- Paperback: 256 pages
- Publisher: Simon & Schuster; 1st Touchstone Ed edition (June 12, 2001)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0684849577
- ISBN-13: 978-0684849577
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.4 inches
- Shipping Weight: 8 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars See all reviews (174 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #536,967 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The WAR AGAINST BOYS: How Misguided Feminism Is Harming Our Young Men Paperback – June 12, 2001
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The author of the provocative bestseller Who Stole Feminism? returns with an equally eye-opening follow-up. "It's a bad time to be a boy in America," writes Christina Hoff Sommers. Boys are less likely than girls to go to college or do their homework. They're more likely to cheat on tests, wind up in detention, or drop out of school. Yet it's "the myth of the fragile girl," according to Sommers, that has received the lion's share of attention recently, in hot-selling books like Mary Pipher's Reviving Ophelia. When boys are discussed at all, it's in the context of how to modify their antisocial behavior--i.e., how to make them more like girls.
This book tells the story of how it has become fashionable to attribute pathology to millions of healthy male children. It is a story of how we are turning against boys and forgetting a simple truth: that the energy, competitiveness, and corporal daring of normal, decent males is responsible for much of what is right in the world. No one denies that boys' aggressive tendencies must be checked and channeled in constructive ways. Boys need discipline, respect, and moral guidance. Boys need love and tolerant understanding. They do not need to be pathologized.Sommers eviscerates feminist scholarship by Harvard's Carol Gilligan, the American Association of University Women, and others. Hers is feisty, muscular prose and fans of Who Stole Feminism? will delight in it. "There have always been societies that favored boys over girls," she writes. "Ours may be the first to deliberately throw the gender switch. If we continue on our present course, boys will, indeed, be tomorrow's second sex." That rhetoric may err on the side of alarmism, but Sommers' ideas are full of common sense. She essentially urges parents and educators to let boys be boys, even though their "very masculinity turns out to be politically incorrect." The War on Boys is sure to set off a fiery controversy, just as Sommers' previous book did--but it should also find a big audience of readers who become fans. --John J. Miller --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Sommers (Who Stole Feminism?) pulls no punches in this critique of the current crop of "crisis" studies about boys. Methodically analyzing and dismantling what she calls the "myth of shortchanged girls" as well as the "new and equally corrosive fiction that boys as a group are disturbed"Atheories she calls "speculative psychology"Ashe bolsters her findings with extensive footnotes and data from such sources as the U.S. Department of Education. Sommers's conclusions are compelling and deserve an unbiased hearing, particularly since they are at odds with conventional wisdom that paints girls as victimized and boys as emotionally repressed. "Routinely regarded as protosexists, potential harassers and perpetuators of gender inequity, boys live under a cloud of censure," she writes, going on to show how they are also falling behind academically in an educational system that currently devotes more attention to the needs of girls. Pointing out that "Mother Nature is not a feminist," she also dismisses the current vogue to "feminize" boys, calling social androgyny a "well-intentioned but ill-conceived reform." Instead, Sommers champions "the reality that boys and girls are different, that each sex has its distinctive strengths and graces." Sure to kick up dust in the highly charged gender debates, Sommers's book is at its best when coolly debunking theories she contends are based on distorted research and skewed data, but descends into pettiness when she indulges in mudslinging at her opponents. Perhaps the most informed study yet in this area, this engrossing book sheds light on a controversial subject. It deserves close reading by parents, educators and anyone interested in raising healthy, successful children of both sexes.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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She wrote in the Preface to this 2000 book, “This book tells the story of how it has become fashionable to attribute pathology to millions of healthy male children. It is a story of how we are turning against boys and forgetting a simple truth: that the energy, competitiveness, and corporal daring of normal, decent males is responsible for much of what is right in the world… Boys need discipline, respect, and moral guidance. Boys need love and tolerant understanding. They do not need to be pathological… For many years women’s groups have been complaining that boys are benefiting from a school system that favors boys and is biased against girls… The research commonly cited to support the claims of male privilege and sinfulness is riddled with errors… In this book I try to correct the misinformation and to give an accurate picture of ‘where the boys are.’ A review of the facts shows boys, not girls, are on the weak side of an educational gender gap.” (Pg. 14)
