The Boy Crisis

Warren Farrell Audio, Cognitive, Conversations, Gender, Perspectives, Psychosexual, Sex & Gender 24 Comments

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Warren Farrell and Ken Wilber take an in-depth look at the many social, cultural, and psychological challenges that young boys are facing today, while noting how many of these challenges are the products of well-intentioned — but often misguided — feminist praxis.

Not that feminism is inherently hostile to men. Far from it. As Warren notes in his book, many prominent feminist leaders over the decades have understood the critical role that fathers play in their children’s development and psychological well-being. He quotes Gloria Steinem, who famously said, “what the world needs now is more women at work and more dads at home”. He also recalls Betty Friedan’s popular book, The Second Stage, which was a call for men to consciously begin the same process of self-liberation and redefinition of their identities and roles that women have struggled with over the last century — going so far to say that the major goals of feminism can never be fully attained if men are not also engaged in an equivalent praxis on their side. As the saying goes, if you only row the boat with one oar, you’re just going in circles.

As the era of #MeToo continues to put a spotlight upon the many inertias, indignities, and injustices that women face in the public sphere, Farrell and Gray are bringing some much-needed attention to the inertias, indignities, and injustices that men are experiencing in the public and private spheres, and in their private lives.

“We have seven federal offices of women’s health, and zero federal offices of men’s health. Can you imagine the sexism that we would accurately be accused of if women died five years earlier than men, and died earlier of 14 out of 15 of the leading causes of death, and we had seven offices of men’s health, and zero offices of women’s health? It’s not conceivable that that would be the case. Yet that is the case. And more potently, no one is protesting it, and very few people even know about it.”Warren Farrell

This critical discussion helps us better understand the enormous anxieties and rates of depression that many men are facing today, resulting in men committing suicides 350% more often than women. Men have traditionally been regarded as “disposable heroes” by society — as Warren often says, a man has classically demonstrated his value to the family by being away from the family, i.e. earning money. And when the “hero” side of that equation gets deconstructed by extreme feminism, men are left only with their disposability. When men are surrounded on all sides by messages they are inherently biased, privileged, toxic, and unconscious participants in all kinds of social evils, they are left with no solid ground to stand upon in terms of their identity — the lack of a strong “men’s movement” results in a lack of resilience when their traditional identities are dismantled, which leads to increased fragility, increased desperation, and yes, increased toxicity. Which means that the praxis that is most critical of “toxic masculinity” — extreme feminism — is itself partly responsible for creating that toxicity in the first place.

Power and powerlessness both lay at the heart of our ongoing cultural discussion of equality among the sexes. Too often we perceive this as a somewhat binary distinction — one group as the oppressor, the other as the oppressed — and thus one gender’s power tends to be defined by another group’s powerlessness. But there is much more to this story: both men and women experience power and powerlessness, and no single gender has a monopoly on oppression. Or, as Warren Farrell often points out, “the weakness of men is the facade of strength, while the strength of women is the facade of weakness.”

Just as the industrial age helped create the conditions allowing for women to move en masse into the public sphere, challenging and overcoming and transforming the cultural inertia of previous generations, perhaps the information age will afford men a similar opportunity, as new technologies like automation will force men to redefine their identity in relation to things like work, career, and money, and to hopefully confront and liberate themselves from the deeply harmful legacy of disposability and detachment that has come to define men’s roles in culture and society.

Written by Corey deVos
Image by Jeff Lieberman

Reflections
As you listen to this conversation, you can use the Notes app in the bottom-left corner of your screen to record any reflections that may come up for you. Here are a few questions you can ask yourself:
  • As a man, describe a time you have felt powerless based solely upon your gender. How did you confront and/or overcome this feeling of powerlessness?
  • As a woman, describe a time you have felt powerless based solely upon your gender. How did you confront and/or overcome this feeling of powerlessness?

What is the Boy Crisis?

It’s a crisis of education. Worldwide, boys are 50 percent less likely than girls to meet basic proficiency in reading, math, and science.

