The Boy Crisis

Warren Farrell Audio, Conversations, Perspectives, Sex & Gender 16 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

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.

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.


  2. One close to my heart too Russ. Is good to see it being covered, and Farrell is unfortunately nowhere near as popular a men’s voice as he should be in the men’s world, even though in my opinion he is probably the best. The men’s rights movement has much good to say, but unfortunately has many of the same green pathologies as femininism does, just with perhaps less extremes and certainly less influence.

    You don’t need to wonder what the social reaction to the men’s movement is like, there is plenty of evidence of it being treated like a hate group. At Warren Farrell’s talks no less. Men’s rights often gets laughed at or treated as some potential violent abomination by the mainstream media. It’s getting better, but slowly.

    My take would be there needs to be a rigorous look at the negatives and positives of female and male roles, the limits, the privileges of both, the true historical context of suffering on both sides.

  3. 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…

  4. Totally agree with both of your takes that it needs to be an and/ or both and conversation. That is my main beef and ultimately where I removed myself a little from my involvement of the men’s world. I used to go on a men’s call with the owner of the biggest website ‘A Voice For Men.’ While alot was said was great about it, a rare place for men to talk about the suffering, it did to me have this entirely partial view that frankly got nihilistic with the underlying subtext being ‘the world doesn’t give a shit about men’. Some of which is true frankly, while some of the demonizing of the men’s movement may have some merit in some of it’s less than healthy parts my stance is that it’s much more the world’s lack of embracing and treating men as disposable more than the faults of the movement itself. Alot of the very angry/ nihilistic part of the men’s movement is repeated exposure by the media displaying men’s rights as laughable or some rape enabling abomination that wants women back in the kitchen, so I have disagree slightly with you there Corey that it is as much to blame, not blameless but some of the reaction from feminism and the media is I feel at least, more guilty of the hate dishing out than what comes out of the men’s rights world which mostly just battles to be taken seriously.

    I agree to an extent with this, though to me it’s running before you can walk a little. While women are in a fair place to do that, as you said they are a century in front of men in the gender debate. Men’s story of victimisation and suffering hasn’t even been heard yet. And perhaps you can correct me if I’m wrong, but I always had an aversion to some extent to Deida’s work, although there are other reasons also, based on the fact there was no mention of male disposibility as far as I know in his work, or that while men generally receive more respect and power, women get more empathy and support.

    In fairness though I suppose it can be argued neither gender can fully appreciate the limits, flaws, strengths and relational side of their gender without the other. Men can’t sit with their victimhood and the typical feminist view represses female agency or their own female historical kind of power.

    Great point, that doesn’t get the limelight it needs to the in the traditional feminist narrative, and also unfortunately doesn’t get appreciated in the men’s rights world either. I’ve heard Farrell talk about a great point that what may well help men appreciate the private sphere more is online entrepreneurial work from home jobs, that’s clearly on the rise and quite obvious how that would enable more equality around child rearing. I’ve heard Paul Elam the owner of A Voice For Men as though that’s a pipe dream or inconsequential, ans I say unfortunately Farrell just doesn’t get the popularity he should, even though ironically his books are the first and most potent to kick it off.

    His 50 or so evidence laid out points about the importance of fathers and what they do in his new book is one of the most important and potential for healing around. If there was hope for it I’d put Warren Farrell top as the spearhead if he can get more appreciation.

    I share this concern, and my experience validates this. Alot of the cultures I see war on the other side. Tribes built on echo-chambers, ridiculous extreme feminism leads to extreme masculinism (that word needs inventing by someone lol), where there is a deeply nihilistic eye for an eye, red meme battle over power. I put my faith in men and women’s natural attraction and love for eachother and some more integral views gaining traction. Even in the pro MGTOW view I see this unconscious attraction to the feminine play out, but there is this sense that dating is not safe, or women are inherently selfish, or you will be shamed by the culture for appreciating women.

    The body thing is definitely true. That is essentially the essence of the incel (involuntary celibate) culture. Basically if you took women’s need to be beautiful, flipped that on it’s head, made it about needing to be hyper masculine, with a bunch of semi body dysmorphic disorder types armed with rigorous studies and facts about measurements of skulls, shoulder to hip ratio and everything else you’d name then you land at the incel subworld.

    Personally my stance is that there needs to be a rigorous look in to the good and bad parts of masculinity and femininity. Both held equally, and seen in relationship as there is no bad or good without the other side. Perhaps combined with spiral dynamics, the evolution of the genders in partnership, all relevant territory for integral making a difference to the debate. The history of the genders is a story of love more than war, and some when that needs to be remembered.

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