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Let's Hear It For Our Boys

VANCOUVER SUN Nov. 4, 2000 Let's hear it for the boys. After decades of concern over the status of females, it is finally becoming clear that boys are discriminated against, in and outside of school. By Deborah Jones You'd think it was open season on school boys, the way they're portrayed these days. A report last week showed that boys in B.C. schools are disturbingly far behind girls in basic reading, writing and numeracy skills. Other reports show boys are depressed more than girls. Boys successfully commit suicide much more often. Proportionately fewer boys than girls graduate from high school. The litany continues: Most schizophrenics are boys. Most retarded children are boys. Boy infants die more frequently than girl infants. Boys outnumber girls in learning disabilities. Boys are more often victims of physical abuse, even when sexual abuse is included. Boys commit more crimes. "Girls rule!" declared the cover of the infuentiall Atlantic Monthly magazine this spring, adding. "Mythmakers to the contrary, it's boys who are in deep trouble." In The Wonder of Boys, a cri de coeur for change in how we regard and raise male children, author and psychologist Michael Gurian writes, "Boys are in pain." All of this is not a scream for help by the boys themselves who, on an individual basis, are quite unaware that a crisis of major proportions has been visited upon their sex. No. The noise is actually the grinding, groaning and screeching of the pendulum of public opinion. Having reached one end of its spectrum, it has begun its swing in the other direction. Having spent a couple of decades intensely concerned about the welfare of girls, we are now examining how boys are doing. It's about time. The B.C. education ministry report, from results of testing 150,000 students, shows that by Grade 10 only 60 per cent of boys meet minimum education standards, while 77 per cent of girls do. The government is con- cerned about this and other data that shows boys lagging, and is examining how school curriculums can be made more boy-friendly. , The B.C. Teachers Federation responded to the government study by releasing its own report, G.I.Joe Meets Barbie. "Teachers have seen these kinds of results for generations," said BCTF president David Chudnovsky. "Some scholars believe that boys have been underachieving for a long time, perhaps centuries, and Wonder why the problem is suddenly getting so much publicity." Chudnovsky has a point: Girls have always been considered more studious than boys, especially at younger ages. But Chudnovsky seems to ignore the startling evidence that suggests a seachange in how boys are doing. Scan the honour roll of most B.C. high schools, and you'll find most of the students on it re girls. Enrolment by girls has caught up to, and in many cases outnumbers, enrolment of boys in post-secondary institutions, even in areas like law and medicine where Deborah Jones men traditionally outnumbered women. Girls lag behind in computer areas, notes Chudnovsky, but considering that some 30 per cent of video game players are now female, here too they are expected to catch up. The fact that girls are doing well is worthy of celebration and, of course, continued fostering. But why is it that boys must go down for girls to go up? I fail to understand why, in creating an equitable world for females, we have to trample males. "For the last few decades our cultural microscope has focused on the oppression of girls and women. That focus has led us to many gains in public consciousness, national policy and private life. Now the lense must focus on boys too," writes Gurian in his book. "Neither gender's suffering is superior; both need our aid " I have sensed a deep rooted antipathy toward males, a collective sense that the masculine half of the population deserves its lot. While people from an older generation congratulated me on my good fortune of having sons rather than daughters (as if I made a deliberate choice} I was surprised when people from my own and younger generations offered sympathy. Shortly after the birth of my eldest child, a boy who is now in his teens, I packed him up for a visit with a friend whom I considered highly intelligent, compassionate and politically aware. She had just had a daughter. Our conversation turned to speculation about what our babies would be like as they grew. Out of the blue, she protectively clasped her daughter and glared at my son. a bundle o(blankets and tousled hair above a gentle face, who was peacefully asleep in my arms. "My daughter will likely be abused," she said angrily. "And your son will likely be an abuser." As astonished as I was by her outburst, I chalked it up to hormones and the savage protectiveness of new motherhood. I was naive, as it turned out. Her outburst was a manifestation of an almost palpable anger and resentment toward males. represented at its extreme in the radical feminist view that all males are rapists. Sometimes, anger and fear of males seems justified, such as when we look at statistics on domestic abuse, or consider that most other types of violent crime including the school shootings in Taber and Littleton - are carried out by men. But relatively few men carry out such atrocities. And while we strive to exorcise racist or religious generalities from our culture and focus on individual identity, we continue to tar and feather all males with the same brush. A few days ago I watched a music video with the same son whose face remains gentle but who long ago grew too big to snuggle in my arms, and who now looms above me. In the video by a female band, a teenage boy repeatedly approaches a girl to offer presents. Repeatedly she rejects him, not verbally, but by punching, kicking and pushing, so that on each fresh approach he is swathed in a new set of bandages. By the end of the video the boy is in a bodycast, his eyes still full of adoration for the girl, but the insouciant female remains oblivious to him -or to the injuries she inflicted on him. The video is offensive - but what pained me was watching the horror on my son's face. "How can they get away with showing that?" he demanded. How, indeed. Lately, we have spent much time debating whether Eminem, with his vile and misogynist lyrics, should be allowed to perform in Vancouver. Rap music is infested with violent lyrics encouraging rape and murder of women, and there is a growing and welcome debate about the messages that young music fans are hearing. But what of the startlingly casual abuse of boys and men that runs through popular culture? In the e-mail jokes that arrive unbidden, in my inbox every day, males are mostly por trayed as dumb horny suckers who are always bested by wily women. A television ad for a women's deodorant features a female martial artist beating two muscular men to pulp. Swap the sexes, imagine the public outcry. Why is it okay to disparage males? We've become inculcated with the notion that men are the dominant sex, impervious to insult, impenetrable to physical harm, utterly invincible in a cartoon characterish way. It's not true. Take a look at the education statistics. Take a look at the jail population. Take a look at the face of a young man when he watches a video of women beating up men. Deborah Jones is a member of the editorial board of the Vancouver Sun 


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