Why Are Males Failing?

Ritalin (photograph)
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Got a minute? Help me flesh out a piece I’m working on about the shift in gender success in today’s society where females advance (academically, corporately and generally in leadership roles) while males are not just standing still. On many fronts, they are taking steps backwards.

Without offering support for those claims just now, I’m wondering if you have example of the decline in male numbers, influence or the overall leadership qualities in the schools, professions, organizations and communities where you live and work.

Do you have anecdotal evidence of the failure of boys and men in the part of society that you experience? You’d be more than welcome here to offer possible causes and fixes as well.

I won’t be finishing this essay for another few days, so will hope to hear from at least a few of you to flesh out my thoughts. You can email if you’d prefer.  fred1st over at google’s mail

The issues are complex and of great consequence to the future. Here’s one headline I found from a 2003 USA Today article that seems at least a contributor to the change:

Girls get extra help while boys get Ritalin.”

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. This is a topic I’m really interested in as six of our eight grandchildren are boys! I think it is of great concern and I frankly don’t buy the oft- repeated lament concerning the “feminization” of the educational system. This article doesn’t go much farther than that and I’m not surprised considering the source. The educational system has always been fairly feminine, I guess, and boys used to learn to sit still and excel. This seems cultural to me. It concerns me that we expect too little of our boys and they are meeting our expectations. Will be interested in your thoughts.

  2. I don’t think males are failing.

    I think they’re just gradually reaching a more normal and just equilibrium in society (and frankly, there’s still a long way to go). Male privilege still largely prevails in business and politics, for example, although women have made great strides and society is gradually becoming more equitable.

    Most of these types of articles have the ring of ongoing backlash against changes in society that make conservative folks uncomfortable. Anything that challenges traditional roles and stereotyped norms feels precious and threatened these days, apparently.

    But as long as calling a guy “girly” or a “sissy” is one of the worst insults imaginable, as long as the expectation that women are weak, illogical, and over-emotional, and therefore less fit for the most rigorous occupations still prevails… well, let’s just say I don’t think we need to worry about the erosions of male primacy just yet.

    Have a look at the statistics about women and economic power if you want to see how society really “values” women versus men.

  3. I’m fine with parity, long needed. But given the general intellectual lassitude and resignation of males–particularly in early education and early employment–I not threatened by the rise of females but by the passive defeat with arms at sides of males. How you doing, by the way, Pascale, long time since the old days of blogging, eh? I appreciate your thoughts.

  4. For them most part I agree with Pascale, females are simply taking their fair share of the pie, and good for them. When females are paid equally for the same jobs we know we have reached the summit.

    By the way, if you were a major corporation and you could pay a woman X, or a male X+10, which would you choose?

  5. I would still argue that while females are taking a step ahead, males are not simply marching in place. The statistics of academic advanced degrees shows males not aggressively pursuing those credentials at the rate or with the success that females are. Females catching up and exerting their particular influence on today’s society is badly needed, but males don’t need to retreat.

  6. You’ve selected a difficult topic to address Fred. I wish you success and enlightenment.

    I myself have given it no thought at all until now. Immediately certain aspects of life today came to mind and for what it may be worth; here goes.

    Autism (see http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/data.html) for some stats concerning it. Ritalin to my way of thinking is simply a small bandage for a giant problem concerning young males. After all is said and done, I honestly believe that future research will reveal that threats to male development, especially mentally, do exist.

    Something is surely afoot Fred. We may never figure it out.

    One other thing, our nation has been at war somewhere for many years. Yes! A number of young ladies DO join and train right along side of our young men, but the ratio is small. The military gets a large portion of the available male resource and the ones it returns to our society are usually mentally damaged in some way.

    As I said … for what it’s worth. I choose not to give the topic a lot of thought in my immediate future. I’ve got so much to ponder right now and at my age, one must be very selective as to what he gives time and effort in thought.

  7. I feel your pain, Clarence–there are far too many targets to aim our available brain energy at and too many bullets of distraction to dodge. But I think that his idea also sort of caught you off guard is telling. It bears some thought, and I think the matter calls out for today’s men to re-examine the role models and support our culture gives boys from early on–no less than girls. They are not beyond damage from more subtle trauma than IEDs.