She observes, “boys are resented, being seen both as the unfairly privileged gender and as obstacles on the path to gender justice for girls. There is an understandable dialectic: the more girls are portrayed as diminished, the more boys are regarded as needing to be taken down a notch and reduced in importance. This perspective on boys and girls is promoted in schools of education, and many a teacher now feels that girls need and deserve special indemnifying consideration. (Pg. 23-24) Later, she adds, “The gender theorists and activists… have recently begun to tell us that boys too need attention… because ‘under patriarchy’ males are socialized to destructive masculine ideals… The belief… is inspiring a movement to ‘construct boyhood’ in ways that will render boys less competitive, more emotionally expressive, more nurturing---more, in short, like girls.” (Pg. 44)
She acknowledges, “Sex differences in violence are very real: physically, males ARE more aggressive than females… Unfortunately, many educators have become persuaded that there is truth in the relentlessly repeated proposition that masculinity per se is the cause of violence… Of course, when boys are violent or otherwise antisocially injurious to others, they must be disciplined, both for their own betterment and for the sake of society. But most boys’ physicality and masculinity are not expressed in antisocial ways.” (Pg. 62-63)
She states, “The natural gender differences between men and women mean we cannot hope to get statistical male-female parity of competence and aptitude in all fields. The same seems true of preferences: there will always be far more women than men who want to stay home with children; there will always be more women than men who want to be kindergarten teachers rather than helicopter mechanics. Boys will always be less interested than girls in dollhouses. This does not mean that our sex rigidly determines our future.” (Pg. 88-89)
She asks, “Why, in the face of so much persuasive counterevidence, do so many social theorists, psychologists, and educators persist in maintaining that gender is socially created? The answer is fairly obvious: many fear that the findings of such research could be used against women. From a historical perspective, that fear is understandable. It wasn’t all that long ago that intelligent men were deploying the idea of innate differences to justify keeping women down socially, legally, and politically… It was then taken for granted that women were not just innately different but naturally inferior and naturally subject to men.” (Pg. 91) But she adds, “I would argue that turning a blind eye to real differences and dogmatically insisting that masculinity and femininity are ‘created by culture’ pose even more serious dangers of their own… This movement to change our children’s concept of themselves is unacceptably invasive---indeed, it is deeply authoritarian.” (Pg. 98)
She then engages in a lengthy critique of Carol Gilligan, who “is the theorist who, almost single-handedly, initiated the fashion of thinking about American girls as victimized, silenced Ophelias. Her views on male and female development are beacons for gender-equity activists and teachers everywhere.” (Pg. 99) She adds, “Gilligan… presents very little in the way of data to back up her claims. Most of her published research consists of anecdotes that are based on a small number of interviews. Apart from these interviews, her data… are unavailable for review, giving rise to some reasonable doubts about their merits and persuasiveness. Despite the glaring lack of published data, Gilligan’s conclusions have largely gone unchallenged.” (Pg. 102)
She says, “Because [Gilligan’s In a Different Voice] the book was published by Harvard University Press and because its author is a professor at that premier university, readers naturally assume that she did genuine studies, with the usual controls and professional review.” (Pg. 108) She concludes, “With the success of ‘In a Different Voice’ and with the considerable resources available to her at Harvard, Gilligan might have gone on to answer her scholarly critics… But that is not what she did. In the years since the publication of ‘In a Different Voice’ Gilligan’s methods have remained anecdotal and impressionistic---with increasingly heavy doses of psychoanalytic theorizing and gender ideology.” (Pg. 111) Later, she adds, “Gilligan’s central thesis---that boys are being imprisoned by their conventional masculinity---is not a scientific hypothesis. It is an extravagant piece of speculative psychology of the kind that sometimes finds acceptance in schools of education but is not creditable in most professional departments of psychology.” (Pg. 133)
She suggests, “Fathers appear to be central in helping sons develop a conscience and a sense of responsible manhood. Fathers teach boys that being manly need not mean being predatory or aggressive. By contrast, when the father is absent, male children tend to get their ideas of what it means to be a man from their peers. Fathers play an indispensable civilizing role in the social ecosystem; therefore, fewer fathers, more male violence.” (Pg. 130)
She summarizes, “American boys do not need to be rescued. They are not pathological. They are not seething the repressed rage or imprisoned in ‘straightjackets of masculinity.’ American girls are not suffering a crisis of low self-esteem; they are not being silenced by the culture. The vast majority of girls and boys are psychologically sound. But when it comes to the genuine problems that do threaten our children’s prospects---their moral drift, their cognitive and scholastic deficits---the healers, social reformers, and confidence builders provide no solutions; on the contrary, they exacerbate the problems and stand squarely in the way of what needs to be done to solve them.” (Pg. 157)
