The uncertain future of boys

I am the father of two young boys, and I am concerned about their future.

For most of Western Civilization, males dominated society, but in the last 50 years, females have gained access to jobs and education historically reserved for males. Women not only performed as well as men, but in many situations, they outperformed them.

Today, more females are enrolled in college than males and more women are in the workforce than men. In the early 2000s, alarmists spoke of the decline of boys in education and the business world. Numerous books like The War Against Boys, Boys Adrift, and Save the Males, chronicle a dysfunctional boy’s culture and its impact on society. The recent recession reignited this discussion as men suffered greater layoffs than women, resulting in some commentators calling it a man-cession.

Statistics can be used to prove every aspect of the gender question: male decline, gender parity, or continuing female subjugation. Beyond the statistics, the cultural portrayal of young males is worrying. It’s become cliché to talk about the recent male graduate, living in his parent’s basement, playing videos games, eating pizza, and drinking beer. Digging deeper into our culture, where are model men in the media? From the harmlessness of the Bernstein Bears to the comedy of Ray Romano and silliness of Homer Simpson, fathers are portrayed as bumbling idiots.

The image of the deadbeat dad – childlike, lazy, and obsessed with fantasy football – is countered by super-mom – worker, caregiver, and husband-sitter – able to balance soccer games, board meetings, and making the perfect apple pie.

Are these archetypes descriptive, I hope not, or prescriptive? That is, do they represent reality or do these images help create reality? I am apprehensive over the latter. Society sets the standard so low for boys that they might not rise above mediocrity, or by promoting these subpar models of manhood, boys might think this behavior is acceptable.

Beneath these images, true troubles exist in the culture of boys. Nearly universal exposure to pornography is destroying a generation of boys’ ability to properly interact with females. Altered by hours of perusing images of women, most boys view the opposite sex as objects for their gratification, not as individuals deserving love. Boys also appear to be more susceptible to new addictions, especially video games, and sadly many relate better to imagined realities than the real world. On the flip side, girls have the added motivation of centuries of adversity and countless media depictions of strong, young female characters. They have something to prove, but boys are lost in the midst of the modern world’s challenges.

Reflecting on the “crisis” of boys, I realized it’s not a crisis of boys but of men. Some, if not most, of boy activities are fitting for young individuals. Regrettably, males do not grow out of these activities. Is it more of a problem that boys play hours of video games or that men do the same? Girls will eventually drop their obsessions of Justin Bieber and Edward Cullen, but male fascination of sports heroes does not disappear; it only becomes most sophisticated. Are man caves really boy caves with beer replacing soda?

The missing process of male maturity is aided by the lack of real men. Media images, as mentioned above, reinforce the juvenile father figure. Real-life models are also in short supply. Today, a staggering 41 percent of children are born out of wedlock, and it increases to 53 percent for children born to mothers under 30. Where are the dads? It is a vicious cycle of men not being there for their sons, which then produces a new generation of sons with no positive male models.

Fortunately, I had a wonderful father, a model of selflessness and holiness, and after my wedding and move to Maryland, I gained a father-in-law with similar qualities. It’s my task to follow their examples and show my sons what it is to be a man.

Girls are statistically doing better than boys, but boys are doing fine. Girls are merely performing exceptionally. Much more importantly, girls are better at making the transition to adulthood. Contrarily, boyhood has been extended into the 20s and 30s, and just when you think a boy has become a man, a childish mid-life crisis rears its head.

For a man crisis to be averted, society needs to adjust its image of immature fathers, and real fathers need to start playing their role, providing an example for future generations.

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.