- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 5, 2001

First, they were the oppressors, dominating others through brute strength on a nonlevel playing field. Later, they began to be seen as victims of their own strength and the stresses of that playing field. Now, according to the experts a la mode, they are just plain victims no strength and little aptitude even to play the game.

Who are these pitiful "they"? American boys, of course, the subject of a U.S. News & World Report cover story pushing the notion that "male vulnerability," whatever that really means, is behind the woes that have befallen the nation's young men. As one expert on "male fragility" puts it, "We're only just now beginning to understand the underlying weakness of men, for so many centuries almost universally projected onto women."

It's about time. After all, no one in centuries past ever had the opportunity to detect those underlying weaknesses, what with all that charting-of-the-world and empire-building that was always going on. As the magazine reports, "Now scientists are discovering very real biological differences that can make boys more impulsive, more vulnerable to benign neglect, less efficient classroom learners in sum, the weaker sex."

In sum? How does an equation like that add up? The magazine cites an unidentified study of baby pictures (honestly) said to show that boy babies are more emotional than girl babies. This is supposed to help prove that boys later "lose their voice." (This is a bad thing.) We also hear that, despite the expressive baby pictures, men actually have "more primitive" emotional wiring than women. They have to make do with "an older limbic system," poor things, one that's "often known as the reptilian brain." This means that male emotion usually goes unexpressed and is "often more closely linked with action."

So what if it is? That is putting aside the shimmering subtlety of human feeling articulated by such reptilian-brained men as William Shakespeare, Leo Tolstoy, Robert Browning, Rupert Brooke, Lorenz Hart since when does ease of action indicate weakness?

This is not to suggest that American boys are problem-free. An alarming educational and behavioral chasm exists between them and girls. According to the magazine, boys receive 70 percent of the D's and F's given out even in these golden days of "self-esteem." They make up two-thirds of students labeled "learning disabled." They are the culprits in 9 out of 10 alcohol and drug violations; and are suspects in 4 out of 5 crimes that go to juvenile court. And there's more: Boys make up 80 percent of all high school dropouts, not to mention 80 percent of all candidates for Ritalin. It is little wonder, then, that by 2007, 6.9 million young men are expected to go to college with 9.2 million young women.

So much for all those Ophelias one reads about those voiceless wisps supposedly languishing in a patriarchal ditch of neglect. It is boys, not girls, who are, to borrow the sociologist's favorite phrase, "at risk." But is the problem with boys, as U.S. News and its experts of choice insist, or is it with the culture in which they grow up?

Since the triumph of the feminist revolution, masculinity has become a pathology, competitiveness a sin, action a sign of weakness and emotionalism a human ideal. No wonder normal, healthy boys are struggling. But it is not their supposed weaknesses that needs therapeutic attention; it is the cultivation and channeling of all their natural strengths.

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