Finding out where the boys are
By Kathleen Parker
Published in The Orlando Sentinel on May 07, 2000
"Save the Males" was a moderately cute bumper sticker, once upon a time. Now it's a mandate.
Not for men, necessarily. I trust that most men can fend for themselves. But for years -- ever since becoming the mother of a boy -- I've worried about the new, Y-chromosome crop. Through maternal instinct, I've ``known" that the level playing field to which we aspired has become a farce.
Predictably, the pendulum of cultural correction went too far and now needs to come back toward center. Which is to say, girls are winning; boys are losing. Boys deserve -- and now desperately need -- saving.
In recent years, as girls have moved ahead in every field but sports -- and they're making huge, deserved strides there, too -- boys increasingly have slipped through the cracks. A few for-instances: Girls perform better in school; more women than men go to college; more women than men go to graduate schools; more boys than girls are diagnosed with childhood and adolescent health and behavioral problems; boys succeed more often at suicide, though girls try more often. And then there's Columbine et al.
Yet, we continue to hear that girls are doing badly. We continue to read headlines about girls losing their self-esteem, about girls being ignored in science class, about girls with eating disorders.
In selected cases, these stories are surely true. But in the main, according to studies that never made the news-media metamorphosis from research to throat-clutching headline, girls are well-adjusted, happy and thriving. Can we say the same about boys?
Not according to Christina Hoff Sommers, author of a new book in which she answers the question in profound and certain terms. In The War Against Boys, Sommers confirms what many of us have known in our mother-son souls. Using data rather than anecdote, she explains how the inequality myths came to be, why we embrace them despite our own contrary evidence and how we came to doubt our instincts.
By tracing each story to its roots -- to the original study, the original author, the original news-media reporting -- Sommers skillfully exposes how reality gets buried by myths that satisfy the moment.
Sommers also uncovers the studies you didn't hear about, the studies that might have diluted the mind-set that girls have been shafted.
For example, in 1982, at the same time a famous Harvard gender researcher was declaring that girls were drowning in the sea of Western culture, another University of Michigan study was finding that girls were pretty happy. Interviewing 3,000 scientifically selected high-school seniors, the researchers asked boys and girls whether, taking all things together, they were ``very happy, pretty happy or not too happy these days."
A whopping 86 percent of the girls and 88 percent of boys said they were ``pretty happy" or ``very happy.`` If these girls were drowning, Sommers writes, they didn't know it.
Sommers offers numerous such examples. If one were to summarize her findings, it would go something like this: The majority of studies conducted by agenda-driven ideologues often were poorly conducted, of small sample size, weren't peer-reviewed or published, and often disappeared so that other social scientists couldn't examine the hard data -- all sins against acceptable scientific protocol.
Yet, their findings made it into mainstream group-thought and persist because they suit the prevailing agenda that girls need extra attention.
The fallout from the propagation of such myths includes unnecessary or over-reaching laws and policies that have benefited girls at the expense of boys. More important -- and far more sinister -- they have contributed to a cultural attitude that makes boys feel that they're to blame for society's short-changing girls.
That's a burden no boy should have to bear. It'a a lie no society should tolerate.
Kathleen Parker's e-mail address is email@example.com. Her column also appears Wednesday in the Sentinel's Living section.
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