Our Sons, Our Schools

by Warren Farrell, Ph.D

In the last third of the 20th century, feminism freed women and girls from the straight-jacket of stereotyped sex roles. No one did the same for men or boys. This is not women's fault. Women cannot hear what men don't say. But it does have an impact.

Girls used to be minorities in college and graduate school. Now women are almost 60% of the full-time graduate students. They are also 54% of the full-time undergraduates and almost 70% of the part-time undergraduates. I In high school, girls are more likely to be in clubs, student government, on -school newspapers, receive better grades, be valedictorians and salutatorians, win scholarships, and have higher professional aspirations. In contrast, they have fewer discipline problems and drop out less.2

This change is occurring for many reasons. Our sons are often being raised only by their mothers, then entering elementary schools with almost all female teachers Girls have role models. Boys have gangs. Yet our daughters are still being treated like disadvantaged minorities with federal programs like Girl Power focusing millions of dollars on our daughters' special needs while no program focuses on our sons' special needs,

Nothing tells the story more dramatically than our sons' and daughters' suicide rates. As feminism has helped our daughters get love and respect from being whoever they want to be, our daughters' suicide rate has declined. Meanwhile, our sons' suicide rate has soared. Why? Start with the power of our children's first love. Fortunately, our daughters now have the option to pursue boys and take sexual initiatives. But our sons still have the expectation. If they do it too slowly, they are still called a wimp-, but now, if they do it too awkwardly, they are sued for sexual harassment, and if they do it too quickly, they are a date rapist.

As feminism has helped our daughters- have more ways to gain love and respect, it has also encouraged sexual harassment and date rape legislation that has given our sons more ways to lose love and respect. And people who feel unloved and disrespected are most vulnerable to suicide, So when our sons and daughters are nine their suicide rate is identical, but by the time they reach their early 20's, our sons' rate is six times as high.

By focusing on only our daughters, we have identified only the way our daughters experience low self-esteem and depression- So we catch our daughters' experience before it becomes suicide. Boys' experience of depression and low self-esteem is hidden in the cracks. By calling it aggression or delinquency or drinking or drugs, we skip past the depression until we stand before his coffin.

The reason boys' experience got hidden in the cracks evolved slowly over the past third of a century. It started with the shadow side of feminism - the belief that since our sons would grow up earning more money, they must have more power, privilege, and attention to their needs. We lost sight of the fact that men had been historically obligated to raise money just as women had been obligated to raise children -- that obligations are not power, but, well, obligations. Roles.

We failed to see that women's attention to men's needs was conditional. Few women competed for the man reading I'm Okay, You're Okay in the unemployment line. It was conditional upon his willingness to earn money that often a woman would spend while he died sooner. Therefore, homeless men and gay men did not have women providing for their needs. It was conditional upon men being willing to die in war. Few beautiful princesses married conscientious objectors. Women fell in love with The Officer And The Gentleman, not The Private And The Pacifist.

Feminism helped us become aware of the price of our daughters becoming sex objects, but not the price of our sons becoming success objects. We falsely assumed that our sons' greater preparation for success meant a greater concern for who he was. We missed the fact that our sons did not become successful by learning to express who they were, but by learning to repress who they were. Successful men did not express feelings, they repressed feelings.

This is still the norm in most every American high school. The girls are most likely to fall in love with our son if he is a football player. Football players soon learn, though, that being in touch with their feelings is dysfunctional -- that acknowledging his pain would lead to him leaving the game. And then the cheerleader would no longer cheer for him. She would cheer for his replaceable part.

Our sons need love and approval too much to look underneath the cheering -- that her cheering is not for who he is, but for his willingness to deny his feelings. Our sons are still learning to receive love by sacrificing their bodies. But instead of calling it child abuse or prostitution, they call it "becoming a man." Or scholarship potential. Or identity. Few parents protest. Most applaud.

Our daughters have entered the Era of the Multi-Option Woman while our sons arc still in the Era of the No-Option Man. Our daughters now have the option to perform, the option to pursue boys, and the option to pay; our sons still have the expectation to perform, pursue, and pay.

Our daughters are still giving their love to men who perform, and watching mothers do the same. Worldwide, two and a half billion of our daughters-as- women are still enough into the fantasy of being swept away that they were glued to Princess Diana's wedding. Few of our sons have castles to offer.

When these fantasies of security become the trauma of divorce, our daughters demonize the men who failed to save them. They join First Wives' Clubs. Their fantasy of being swept away has been swept away. It is difficult for a woman who is rejected to feel a man's feelings. It is easier to label him a jerk. (It hurt s less to be rejected by an object than by a full human being.) A success object who fails becomes an object of contempt and the focus of the male-bashing that is ubiquitous today.

On yet a deeper level, our sons' depression and heartaches get lost in the cracks because virtually every society had an unconscious investment in men protecting us. People who protected us had to be willing to die, not be encouraged to be in touch with their feelings. It was part of our genetic heritage, then, to select men who were killer-protectors.

Our genetic future, though, is dependent on selecting men who are nurturer-connectors. This will evolve not from a women's movement blaming men or a men's movement blaming woman, but from a gender transition movement helping both sexes make a transition from following rigid roles to negotiating trade-offs in a multi-option world. For the past third of a century, we have introduced our daughters into a multi-option world; now it is time to introduce our sons.

Warren Farrell is the San Diego-based author of Why Men Are The Way They Are and the more recent The Myth of Male Power. He is on the boards of many men's and children's organizations, and is the only man in the US ever elected three times to the Board of Directors of the National Organization for Women (NOW) in New York City. He can be reached at 103 North Highway 101, #220, Encinitas, CA 92024

1 American Demographics, October, 1997.

2 Michael Gurian, A Fine Young Man (Tarcher/Putnam, forthcoming June, 1998).

Published on the ACFC website by permission of the author