  8. Let’s hear it for men’s liberation! I do think the educational system, the military and rapidly changing roles have all taken their toll on the male psyche. I think women’s liberation did a lot for women and girls in many areas. Perhaps our sons and brothers were left out. It’s time for all humans to have their talents appreciated. Wonderful thoughtful thread Fred. Perhaps you’d like to throw it out on facebook?

  9. Take a moment to consider the “accomplishments” and ever decreasing confidence level people express in the legislative branches of government at the national and state levels. Now look at the gender breakdown of both.
    U. S. Senate – 100 members, 17 women
    U.S. House of Representatives – 435 members, 76 women
    VA Senate – 40 members, 8 women
    VA House of Delegates – 100 members, 19 women

  10. I have absolutely nothing I can prove. Just noting that the guys’ track record is far from positive and that it would be interesting to see if that changed were there to be gender turn-around in terms of decisionmakers. Unfortunately, there’s no way to prove the theory.

  11. I’ll return at a later time to add something more serious. Meanwhile, pardon a little humor.

    The Men’s rules
    We always hear “the rules” from the female side. Now here are the rules from the male side.

    These are OUR rules:
    Please note… these are all numbered “1” ON PURPOSE!

    1. Breasts are for looking at and that is why we do it. Don’t try to change that.

    1. Learn to work the toilet seat. You’re a big girl. If it’s up, put it down. We need it up, you need it down. You don’t hear us complaining about you leaving it down.

    1. Saturday = sports. It’s like the full moon or the changing of the tides. Let it be.

    1. Shopping is NOT a sport. And no, we are never going to think of it that way.

    1. Crying is blackmail.

    1. Ask for what you want. Let us be clear on this one:

    * Subtle hints do not work!
    * Strong hints do not work!
    * Obvious hints do not work!
    * JUST SAY IT!

    1. ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ are perfectly acceptable answers to almost every question

    1. Come to us with a problem only if you want help solving it. That’s what we do. Sympathy is what your girlfriends are for

    1. A headache that lasts for 17 months is a problem. See a doctor

    1. Anything we said 6 months ago is inadmissible in an argument. In fact, all comments become null and void after 7 days

    1. If you think you’re fat, you probably are. Don’t ask us

    1. If something we said can be interpreted two ways, and one of the ways makes you sad or angry, we meant the other one

    1. You can either ask us to do something or tell us how you want it done, not both. If you already know best how to do it, just do it yourself.

    1. Whenever possible, please say whatever you have to say during commercials.

    1. Christopher Columbus did not need directions and neither do we.

    1. ALL men see in only 16 colours, like Windows default settings. Peach, for example, is a fruit, not a colour. Pumpkin is also a fruit. We have no idea what mauve is.

    1. If it itches, it will be scratched. We do that.

    1. If we ask what is wrong and you say “nothing,” we will act like nothing’s wrong. We know you are lying, but it is just not worth the hassle.

    1. If you ask a question you don’t want an answer to, expect an answer you don’t want to hear.

    1. When we have to go somewhere, absolutely anything you wear is fine, Really

    1. Don’t ask us what we’re thinking about unless you are prepared to discuss such topics as:

    * Sex,
    * Sport,
    * Cars,
    * or Computers

    1. You have enough clothes.

    1. You have too many shoes.

    1. I am in shape. Round is a shape.

    1. Thank you for reading this; Yes, I know, I have to sleep on the couch tonight, but did you know men really don’t mind that, it’s like camping

  12. Are they failing? My son is a freshman in college and finally blooming, coming into his own, after struggling all thru elementary and high school. After his last exam he was actually congratulating himself on a job well done – this is totally new behavior for him. He tested high on ability, did superbly on his SATs, but consistently was a C and D student until college.

