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The War Against Boys: How Misguided Policies are Harming Our Young Men Hardcover – August 20, 2013

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Christina Hoff Sommers is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise institute in Washington, D.C. She has a PhD in philosophy from Brandeis University and was formerly a professor of philosophy at Clark University. Sommers has written for numerous publications and is the author of Who Stole Feminism? How Women Have Betrayed Women. She is married with two sons and lives in Chevy Chase, Maryland.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

WAR AGAINST BOYS / Christina Hoff Sommers


When the first edition of The War Against Boys appeared in 2000, almost no one was talking about boys’ educational and social problems. Now it’s hard to open a newspaper without stumbling upon references to the multiple books, articles, studies, and documentaries highlighting boys’ academic, social, and vocational deficits. So is the war over? Not yet.

Although many educators recognize that boys have fallen far behind girls in school, few address the problem in a serious way. Schools that try to stop the trend, through boy-friendly pedagogy, literacy interventions, vocational training, or same-sex classes, are often thwarted. Women’s lobbying groups still call such projects evidence of a “backlash” against girls’ achievements, and believe they are part of a campaign to slow further female progress.

The recent advances of girls and young women in school, sports, and vocational opportunities are cause for deep satisfaction. They should not, however, blind us to the large and growing cohort of poorly educated young men in our midst, boys who are going to be lost in our knowledge-based economy. To address the problem, we must acknowledge the plain truth: boys and girls are different. Yet in many educational and government circles, it remains taboo to broach the topic of sex differences. Gender scholars and experts still insist that the sexes are the same, and argue that any talk of difference only encourages sexism and stereotypes. In the current environment, to speak of difference invites opprobrium, and to speak of boys’ special needs invites passionate, organized opposition. Meanwhile, one gender difference refuses to go away: boys are languishing academically, while girls are soaring.

In the first edition of the War Against Boys, I focused primarily on how groups such as the American Association of University Women, the Wellesley Centers for Women, and the Ms. Foundation were harming our nation’s young men. These organizations and their doctrines are still very much with us. But in this revised edition, I describe the emergence of additional boy-averse trends: the decline of recess, punitive zero-tolerance policies, myths about juvenile “super-predators,” and a misguided campaign against single-sex schooling. As our schools become more feelings-centered, risk-averse, competition-free, and sedentary, they move further and further from the characteristic sensibilities of boys.

However in the 14 years since the War Against Boys was first published, England, Australia, and Canada have made concerted to efforts to address the boy gap. In these countries, the public, the government, and the education establishment have become keenly aware of the increasing number of underachieving young males. In stark contrast to the United States, they are energetically, even desperately, looking for ways to help boys achieve parity. They have dozens of commissions, trusts, and working groups devoted to improving the educational prospects of boys. Using evidence and not ideology as their guide, these education leaders speak openly of male/female differences and don’t hesitate to recommend sex-specific solutions.

“Success for Boys,” for example, is an Australian program that has provided grants to 1,600 schools to help them incorporate boy-effective methods into their daily practice.[i] In Great Britain, ten members of Parliament formed a Boys’ Reading Commission and published a comprehensive report in 2012.[ii] It offers educators a “tool kit” of successful practices. Paul Capon, president of the Canadian Council on Learning, acknowledges the political temptation to avoid or deny the problem of male underachievement. Still, he says, “You have to ask what is happening, and you have to ask why. It’s a head-in-the-sand, politically correct view to say there’s no problem with boys.”[iii] In the United States, our education establishment remains paralyzed with its head in the sand.

The subtitle of the first edition was “How Misguided Feminism is Harming Our Young Men.” The emphasis on misguided—I did not intend to indict the historical feminist movement, which I have always seen as one of the great triumphs of our democracy. But some readers took the book to be an attack on feminism itself, and my message was lost on them. In this edition, I have sought to make a clearer distinction between the humane and progressive women’s movement and today’s feminist lobby. That lobby too often acts as a narrow, take-no-prisoners special interest group. Its members see the world as a zero-sum struggle between women and men. Their job is to side with the women—beginning with girls in the formative years of childhood.

