men, masculinities and gender politics

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What’s the *real* “boy crisis”? That they will soon find themselves having to compete with girls on a truly level playing field.

For the past several years there has been a lot of talk about a “boy crisis” in education. As I will explain, this “crisis” is a myth. But there is another potential crisis for men and boys that is occurring right now. And that is the fact that things are changing fast. Very fast. Our unearned sexist power and privilege are vanishing right before our eyes. And we need to accept these changes and respond appropriately and supportively to them if we want to have any hope of keeping up with the women and girls in our lives.

No longer destined to be a king. As a small example of these changes, just last week Britain altered the rules of succession to the British throne so that the eldest-born female can become queen, even if she has a younger brother. Until now, the line of succession had passed down to any male in the direct line. A female could only inherit the throne if she had no surviving brothers who were sane enough to rule. But given the possibility that Prince William may well impregnate Princess Catherine with a sperm cell that contains an X chromosome – and hence Kate would almost certainly deliver a girl – the powers that be decided to change the rules to make them fair to females. A boy no longer becomes king simply because he is the oldest male. Now he must be the oldest of all of the children. A penis alone no longer makes him a king.

In the USA, a woman can even become a “King.” On the very same day that the British royals changed the rules, young people in California were changing them too. At Patrick Henry High School in San Diego, the student body elected a young lesbian as their Homecoming King. Just like under the new British rules, this woman did not need a penis in order to rule over her Court. And, at the football game the next night, it was announced that the high school students had also elected the new King’s long-time girlfriend as her Homecoming Queen.

Some students at the high school complained that the role of King should have been reserved for a boy. That it was unfair for girls to take both the role of King and Queen. The young woman who won the election responded that it was not her intent to deny boys the opportunity to become King. But this was the only way that she and her girlfriend could run for the Homecoming Court. If there had been another way, she said, she would have done it differently.

But there was no other way. So she ran against the boys for King. And she beat them all. And she didn’t need a penis to do so.

Even more evidence that you don’t need a penis to lead. The Queen of England is largely a figurehead. And the Homecoming King’s “reign” ends pretty much right after the photos are taken. But just over one month ago, a much more meaningful change occurred in the area of women’s leadership. Australia became the third country in the world (along with Canada and New Zealand) to open all of its military positions to women. Women will soon be able to serve in any military capacity, including special forces. Many countries still restrict women from combat roles, but that is rapidly changing.

Serving in combat is a vital step on one’s way to positions of increasing responsibility within the military. It is tough to lead troops if you haven’t “been there” yourself. If you haven’t experienced hostile fire. If you haven’t seen death all around you. But now women in Australia’s military will be able to take on those combat roles, and they will no longer be blocked from being able to compete against their penised comrades for promotion up through the ranks.

And pretty soon you won’t even need testicles to have a baby. Just over two months ago researchers in Japan accomplished something that was still thought to be years off. They generated mouse sperm cells from mouse stem cells. They then put those cells into infertile male mice, who were then able to impregnate female mice. The offspring who were born to these mice were themselves fertile. This news was met with great excitement in many quarters. England’s Daily Mail wrote that “infertile men may be able to 'grow their own sperm' opening the door to fatherhood for thousands.” This would be a great thing for men who are experiencing the deep devastation of infertility.

But then the article went on to state that in addition to helping infertile men to conceive, this new technology might ultimately make men’s role in conception totally unnecessary.

And just this month scientists in Australia found a way to create mice embryos without using any sperm at all! The implication is that we will soon be able to use pretty much any cell in the human body to fertilize a woman’s egg! This means, among other things, that lesbian couples could soon have babies that are genetically related to both women – and that no man’s genetic material would need to be involved.

This also means that any woman, lesbian or not, could have a child without having to rely on a male sex partner or a male sperm donor. Soon, men will simply no longer be necessary for human reproduction. (Perhaps now we can stop referring to women as “the weaker sex”!)

The fake boy crisis. For several years there has been considerable handwringing about a supposed “boy crisis” in education – about how schools are failing to meet the needs of boys, about how curricula need to be retooled to become more “boy friendly,” and about how school has just become too feminized. It is a compelling and powerful argument.

