Bad Boys, Whatcha Gonna Do…

Bad Boys, Whatcha Gonna Do…

Christina Hoff Summers is hot with righteous indignation on boys' behalf.


Not too long ago, the members of the Ms. Foundation for Women, the feminist group that inaugurated Take Our Daughters to Work Day, began concocting a comparable holiday for boys. They planned the first "Son's Day" for October 20, 1996, a propitious time, the organizers thought: October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. The activities that the Ms. Foundation recommended included taking your son (or "son for a day") to an event focused on ending men's violence against women ("Call the Family Violence Prevention Fund at 800 end abuse for information"); playing a game with no scores and no winners; helping to make siblings' lunches and lay out their clothes for the school week ahead; shopping for and preparing the evening meal. And then, presumably, just kicking back and letting the good times roll on.

Ultimately, Son's Day was canceled; its originators backed off. "Nevertheless," says Christina Hoff Sommers in The War Against Boys, "Ms.'s attempt to initiate a boys' holiday is illuminating. It shows the kind of thinking girl advocates do when they reflect on what influences would be good for boys." Sommers believes that girl advocates–or "misguided feminists"–are ascendant now in American culture and that they're turning boys' lives into a sorry morass.

The overt gist of Sommers' book, written in stolid, mass-production-style prose, is that we've begun to think of boyhood as a pathological state. What society once considered a normal part of being a boy–aggression, energy, noise, restlessness; rampant, crude curiosity–now looks like sick behavior. The current archetypes for boys, the figures that popular culture takes to epitomize being young and male, are the thugs from the Spur Posse in California and the killers at Columbine High. The result is that boys are coming to hate themselves simply for being who they are.

This situation Christina Hoff Sommers is determined to amend. She's hot with righteous indignation on boys' behalf: Judgment Day approacheth.

To Sommers it's supremely patronizing (and dead wrong) to argue that strong masculinity is a disease, one that can, with the right kind of socialization, be cured. Boys need some indulgence if they're going to transform their wilder energies into civilizing drives. Turning furies into muses is no easy trick.

Sommers' book has a very contemporary feel to it. She spends a lot of time pulling together horror stories we've all heard from the recent news and organizing them to make a full-blown, quasi-legal case for the view that boys, en masse, are being repressed by an alien regime. She talks about the kid who was suspended for kissing a girl in school, and about boys forced to study exclusively female figures in an American history class. She describes boys brainwashed into believing myths about their own inborn turpitude: It comes with the testosterone.

One of the best Sommers horror stories is about the hugger:

In [an] unpublicized case, a mother in Worcester, Massachusetts, who came to pick up her son was told that he had been reprimanded and made to sit in the "time-out" chair for having hugged another child. "He's a toucher," she was told. "We are not going to put up with it." That little boy was three years old.

The tales of "Son's Day" and the hugger, and the other stories that Sommers picks off TV news and from the daily papers, often make The War Against Boys seem like a pure artifact of the way we live now. But in another of its dimensions, this book is very old-fashioned. For Sommers assumes that she knows something that probably no one can know, or at least that many people gave up claiming to know thirty years ago. For her, the old gender wisdom pretty much holds: Boys are active, aggressive, outgoing; girls are inclined to be quiet, nurturing, restrained.

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