Most women, including most equality-minded women, do not see the world as a Manichean struggle between Venus and Mars. The current plight of boys and young men is, in fact, a women’s issue. Those boys are our sons; they are the people with whom our daughters will build a future. If our boys are in trouble, so are we all.

In the war against boys, as in all wars, the first casualty is truth. In this updated edition, I give readers the best and most recent information on “where the boys are.” I say who is warring against them and why; I describe the best scientific research on the issues in debate; and I show readers the high price we will pay if we continue to neglect academic and social needs of boys. I also suggest solutions.

This book explains how it became fashionable to pathologize the behavior of millions of healthy male children. We have turned against boys and forgotten a simple truth: the energy, competitiveness, and corporal daring of normal males are responsible for much of what is right in the world. No one denies that boys’ aggressive tendencies must be mitigated and channeled toward constructive ends. Boys need (and crave) discipline, respect, and moral guidance. Boys need love and tolerant understanding. But being a boy is not a social disease.

To appreciate the growing divide between our educational establishment and the world of boys, consider this rare entity: a boy-friendly American school. In June of 2011, I visited the Heights School, an all-male Catholic academy outside Washington, D.C. As I approached, I saw a large banner that said “Heights School: Men fully alive.”

The school is thriving. There is new construction and a population of 460 fully engaged male students, grades three through twelve. Competition is part of the everyday life of the students, and awards and prizes are commonly used as incentives— but this competition is deeply embedded in an ethical system. The younger boys (ages 8-10) attend class in log cabins filled with collections of insects, plants, and flowers. They memorize poetry and take weekly classes in painting and drawing. At the same time, the school makes room for male rowdiness.

The day of my visit, the eighth grade boys were reenacting the Roman Battle of Philippi in 42 BC, which they had studied in class. The boys had made their own swords and shields out of cardboard and duct tape, emblazoned with dragons, eagles, and lightning bolts. For more than an hour, they marched, attacked, and brawled. At one point, a group of warriors formed a classic Roman “tortoise”—a formation with shields on all sides. Another battalion charged full-speed into the tortoise. Younger boys gathered on the sidelines and catapulted water balloons into the fray. It was pandemonium.

I asked the principal if the boys ever get hurt. Not really, he said. Anyway, one of his first lectures to parents concerns the “value of the scraped knee.” There weren’t even scraped knees in the battle I observed—just boys having about as much fun as there is to be had.

The Heights School is an outlier. Sword fights, sneak water balloon attacks, and mock battles hold a special fascination for boys, but most of today’s schools prohibit them. Play swords and shields? Those, even in miniature, invite suspension. Boys charging into each other? Someone could get hurt (and think of the lawsuits). Young males pretending to kill one another? A prelude to wife abuse. Gender scholars have spent the past 20 years trying to re-socialize boys away from such “toxic” masculine proclivities. And a boys school? The American Civil Liberties Union has recently joined forces with a group of activist professors to expose and abolish the injustice of such invidious “segregation.” For them, what I saw at the Heights School is not “men fully alive”—it is gender apartheid.

The war against boys is not over. It is fiercer than ever. But the stakes have risen, the battle lines have become clearer, and here and there one sees signs of resistance and constructive action. My second edition is dedicated to inspiriting the forces of reason and, eventually, reconstruction.







[i]. Success for Boys, “Outline,” Australian Government Department of Education, Employment, and Workplace Relations. (accessed 19 September 2012).

[ii]. Boys Reading Commission, “All Party Parliamentary Literacy Group Final Report,” National Literacy Trust, July 2, 2012. (accessed 19 September 2012).

[iii]. Carolyn Abraham, “Failing boys and the power keg of sexual politics,” The Globe and Mail, October 15, 2010.

