Gilligan’s Island and Other Tall Tales
The War Against Boys: How Misguided Feminism Is Harming Our Young Men. By Christina Hoff Sommers. (Touchstone, 2000, 251 pages) $13.00
The war against boys started as a defense of the “fragile girl”. Carol Gilligan, a professor of gender studies at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and a respected authority in her field, is a “scholar” of girls and their “crises”. Ms. Gilligan points out that the fragile adolescent girl, as she grows up, hits a wall of Western culture and gripping patriarchy, and then finds herself in danger of disappearing in a demoralized state.
This synopsis has become known as the “girl crisis”, a crisis given much time and scholarly attention by the gender studies types (read, feminists). In all their enthusiasm for equity theories and social conditioning, they have turned girls into victims and seek a type of “gender justice” to allay evils of the past.
American Enterprise Institute scholar Christina Hoff Sommers breaks down the many myths perpetuated by Ms. Gilligan and her fellow gender studies savants. After all, gender studies programs around the country are nothing more than a group of anti-male commentators that are out to enrich feminist fantasies at the expense of our nation’s men. Sommers shows us why this is true, and also, what is the real purpose and aim of their research.
Sommers points out the driving force of the gender equity movement is a sort of vengeance, to give back to girls what was wrongfully taken from them and handed over to boys. Gender theorists rely on claims of girls not being called on to speak in class and being shortchanged in self-esteem teaching, in order to justify that girls are lacking proper engagement in the educational setting.
However, studies show that it is boys that are lacking the abilities of engagement much more so than girls. The girls come to school more prepared to learn, more willing to study and do homework, and tend to excel more in terms of grades and extracurricular activities.
The gender theorists, with Carol Gilligan at the forefront, argue that this doesn’t hold; that as girls reach adolescence, they soon become background noise as society turns its attention toward boys. The result is, they lose confidence, insight, and ability, and they are no longer optimistic for the future.
The only obeisance from Gilligan comes in the form of acknowledging that boys were also having troubles, but this was a result of being forced into an overly-masculine culture and trying to live up to society’s stereotypes of what a man should be.
Of course, there should be little disagreement of what a man should be. After all, stereotypes are true because they are conventional portraits of what is. A boy is to be a boy, and then becomes a man. A boy becomes a man by gaining strength, courage and chivalry. He is taught to respect females as a higher category of mortal being. He has to cultivate masculine leadership skills that are necessary for his work and for raising a family.
However, the popular claim is that boys are being wrongly masculinized and that boy-raising should be reconstructed toward a more sissified upbringing skewed toward emotional and sensitivity training. As Gloria Steinem says, “We badly need to raise boys more like we raise girls.” Indeed, that is not a misprint.
Another hilarity, though one not even shared by most “social construction” theorists, is feminist philosopher Sandra Lee Bartky and her conviction that “human beings are all born bisexual into a patriarchal society, and then, through social conditioning, are transformed into male and female gender personalities.”
Most disturbing, is the fact that the gender studies people never seem to produce the empirical evidence to support their claims. They only come armed with anecdotes and hypothetical expertise in such matters. For instance, in Carol Gilligan’s 1982 book, In A Different Voice, her thesis relied on the data from three surveys. Sommers points out that the studies were never named, published or peer-reviewed. The studies, small in scope and number of subjects, were deemed too “sensitive” for public viewing. She points out that the standards for acceptable scholarly research are certainly not complied with in this case.
This gender equity gibberish is all the rage in the university setting. Gender studies, women’s studies and feminist programs are the toast of the town. Groups like the American Association of University Women and the Wellesley College Center for Research on Women are given lofty status, and their studies and recommendations are not ever subject to scrutiny because of their politically correct standing.
Christina Hoff Sommers does a commendable job in breaking down the fallacies of popular gender studies perception, and she in turn shows how our boys are really the deprived class as we move from a patriarchal society toward a feminization of institutions and customs. Where Sommers goes awry is when she gives a run-through of various public school programs that have admirably shied away from some therapeutic practices, and have instead taught morals, character, and discipline in its place. The whole character education movement sounds delightful and somewhat conservatively-based, however, none of this teaching belongs in the hands of state educators in the first place.
In fact, public schooling is the first obstacle in the education of our young boys and girls. Schools exist to teach our students to be literate, to think, and to study humanities, science, and math. Therefore, establishing conservative feel-good programs as an alternative to egalitarian liberal programs is never a solution. The education of our youth should not be a public good. Not putting your boy in the hands of state indoctrinators is the first step toward raising a boy to be a man.
Karen De Coster [send her mail] is a politically incorrect CPA, and an MA student in economics at Walsh College in Michigan.