It’s a crisis of mental health. ADHD is on the rise. And as boys become young men, their suicide rates go from equal to girls to six times that of young women.

It’s a crisis of fathering. Boys are growing up with less-involved fathers and are more likely to drop out of school, drink, do drugs, become delinquent, and end up in prison.

It’s a crisis of purpose. Boys’ old sense of purpose—being a warrior, a leader, or a sole breadwinner—are fading. Many bright boys are experiencing a “purpose void,” feeling alienated, withdrawn, and addicted to immediate gratification.

So, what is The Boy Crisis? A comprehensive blueprint for what parents, teachers, and policymakers can do to help our sons become happier, healthier men, and fathers and leaders worthy of our respect.

Purchase The Boy Crisis on Amazon or iBooks.

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Warren Farrell

About Warren Farrell

Dr. Warren Farrell is the author of many books, including two award-winning international best-sellers, Why Men Are The Way They Are and The Myth of Male Power. His most recent books are Women Can't Hear What Men Don't Say, which is a selection of the Book-of-the-Month Club, and Why Men Earn More, which is about how the gap in pay between men and women really isn't discrimination and how women can earn more.

Ken Wilber

About Ken Wilber

Ken Wilber is a preeminent scholar of the Integral stage of human development. He is an internationally acknowledged leader, founder of Integral Institute, and co-founder of Integral Life. Ken is the originator of arguably the first truly comprehensive or integrative world philosophy, aptly named “Integral Theory”.

Notable Replies

  1. This is a topic that is near and dear to my heart. I wonder, what would be the social reaction to a men’s movement as described above? Will men be vilified if they try to assert that they, too, are treated unfairly in certain circumstances? The answer, I think, isn’t so clear cut. It feels to me like any attempt by a men’s movement to assert our needs would be interpreted as a binary attempt to take back power or to oppress, which obviously ignores the complexity inherent in these problems.

    Moreover, I also wonder how we can create tools to better disentangle people from manufactured identities around gender. I suspect this is where spiritual practice comes in, especially “witness” style practices that try to pull back the core monad of our consciousness from the constructs we put up to define ourselves.

    Anyway, I think I’ll add this book to my (really really long) reading list.

    -Russ

  2. I agree with this, though I think the problem lies as much with these “men’s groups” as it does with the surrounding cultural atmosphere. I’ve seen multiple groups form on the web around work like Farrell’s, and, using David Deida’s stages, the ones that tend to get the most traction appear to be either expressions of stage 1 masculinity (e.g. incel culture, PUA culture, and many aspects of “red pill” culture) or, less commonly, stage 2 masculinity (e.g. groups that focus on their own victimization — however, I think many men’s groups are reacting to the “feminization” of men that we commonly see at stage 2, which has been held as ideal masculinity by the green altitude for decades now.) Either way, most of these groups I’ve seen have largely been reactive, and almost totally anti-feminist in orientation.

    I think that in order to succeed and actually rise to the challenges of our time, we need to see groups that are organized around more integrated stage-3 masculine principles — which can better integrate masculine and feminine polarities, transclude the fruits of the feminism project, and blaze a new path that speaks more directly to men’s dignity and helps them better align their strength, their vulnerability, and their capacity to execute their vision.

    Very well said, and totally congruent with how I see things, which is that “patriarchy” has come to be commonly defined as the “hitherto male-dominated public sphere” (as opposed to the traditionally female-dominated private sphere) — the result of a once-consensual and necessary division of labor, but one that has since become largely outmoded and made obsolete by the continued unfolding of culture and technology. I think that “patriarchy” in modern terms has come to describe the inertial resistance and residue as our modern self-organizing systems were disrupted and forcefully re-organized by women moving en masse into the public sphere for the first time. Social autopoiesis is a bitch, especially in rapidly changing times.

    Thus “patriarchy” is not a historic oppression of victimized women by sociopathic men, it’s the Zone-7 inertia of our public-sphere systems being forced to transform at a rapidly accelerating force. Which means that “patriarchy” as we know it today is actually a very recent phenomenon, and emerged right alongside women’s suffrage. And there have been very real and often injurious patterns of resistance that have taken generations to identify and overcome as women began to occupy the public sphere, and I imagine will continue for generations to come.

