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Saving Our Young Men

By Marty Nemko

This year, almost twice as many women as men will earn bachelor’s degrees.

For the same work, women typically earn at least as much as men.

Yet society continues to do more for girls and women, usually at men’s expense.

By Marty Nemko

Twenty years ago, when I began career counseling, my male and female clients were equally upbeat about their future. Today, for the most part, the girls and women are confident, feeling the world is their oyster, while the boys and men more often are despondent, scared, or angry. The phrase that best defines my male clients is “beaten down.”

What happened? Most of the guys can’t put their finger on the cause, but having had 2,800 clients over 20 years, I believe I’ve pieced it together.

Starting in elementary school, boys are made to feel inferior. Take Your Daughter to Work Day implied to boys that they count less. Endless lessons highlighting the contributions of women (from Pocahontas to Rosa Parks to Hillary Clinton) and the evils of men (from Hannibal to Hitler to McCarthy) make boys feel inferior. That inferiority is reinforced when they come home from school and see TV shows and movies with Doofus Dads or Scuzzball Sams being put in their place by Wise Women. In the effort to boost girls’ self-esteem, boys’ are destroyed.

When boys start to look into college, the very first thing they see are the colleges’ brochures and websites, with far more pictures of women and minorities; the subliminal message: we don’t care about white males. Application essays often ask students to describe a hardship they overcame. “Hardship” is often code for “overcoming the disadvantage of being a woman or a minority.” Many white males, if only unconsciously, feel this is just one more thing discouraging them from applying.

If and when they arrive at college, young men find the anti-white-male juggernaut continues, from the very first day. At orientation, they hear of endless clubs, mentoring programs, and other opportunities for women and minorities, almost none for men, let alone for white men. In the classroom, the denigration of white men accelerates. Lysistrata often replaces Lear, The Doll House displaces Homer, with the writings of dead white European males disproportionately used as whipping boys, deconstructed in anti-male ways. More broadly, the “white male hegemony” is presented as society’s worst cancer, one which must be extirpated at all cost, with constant vigilance required to stamp out any area in which men are ‘overrepresented.” Yet, it’s ignored or even extolled when women are overrepresented. For example, women dominate the highly influential book publishing world, putting out an endless stream of pro-woman/anti-male bestsellers such as New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd’s Are Men Necessary? and Dee Dee Myers’ just-published, Why Women Should Rule the World.

So, far fewer men are going to college, and those that do, drop out at much higher rates. In the 2007 college graduation class, 58% were women, 42% men, a dramatic reversal from just two decades ago. Today, with a bachelor’s degree being the minimum requirement for most decent jobs, this is a disaster for men. And a disaster for half of our population is a disaster for us all.

When young men apply for jobs, they immediately see the anti-white-male bias continue: the want ads so frequently feature an EEOC statement encouraging women and minorities (but never white males) to apply. They see the photos on employers’ websites disproportionately highlighting women and minorities.

If a white male gets hired, he’ll likely quickly learn that women’s approaches to work-- collaborative, team-oriented, exploratory of feelings--is viewed as superior to men’s competitive goal-orientedness. If a man dare says, “Enough of this processing of feelings, let’s just get on with it,” he’ll usually be viewed as Neanderthal if not fired for “not fitting in” or for not being “a team player.” White men hear of mentorship programs created for women and minorities, but not for them. And they’ll soon find out about reverse discrimination promotions that occur because of the organization’s diversity committee pressures, because the employer fears a Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton running to the media claiming the organization is racist, or because the only group not an EEOC-protected class is young white men.

And dare a white man object, even if he doesn’t get censured or fired, he will likely receive either or both of two invalid and invalidating refutations:

-- Women earn 79 cents on the dollar. This statistic is terribly misleading. According to the book, Why Men Earn More, based on a decade of research using government statistics, for the same work, women earn at least as much as men do.

-- Fewer women than men are in top positions. That implies that the reason is sexism, a glass ceiling. The far more frequent reason is that many more women than men care more about work/life balance and/or want to be more involved with their children. (Ironically, we genuflect to women’s rights to work less so they can raise children at the same time as we worry about global warming--and environmentalists agree that the greatest threat to the environment is overpopulation.) Getting promoted to a senior position usually requires willingness to work evenings or weekends, to spend discretionary time doing professional activities, and to move family across the country, Women may wisely not want to do all that, but cannot legitimately claim they’re not being promoted because they have two x chromosomes.

A final assault on men’s self-efficacy is that that they’re made to feel like the disposable sex. They see an endless array of pink ribbons to fight breast cancer. But where are the ribbons for prostate cancer or for early heart attack, which kills, early, many more men? Men die 5 1/2 years younger than women and live their last decade in worse health, yet only pink ribbons proliferate. And the heart disease ads I’ve seen are all about women and heart disease.

So millions of young men have become depressed, insecure, and scared. They’re rarely angry--they’ve been told so long that they’re inferior, they just blame themselves. So, they return to their parents’ sofas, sleeping late, playing video games during the day and getting wasted at night.

What’s the answer? It reduces to one word: fairness. In our attempt to lift up girls and women, we have destroyed boys and men. Just as we are assiduous to avoid unfair treatment of women and minorities, we must do the same for boys and men: in school curriculum, television and movie programming, college admissions and programming, hiring, promotion, and workplace culture, and health research funding and outreach.

Until then, guys, the advice is the same as so many Black parents have given their kids: “No use complaining. You simply gotta be twice as good to get half as far. Eventually, the pendulum will swing back into balance.” Maybe.

Dr. Nemko is co-president of the National Organization for Men, which educates the media to bring about fair treatment of males and females in schools, colleges, the media, employment, family law, and health care.


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