She concludes, “We are at the tail end of an extraordinary period of moral deregulation that is leaving many tens of thousands of our boys academically deficient and without adequate guidance. Too many American boys are foundering, unprepared for the demands of family and work. Many have only a vague sense of right and wrong… We have created serious problems for ourselves by abandoning our duty to pass on to our children the moral truths to which they are entitled and failing to give them the guidance they so badly need… we must again recognize and respect the reality that boys and girls are different, that each sex has its distinctive strengths and graces... we must dedicate ourselves to… improving the moral climate in our schools and providing our children with first-rate schooling that equips them for the good life in the new century… I am confident we can do that. American boys, whose very masculinity turns out to be politically incorrect, badly need our support… If you are a mother of sons, as I am, you know that one of the most agreeable facts of life is that boys will be boys.” (Pg. 212-213)
While some of Sommers’ arguments may not be persuasive (e.g., her prescriptions for “moral education”) to all, and she perhaps criticizes Carol Gilligan at too great length, this is a remarkable, and very thought-provoking book about American boys (and, by extension, American girls!), that will be of great value to anyone wanting to inquire into this area.
Instead, as Sommers points out, some (though perhaps not as many as she indicates) educational theorists arrogantly impose their own notions of ideal male behavior, an ideal that essentially feminizes young men, in the classroom, making guinea pigs of little boys by discouraging their natural exuberance, competitiveness, and physicality. I'm a mother of two sons who would have done better with more recess, so I could easily see the commonsense basis of her argument, though I'm sure one doesn't have to be the mother of boys to stand with her on this point. Since the publication of this book, it has become much more common to encounter criticism of the repression and even medication of normal boy behavior. Not only grade schools and high schools, but colleges and universities are increasingly concerned about underachieving young men. Sommers has played an important role in facilitating the conversation that has allowed us as a society to acknowledge and address this serious problem.
But even as Sommers attacks the feminist "save the males" movement, she substitutes one of her own, ultimately claiming with a certain arrogance herself that she is the one who truly understands not only the complexity of male identity but also the range of educational practices that can help to bring a young boy to full maturity as a man. Would that she would apply her "plea for reticence" (152) to herself. Instead, she argues nostalgically for a very traditional educational framework that not only imposes specified academic standards on our schools, but that also insists upon behavioral conformity. To my eye, the "eleven be's" that she promotes in chapter 8 ("The Moral Life of Boys") are no less idiosyncratic and academically limiting than the behavioral restrictions on boys with which she disagrees earlier.
This inconsistency becomes an increasing problem. "The War Against Boys" begins by attacking those who would cast all American boys under the shadow of the Columbine killers. As Sommers states straightforwardly, "This book tells the story of how it has become fashionable to attribute pathology to millions of healthy male children." By the end of the book, however, Sommers herself is manipulating the Columbine tragedy into serving as an object lesson in the improper "socialization" of the two male killers. Current educational practice, in this argument, underestimates the "barbarism" of young males, which according to Sommers must be tamed by a "directive moral education." The main difference here between Sommers and her opponents is that SHE gets to specify what that education will comprise.
Some readers will appreciate the pithy, hard-driving quality of the argument and the prose in this book. But much of that energy is purchased at the cost of caricaturing Sommers's opposition. Carol Gilligan, for example, really plays an outsize role here. For a moment in time, to be sure, she was an important feminist figure, but she never stood for all of feminism, and she was never as key a player in feminist pedagogy as Sommers makes her out to be. No book that addresses a complicated issue like this one should devote, as Sommers does, two full chapters to one straw (wo)man.
Still, there is no gainsaying the importance and underlying intelligence of this book, despite its flaws. Sommers had the courage to stand up to those who would suppress a generation of boys in the service of a flawed utopian ideal, and her courage gave strength to many who followed. I only wish that conservative critiques like this one did not feel the need to stand so hard on polemics.
There needs to be more writing on this topic. We need to face the reality that our boys are still in danger and that there is a segment of society that is perpetuating a false ideologically and not fact driven perception of boys that is making it worse. If you have have boys or work with boys buy it and read it. If you're human and you care about these things, read it.