company.