    And here’s the thing — men are encountering very similar resistances and inertias when it comes to their relationship with the “private sphere”. The major differences being, men have no organizing force telling them they should value the private sphere as much as the public, as compared to women who have spent the past century trying to master both. However, much of this comes down to transformations in the LR quadrant — in America, the combination of industrial mass production technologies, and the need for women to labor in factories during WWII, created a cultural tipping point and irrevocably altered the social fabric, bringing women into an entirely new relationship with the public sphere.

    Men have not yet encountered an equivalent LR-quadrant push out of the public sphere and into the private sphere, and therefore the “men’s movement” is still a full century behind the feminist project. However, my sense is that the “automation age” that will emerge over the next two decades will begin this process, as men are suddenly forced to cultivate an identity that is not so dependent upon work, money, and social status.

    I often use myself as an example — because of the new freedoms our technology allows us, I am able to do the vast majority of my work from home with my laptop, and thus have the opportunity to be far more directly involved with raising my daughter and being present for her — an opportunity I know the vast majority of men throughout history have not had. I have the freedom to find my own balance between the private and public spheres, and to craft an identity and a sense of personal meaning that includes both. (Not that I hold myself as a paragon of fully integrated stage-3 masculinity, but at least I have the time, space, and energy to do the work.)

    So the opportunities for men to take this next step and to form a worthwhile men’s movement that is aligned and integrated with healthy feminism are increasing. My only question is, will it be able to successfully coalesce and gain traction in this culture of social-media-induced aperspectival madness? I am somewhat less confident of that — and in fact, I would say that many/most of the regressive stage-1 masculine cultures I described above are themselves the inevitable expressions of this madness. We shall see…

  3. As an energetic boy born in the 60’s I was constantly told that I was disruptive and needed to be less of one thing or more of something else. The school teachers and principles wanted to speak to my mom often, etc. It was as if I wasn’t fitting societies standards. Having a severely dysfunctional family made it all worse and much of my “acting out” was probably a reaction to that.

    I started experiencing depression at age 10 and by age 13 suicidal thoughts became part of my existence. Over the years I’d had some pretty deep depressions and had a owned a gun I’d probably not be writing this. I’d retreat into myself and by the time I was in my late thirties I felt completely disconnected from everyone and that I was a failure. Nihlism had a grip on me and despite the fact that I’d attempted therapy over the years and delved into philosophy and Psychology it seemed to me that there was no meaning that mattered and that the world had no use for a person like myself.

    I’d transitioned into Green in my twenties and had always been supportive of feminism and by upper thirties it felt like I was being judged and attacked by women and it made start to question even my own progressive values.

    Some of my darkest years through my forties had me getting into trouble with verbally lashing out at people and having one conflict after another and friendships ended. I couldn’t smoke enough pot and drink enough alcohol to numb the pain.

    There was still a part of me inside that wanted to rise up and be alive and connect. It was as if there was a self inside that wouldn’t die. Despite my mind giving up there was a part of myself that would just observe all of this and when I’d exhausted myself it would come to the surface and wake me up. I remember many occasions in which I’d get mad at this part of my mind for not letting me wallow in my pain.

    In my 50’s I began to reach out to people more than I ever had. Today at 56 it’s the first time in my life that I’ve felt connection despite the fact that I still struggle with a sense of purpose and ability to provide. I haven’t had a deep depression for over three years even though anxiety and depression are still there. If I get to focused on my role in society my mind moves towards darkness. If I think about the people I love and that love me it gets me through the day.

    My lack of success by american standards is a huge trigger since I’m on track to retire in economic poverty. There is no family support system and that can way heavily upon my heart. That’s why I try to talk with people often and sometimes I’ll just go sit out in public and watch others and their families and try to feel happy for them.