    On the other hand, my 40-something husband seems to be going thru a life crisis and in the past 2 years has withdrawn from our lives completely; no amount of professional counseling, private time, dates, sympathetic listening, gifts, free time, space to “find himself,” attention, or anything else seems to have helped. The only thing he wants to do is hunt and spend time with his buddies. He has no interest in sex whatsoever; I’m at a loss to understand what’s going on there. All he wants is a divorce – and I honestly have no idea why. This has devastated me over the past year but I’m trying to pick up and accept it.

    I work in a male-dominated career and haven’t noticed any recent changes in men overall in the last decade. In their public lives (as I’m sure in private they must exhibit other behavior & interests), they still seem to be mostly driven by money, sex, and spectator sports, in that order. Had a rare philosophical discussion with one yesterday – I guess proving that at least some of them do sometimes allow a deeper side to show in public.

    I guess I have no answers, but then I’m Wendy to a lot of Peter Pans in my field. I can see that a lot of men are upset & affected by the economic downturn, and are frustrated with what they perceive as a lack of support for their problems. But really – what can we do other than be patient and wait it out?

    I’ll be interested to know where this discussion leads; I care about it because of my husband, my son, and my friends. Thanks for bringing up the topic.

  13. The title of this is provocative. Who defines success and failure and what is the value system? You further narrowed it down to leadership and influence as compared to doing something actually useful.

    I haven’t gotten around to looking at statistics, which are always questionable if you consider the source and agenda. I only have questions. What areas do you claim they are succeeding at? Be more specific by industry, job description and product or interest.

    Do your own mental survey regarding all the females you know personally. What do they do and how does that advance society? Do we need another fragrance, fashion designer or home shopping network spokesmodel? Are traditional female occupations due to lack of male interest or ability to perform the work? My personal experience says it’s girl power run amuck and doubling the workforce without filling the gap left behind has been destructive. The workplace that is dominated by women is a day at the View.

    I completely disagree with the concept of multi-tasking and that’s the female claim to glory. I don’t care who thinks they are exceptional at it. There are plenty of studies that agree with me.

    I still want to do a little research on this but you seem to have put some sort of timeline on your project and this discussion will probably die before it expands.

    I disagree with some of the conclusions already reached. Speaking off the top of my head would sound like gender bashing. Lassitude might be a good thing, it helps to keep the peace in a world that has always loved a fight where nobody is quite sure what it’s about.

  14. The problem is more complex than school curriculum or boy chemistry. The problem involves two entirely different treatments of Males and Females beginning as early as one year of age and increases in differential treatment through adulthood. This is creating the growing Male Crisis in the information age. The belief Males should be strong allows more aggressive treatment of Males beginning as early and possibly earlier than one year. This is coupled with much “less” kind, stable, verbal interaction and less mental/emotional/social support, knowledge, and skills for fear of coddling. This increases over time and continued by society from peers and teachers to others in society. This creates more social/emotional distance from parents and other authority figures who have knowledge; higher average stress that hurts learning and motivation to learn; more activity due to need for stress relief; more defensiveness and wariness of others further hindering emotional and social growth; and higher muscle tension (creating more pressure on pencil and tighter grip) that hurts writing and motivation to write. It creates much lag in development creating a learned sense of helplessness in school. This differential treatment continues on through adulthood, almost fixing many Males onto roads of failure and more escape into more short-term areas of enjoyment. Also the giving of love based on achievement that many Males thus falling behind academics then turns their attention toward video games and sports, risk taking to receive small measures of love/honor not received in the classroom.

    The much more stabilizing treatment from the still held belief girls, later women should be protected, creates lower average stress, much more close verbal interaction and confidence of more close support from infancy through adulthood. The lower average stress and much higher social vocabulary creates much better reading and motivation to read; it creates lower muscle tension allowing for more ease of handwriting and motivation to write; it allows for less need for stress relief through activity. The giving up love, honor, respect simply for being girls also provides greater innersecurity and more continued support to perform well in school and later in the information age workplace. The freedom of expression to give verbal, silent abuse, and hollow kindness with impunity creates ironically more respect for those women who use such behavior. The media trend to use both allowance for mistreatment of young Males, later men while giving glorification and pedestal treatment for women is creating entire differential value of Males and Females in the home, at school, the workplace, and even in the many store and other businesses we visit.