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Why Our Society Better Pay Attention to Men, Boys

I have for a very long time written letters to newspaper editors about the problems I see affecting the whole of society because of the gradual decline of men and boys in education, health, work places and homes.

For years I was ridiculed and called “goofy” for expressing such concerns and calling for greater attention to the problems being created for everyone by “the problem with men (and boys)” in our culture.

I’ve blogged about this many times – sometimes focusing on health issues (the overwhelming attention to and focus on women’s health with little to no corresponding attention to or focus on men’s health by government, the media and nonprofit organizations) and sometimes on education (the lack of male teachers in the lower grades and boys’ increasing dropout rate and so on).

Comments in response to these columns focused on two things: either that I’m reactionary to feminism (part of some patriarchal “backlash”), I’m just goofy about this or both. Many say things like, “It’s time for men to ‘man up’.”

The current issue of the highly respected news magazine, The Economist (May 30 to June 5, 2015), contains two articles on the subject that I find among the best brief examinations and proposals for change I have read.

The first article, “Men Adrift,” makes a very strong case that poorly educated men in “rich countries” (mostly Europe and North America) are falling behind in education, the economy, family life and social engagement and productivity in general and are therefore unhappy in life.

The result is affecting everyone, not just the poor men who are increasing in numbers.

It also talks about how education is failing boys and makes the very same recommendations I have made here: more male teachers and more attention to boys’ special needs for learning.

The article is hard-hitting. “A great appreciation of anti-boy bias among teachers would help, as well, as would more men teaching.”

When I say these things, I get accused of being anti-teacher. Not at all. “Bias” is rarely conscious or intentional.

In this case, I would argue, as I assume the author of the article would, it is present but largely unacknowledged.

The essay, “The Weaker Sex,” is excellent, focusing on the situation of “blue-collar” male workers in rich countries.

“It might seem odd,” it says, “to worry about the plight of men.” “Yet there is plenty of cause for concern” not only for men but also for everyone, including women.

Yes, a big part of the decline of men and social dropout rate of boys and young men is the economy.

But the issue is that the social order is not paying attention and helping boys and men change to adapt to the new social and economic situations.

“Part of the solution lies in a change in cultural attitudes” – on the part of both men and women – the essay asserts. That is what I have been saying here for four years.

The writer continues, “Policymakers … need to lend a hand [to men] because foolish laws are making the problem worse.”

And later, “Politicians need to recognize that boys’ underachievement is a serious problem and set about fixing it. Some sensible policies that are good for everybody are particularly good for boys.”

That is also what I have been saying for years.

The essay ends with this pithy and pregnant advice. “Some men have failed to cope with this new world. It is time to give them a hand.”

The natural, common reaction, especially by feminist-minded women, to “the problem with men and boys” is “man up!”

In other words, society has no responsibility to help men and boys succeed in life; it is totally up to them. And if they don’t, well, that’s their problem.

The Economist gets it – insofar as men and boys continue to fall behind, everyone is harmed.

Many boys and men who lose hope, for whatever reason, turn to crime. Many leave their families, turn to drugs, wander around, do nothing, become parasites.

A big part of the problem is that the jobs boys and men used to count on have disappeared and are never coming back.

Education and job training need to be aimed at boys and young men to help them realize they can enter the job market and succeed but only if they adapt to new kinds of work not traditionally considered “men’s work” and only if they receive training for these jobs and the people who are already in those professions and vocations (often mainly women) make room for them.

For about 10 years, I taught cohorts of nurses in a degree completion program. Almost all were women and they did not hesitate to express the opinion that men are not welcome in their profession as it’s for women.

The point of the articles is that the good of men, rightly defined as success in life (not domination), is good for everyone and men’s failure is bad for everyone.

This is not a popular thesis, but now that The Economist says it, maybe more people will begin to take it seriously.

Roger Olson is the Foy Valentine professor of Christian theology and ethics at George W. Truett Theological Seminary in Waco, Texas. He is the author of numerous books, including “Against Calvinism” and “The Story of Christian Theology.” This article is edited from a longer version that first appeared on his blog. It is used with permission.