The Trouble With Boys

Mack’s reading a book called The Trouble with Boys, and I’m only about halfway through (I’m busy writing a book of my own: I forgot how much freaking work these things are), so I’ll give you a full report when I’m done.

The thesis of the book, though, is summarized on page 23: “Let’s take a look at how boys are doing. What we find is that, on the whole, in crumbling public schools in poor neighbourhoods, in elite schools that serve the very rich, and in many middle-class suburban schools, boys are doing less well than girls.” Some high-performing boys do better than girls, but the trend is across the board, and wherever you look many more boys are in “special education” classes than girls.

Now the author, Peg Tyre, a former Newsweek writer and the recipient of, among other awards and prizes, a Pulitzer, is speaking specifically about how boys are performing in school, why it is and what we can do about it.

(She is also speaking specifically about the United States, and I’m not sure what can be extrapolated from that for us up here in the hyperborean hinterlands.)

And I’ll be able to talk more intelligently about her observations and arguments when I’ve read the whole thing.

But I’d like to say in general, as the father of three boys, I do find myself wondering if the possession of a Y chromosome will actually work against them when they’re grown up.

Ms. Daddy actually worries about it more than I do well, her worries are related, and multifaceted. She worries that a) we live in a very anti-male culture, at the moment. Every television sitcom and commercial features a practical, wise, all-knowing woman shackled to a useless, spineless, cowardly, almost criminally immoral tub of lard.

(Don’t even get me started on Homer Simpson: suffice to say if he were real, he’d be in jail.)

One commercial in particular gets her dander up: the one where the guy gets a flat by the side of the road and he can’t fix it and so he calls his girlfriend on his cellphone and, rolling her eyes, she rolls up in her car and fixes it for him (I can’t even remember what this commerical is selling).

“See?” she’ll say, incensed, turning to the Daddy. “That’s what I’m talking about! Men are all portrayed as weak and useless and ineffectual!”

(I want to say something about Stephane Dion here, but I won’t. Poor guy, he’s suffered enough. Well, I’ll say one thing: his wife buys all his clothes for him, including his underwear. Maybe this is true of many men, but it strikes the Daddy, who cares very deeply about what types of looks he will “rock” and which particular outfit he might “bust out” on a given day, as supremely weird.)

Her secondary, ancillary worry iswell, Ms. Daddy works in a television newsroom, her female colleagues are all strong-willed, high-performing, independent, capable women. Among our friends and neighbours and relatives are also many strong-willed women.

And their menfolk arewell, there’s no nice way to put this: many of them have a haunted, namby-pamby, milquetoast-y, “y-y-y-yes, dear” type of quality to them.

And Ms. Daddy is worried that since our three young boys are all gentle souls, also outrageously handsome, when they grow up they will be taken in hand and led around by the nose and dominated and browbeaten by strong-willed, perhaps even domineering women.

Which is a wild thing to worry about, if you think about it. In other countriesin China, for example (Mack was reading in the paper the other day), some couples are so desperate for a male heir (with China’s “one couple one child” policy you only get one 50-50 shot at it) they will hand over several years’ salary to a kidnapper to snatch some unsuspecting boy off the street just so they can be sure of having a male child!

But here in North America, in 2008, it’s a legitimate worry, I think: will being male actually put our boys at a disadvantage when they grow up?