One: Where the Boys Are

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; Reissue edition (August 20, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1451644183
  • ISBN-13: 978-1451644180
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #87,438 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

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51 of 53 people found the following review helpful By Hu(man) on August 26, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The author writes (p. 199): "The public has given no one a mandate to pursue a policy of privileging girls." And yet, as Christina Hoff Sommers repeats in the revised edition of her 2000 book, a small group of ideological feminists have claimed that Americans should do that, and from many quarters there is evidence that they have. This "New and Revised Edition" of "THE WAR AGAINST BOYS" is a welcome return of an important book. Sommers, a philosopher by education and a mother of two boys, shows that the trend she identified in the late 1990s to see boys as defective girls and therefore somehow in need of retooling has continued, and its effects have spread. The importance of Sommers' book lies especially in pointing out the misrepresentations of fact by leading advocates of making over boyhood. She takes to task the reputation of a major research institution for having missed oversight of assertions presumably based on scientific investigation that are, in fact, wishful thinking on the part of high-profile faculty. Her target is Carol Gilligan in particular, who managed to convince important activists, journalists and others in the media about the presumed defectiveness of boys that results from the dominance of patriarchy in American society. Go to this book if you are a parent. Take it to school administrators especially if your children are in grade school but realize that contempt for men and masculinity is now pervasive in higher education as well. If you are paying $50,000+ a year for a son's education, check out what courses are being taught that are disparage the young men in class. Sommers is a feminist in the way anyone who is clear-thinking is a feminist: someone who supports women in having access to education and employment opportunities of every kind.Read more ›
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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Michael on September 19, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Brave Mrs Hoff-Sommers will go down in the history of gender science as the one who first highlighted the disadvantages boys face in modern western education. Her book was a wake up call to all those who believed in that brand of man-hating feminist ideology which deviated from the traditional women's movement, and who wondered why boys' performance at school was plumetting. Now she's updated her groundbreaking work to show why, although in other parts of the world, there have been some fundamental changes to address this problem, the US is in a rather unique situation, where any attempts at reforming this discriminatory and prejudiced educational system are stymied by self-interest groups out to protect what doesn't need protecting - the right of girls to receive a decent education.

If our boys suffer, we all suffer, including or especially girls and women. Therefore, it is in the interests of everyone that we remove prejudice from our schools, and remove the spirit of male hostility so detrimental to learning. This book is highly recommended for home readers and public libraries. It was necessary that a woman write such a book, as if any man had written it, he would immediately have been labelled a mysogynist by the misandrist organizations referred to above.
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27 of 29 people found the following review helpful By N. Blackburn on August 29, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Synopsis: From Goodreads:

Despite popular belief, American boys tag behind girls in reading and writing ability, and they are less likely to go to college. Our young men are greatly at risk, yet the best-known studies and experts insist that it's girls who are in need of our attention. The highly publicized "girl crisis" has led to many changes in American schools, politics, and parenting...but at what cost? In this provocative book, Christina Hoff Sommers argues that our society has continued to overemphasize the troubles of girls while our boys suffer from the same self-esteem and academic problems. Boys need help, but not the sort of help they've been getting.

My rating: 4 Stars

My opinion: I couldn't believe how well documented with short and long term statistics from multiple sources, including the Brookings Institute and DOE this was. It was very clear that they author had done her homework on the topic. On that note, it was a very concise and slower read to ingest the details and statistics. It took me a good week to read a just over 200 page book d/t absorbing and cross referencing data.

While the author calls it so, I wouldn't call it misguided feminism, but an attack on our young men by feminist groups with their own agenda. Misguided infers that it was done mistakenly or with no ill intent. Author gives many direct quotes from organizations, such as the AAUW, where this is the direct intent of an unapologetic organization to sabotage the educational opportunities for males, including the demasculinization of the education of our young men or how they learn best.
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful By RopeMan on October 9, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Bit slanted but Sommers takes apart most of the repeated misinformation from the Women's Lobby. She rightfully points out the abandonment of our young men in a frenzied effort to further the women agenda. As an educator I witness daily the lack of attention given our young men and she makes the reasons very clear.
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