But it is not true.

Research by the American Association of University Women, and by the think tank Education Sector, shows that there simply is no generalizable boy crisis. Student achievement scores by gender have remained remarkably stable for decades. And all that ballyhooing about how men now represent a lower percentage of university students compared to women ignores the fact that right now there are more men attending university than ever before. It’s just that even more women than men are attending. So in overall numbers, there are in fact more men getting a university education. (They just no longer represent 50% of university students.)

(The reports can be found here: http://www.aauw.org/learn/research/upload/whereGirlsAre.pdf, http://www.cpec.ca.gov/CompleteReports/ExternalDocuments/ESO_BoysAndGirls.pdf)

The “crisis” among male students in the U.S. – to the extent that it exists at all – is entirely limited to Latino males, African-American males, and low-income White males. The US education system needs to do a much better job of engaging those young men. But the argument that there is some overarching problem for males in the US system (most of whom are White, and who are not poor) suggests either an ignorance of the real data, or an exercise in intellectual dishonesty.

The real boy crisis. But I would suggest that there is an issue that men and boys are facing that if not attended to could soon represent a real crisis. And that issue is how do we respond to the continual, rapid, and – short of a Taliban-style takeover – inevitable erosion of the unearned power and privilege that our sexist society has long afforded to males?

All of a sudden, having a penis in the British royal family doesn’t mean you get to rule over your older sister! Suddenly, she gets to rule over you! All of a sudden, young women and their female partners are being elected both Homecoming Queen and Homecoming King! All of a sudden, women are being allowed to pursue any career they want in an increasing number of the world’s militaries! Your next commanding officer on the battlefield could soon be a woman! And your female buddy next to you in the foxhole may well get that promotion you had your eye on!

And, in perhaps what is the most dramatic change of all, women soon won’t even need sperm in order to conceive a baby!

How to respond. The world is changing fast. Women are marching steadily on toward ever greater achievements and accomplishments. They are closing the gaps that millennia of sexism and misogyny have built between women and men in most of the world’s societies.

And all of this leaves us men with three options:

Option 1: Resist the changes and rail at what has become of our society! This is about as useful as barking at the moon. No one will listen to you. And it is as productive as pissing into the wind. You will become uncomfortable, and emit a stale stench.

Option2: Ignore the changes and act as if nothing has happened. Just withdraw. Head to the basement, jump on the internet, and lose yourself in computer games. But don’t be surprised when one (or more) of the kickass players in Black Ops or World of Warcraft turns out to be a woman. And when you re-emerge from your dungeon, the world will look a whole lot different.

Option 3: Figure out as men what our role should be in this amazing new world in which we find ourselves. A world in which women easily assume their rightful place as Queen. In which women get voted Homecoming King. In which women engage in real special forces operations. In which women can have babies without any male participation whatsoever.

Guys, the world is changing every day. And we need to change with it. We need to figure out how to partner with women and girls as they continue on their brave, bold, and inexorable march toward full equality. We need support them on their journey. And in turn we need to welcome their support as we too figure out just what our role as males should be in a world where it is becoming increasingly clear that in many instances “the best man for the job” is in fact a woman.

You let misogyny blind you to real people's real problems

You wrote: "The “crisis” among male students in the U.S. – to the extent that it exists at all – is entirely limited to Latino males, African-American males, and low-income White males."

Well, that's okay then. If it's just those brown guys, it's no problem. An issue is only real if it affects upper-class white men, right?

We're now on the second generation of black boys growing up without male role models, because we lock up their fathers for non-violent crimes and incentivize single motherhood by giving poor moms benefits only if they get rid of the dad. Just because a dad can't always find work doesn't mean he can't contribute, unless you believe the patriarchal notion that only working outside the home is valuable. When someone suggests that teachers could act as substitute male role models if more than 20% of them were male, you dismiss it and deny that boys have any problems at all.

By the way, no one has a "rightful" place on the throne. Monarchy is fundamentally illegitimate, and has been for centuries.