    My disgust for America is probably as much a response to it’s expectations of what it means to be a man as anything else. One of the strange ways I justify my existence is seeing just how sick the society I live in is. All these years I beat myself up and now I realize that it’s not so much me that was sick but the culture I was raised and live in.

    Staying connected to nature is important and I smile when I walk in the park. The sound of children laughing and birds singing brings Joy. Flowers and bees make me smile. The world of humans is sadly sick but the universe itself is beautiful miracle! That keeps me going and also I continue to reach out to people and sometimes have an inspiring conversation with someone and feel a deeper connection. I feel one with everything despite my sadness for the human race!

  4. My life experience is similar, but with some differences. I had certain problems beginning in early childhood.

    According to social norms, I had a learning disability which meant I didn’t learn like other people, although I always had a curious mind and measured high on fluid intelligence. Specifically, my learning dsability is a “word finding” issue. It has to do with word and fact recall, even when I knew the info. For example, as a child, I might not have been able to give the name of a close friend when asked.

    This involved to learning things in webs of relationships, rather than as isolated factoids. Or rather this chunking of info was a compensatry skill that I learned from a learning disability therapist, an ability often picked up by high-functioning autistics. That period in the '80s was the beginning of the research on word finding and I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time to benefit from it.

    Nonetheless, it didn’t make my childhood all that easier. I still hated school and struggled. A contributing factor is I’ve also had social and personality issues, but this aspect was never fully diagnosed. There was depression early on, although even the diagnosis for that only came after a suicide attempt during college.

    I’m of an old enough age to have grown up before they handed out lots of diagnoses. This was a point of frustration. Even my depression had no real explanation, as my childhood was relatively comfortable and non-traumatic. It felt like I had no good reason and, according to hyper-indivdualism, the fault must be some kind of character flaw and failing of moral essence.

    A factor might’ve been lead toxicity, as I spent my earliest years in a factory town that did pump out air pollution with lead in it. My generation, GenX, did have the highest lead toxicity rates in recent history. But no one was talking about that much in the past and it still barely gets passing mention in the corporate media.

    Along with depression, I vaguely recall the psychiatrist speaking of something along the lines of a “thought disorder”. I was put on Risperdal which is an anti-psychotic but also used for depression. But having self-diagnosed myself as an adult, it seems I’m either what used to be called Aspsergers’ or the more common but less well known specific language impairment, both of which can impair social behavior.


    Here is the thing. I’m certain my issues were largely social and environmental, not merely personal as would be explained by genetic determinists (and social Darwinists), but that isn’t to say genetics along with epigenetics wouldn’t have been part of it. That sense of an unfair and unjust society that blames the individual has caused me a lot of anger and despair over the decades and part of me is surprised I’ve lived this long.

    I somehow made it to middle age, just having turned 45. Recent changes in diet, variations of low-carb, finally made the worst aspects of chronic depression to disappear. Yet a lifetime of depressive habits of mind and relating remain in place. I’m trying to relearn how to not be depressed at a late stage in life.

    For all that I’ve been through, it’s never occurred to me to frame my own issues as part of a “boy crisis”. I’m not sure why that it is. I guess I don’t feel convinced that our society is easier on girls than boys. Sure, girls do relatively better in education, but then they do relatively worse outside of education. Plenty of prejudice remains against women.

    Life can be shitty for both sexes, if in different ways. I tend to see race and class being far more significant. And on that level, I’ve always acknowledged that I have relative privilege. If I was an inner city black boy or poor white girl, life would be a thousand times harder than what I’ve had to deal with. I’ve always had a strong sense of how much worse things are for most people in the world. Simply to be born in a Western country puts even poor minorities at an advantage as compared to most other countries.

    Struggle and suffering is always relative. Anyway, it’s pointless to participate in the oppression Olympics in aguing that one’s suffering is greater and more important than everyone else’s. My sense is that there is a real crisis going on and it’s negatively affecting most people across demographic divides.

    In a sense, there is a boy crisis, particularly for disadvantaged boys. But that might not be the best way to frame it, as it turns a shared crisis into a competition of identity politics. In becoming divided, we are incapable of facing our shared crisis and responding well. It becomes yet another point of demagogic manipulation and reactionary politics.

