by Warren Farrell, Ph.D.
When Barack Obama became President, he immediately created a White House Council on Women and Girls. Shortly after, I got a call from the White House inquiring of my interest to be an adviser. I added to my enthusiasm the need for a White House Council on Boys and Men. To accomplish that, I created a multi-partisan coalition of 34 prominent thought leaders to discover whether the government had a valid role in transforming the boy crisis into our sons’ opportunities.
Our report met with interest at the White House—but three years of effort have resulted in nothing. This is a missed opportunity because as President Obama has been extremely sensitive to women’s issues, he’s acted as if boys and men who are not African American have no issues at all. Sensitivity to our sons and their dads is not only morally right; it is politically wise.
Notice more than the gravity of these issues for boys and men; notice how they would be addressed by different departments of the government, resulting in the likelihood that without a coordinating White House Council on Boys and Men that the left hand wouldn’t know what the right hand is doing…
Most of us have heard the statistics regarding males going from 61% of college graduates to a projected 39%. But few of us know that our sons will be the first American generation to have less education than their dads. And the problem is not just education—it’s also motivation. We’ve heard about the impact of video games and video porn. But few know how plastics leaching into streams and lakes simulate estrogen and accelerate female maturity even as it retards male maturity. For a president interested in our environment, overlooking this impact on virtually every family is egregious.
Item Boys’ suicide rate goes from equal to girls’ prior to adolescence to five times girls’ between 20 and 24.
Item Among the elderly, men over 85 have a suicide rate 1300% higher than their female peers.
Adolescent male emotional challenges range from ADHD to violence, crime and the 5 D’s: depression, drinking, drugs, disobedience and delinquency.
Why has the male-female life expectancy gap grown from one year in 1920 to more than five years today? And why do boys and men die earlier than girls and women from nine of the 10 leading causes of death? Fortunately, our daughters’ and mothers’ health challenges are addressed by seven federal offices of women’s health. Our sons’ and fathers’ are not addressed by a single federal office of men’s health.
One of every five men 25 to 54 is not working. The areas of future job growth (e.g., health; education) are areas our daughters are preparing for; the areas for which uneducated boys have typically found jobs (e.g., manufacturing; agriculture; construction) are in decline. And the mostly-male jobs requiring more education are being outsourced overseas.
A White House Council on Boys and Men would examine the potential for restoring vocation to education, and for developing our sons’ (and daughters’) skills to match employers’ future needs. It can expand the concept of a “man’s work;” and study other countries’ successes. And when men do work, it can recommend ways to increase safety (92% of workplace deaths are men).
A White House Council on Boys and Men can coordinate potential solutions. For example…
One out of three children in the U.S. live in father-absent homes, yet most of the above problems would be significantly addressed with one solution: father involvement. To say nothing of how the more fathers are involved, the more crime and poverty are defeated.
How do we get more father involvement? Take a look at how Sweden restructured its paternity leave so that 85% of its fathers would participate. And what about a male birth control pill? And educating boys in school as to their value as future dads? And…
The latest articulation of the crisis facing boys and men is Hanna Rosin’s The End of Men. If our sons see the “end of men” as their future, they will have little inspiration for life’s journey. With some help, we can transform the end of men to the beginning of men—of men as human beings rather than as human doings. In the past, we taught our sons to consider themselves “real men” if they made themselves disposable—disposable in war and in work. Being a “real man” and dead is a bit of a paradox. Calling our sons heroes if they risked being disposable was often healthy for the society, but it is unhealthy for our sons.
The Council can provide leadership to sustain the respect for firefighters and soldiers that allows us to recruit protectors for our homes and country, even as we also encourage alternative paths to becoming a valued man. Leadership for the future must both question and honor traditional masculinity. As our history of male-as-sole-breadwinner fades as downsizing and outsourcing burgeon, both sexes will need to be prepared to raise money and raise children. Our daughters have learned to do both; our sons have not.
A White House Council on Boys and Men can end the era of boys and men as a national afterthought. It can provide leadership to raise young men that our daughters are proud to love.
President Obama, you have daughters. You respect the family. You love our country. What are you waiting for?
Dr. Warren Farrell has been chosen by the Financial Times as one of the world’s top 100 thought leaders. He is the only man ever elected three times to the Board of NOW in NYC. His books are published in over 50 countries, and in 16 languages. They include two award-winning international best-sellers, Why Men Are The Way They Are plus The Myth of Male Power. His forthcoming book, with John Gray, will be Boys to Men.
Dr. Farrell has taught in five disciplines, and been featured repeatedly in Forbes, The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. He currently chairs a coalition to create a White House Council on Boys and Men.