    Part of my attitude is that I grew up in a Green environment. My parents, although conservative Republicans, were going through a socially liberal phase as a young married couple. They raised my brothers and I in hyper-liberal and New Agey churches (Science of Mind and Unity). I internalized feminism and the ideal of the sensitive male before I could understand such things.

    Even so, I’ve never reacted to that early upbringing. My childhood remains a happy time of life in many ways. That idealistic upbringing of progressive faith has saved me from fully and permanently falling into cynicism. It has never occurred to me that any of my problems had anything to do with me being male, per se.

    My sense of crisis, even from a young age, always focused on larger issues of the entire society. Having grown up in the late Cold War, I was bottlefed on visions of post-apocalyptic dystopias. Overpopulation, pollution, environmental destruction, etc also was heavy on my mind. It seemed to me that this society in general was harmful to pretty much everyone.

    That has become ever more clear to me as I’ve aged. In studying history, I’ve come to realize that the sense of mass crisis and moral panic goes back centuries and, in some ways, millennia. All of the main fears that keep popping up first emerged during the Axial Age, the first period of civilization as we know it based on imperialism and individualism.

    There are many possible reasons behind this ongoing crisis. There is the increasing hierarchy, authoritarianism, and inequality. Also, there is the individualism that has become hyper-individualism, as opposed to the bundled mind of Buddhism and many tribal societies, which relates to the WEIRD bias we modern Westerners are trapped in. Language plays a big role in this, specifically as shown in linguistic relativity. But I suspect that changes in diet might be among the most key factors.

    Whatever it is, much has fundamentally changed about humanity and society. And it’s experienced as fearful and threatening. We focus on narrow issues like the “boy crisis” probably because the larger sense of anxiety and distress is too overwhelming.



  5. This is heartbreaking to hear, and it’s so common. Schools right now require obedience through domination. Yet it’s hard to imagine a school system where the power is truly in the students hands, where students work because they want to rather than being driven by fear. Such a wicked problem.

    I’d like to share a technique I’ve learned from spiritual teacher Tara Springett. It creates healthy boundaries keep out negative energy and unloving expectations from people and a crazy society.

    I hope that you won’t dismiss it as childish or silly, some do. It’s practised by seriously spiritual practitioners. Tibetan monks etc.

    Imagine that you are inside a bubble with the diameter of roughly your length. The ball is about 4 inches thick and made out of a transparant material that is glowing with beautiful light. The bubble should be felt as an intelligent energy, rather than dead materia.
    Inside this bubble you feel completely safe, embraced, tranquil, joyful and loved. Both feel these qualities emanate from within you and feel like you are receiving this from the bubble.
    The walls of the bubble are semi permeable, good energy such as love and joy flow freely through the walls. But negative energy such as domination, suppression, expectations or anything that is less than completely loving and accepting, is kept out by the walls. I’m talking about negative energy both from people and our thoughts, perhaps the idea of our father.
    This bubble subconsciously symbolizes your boundaries.
    If negative energy gets through the walls against our will, it might be a sign that you need to set and articulate boundaries in relation to the negative entity. This is a function of the throat chakra. Talk to the intruding entity, be intuitive.

    Then just sit for a while and bask is self-love, self-acceptance and happiness, while protected by the bubble

    The visualization itself is only a tool to get in touch with the subtle sense of how your boundaries should be. Keep the subtle sense and the attitude throughout the day.

    If the bubble feels limiting in any way, you are doing it wrong on a subtle level.

    The point of this is to cultivate healthy boundaries and the attitude that we won’t tolerate negative shit from the outside. There is absolutely no good reason to ever be affected by other people’s unloving, negative energy. There is no good reason to not be happy right now! It’s about allowing yourself a level of happiness that is unwisely seen as unacceptable by others and our culture.

    The technique is elaborated on in more detail in the book: Higher consciousness healing.

    I hope you found this useful.

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