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Rethinking the Imperatives of Gender

Has society become toxic to both genders?

By Richard Handler

How many of them are out there? We don't quite know, but here are two figures that pack some wallop. First the social marker: "a third of men ages 22-34 are still living at home with their parents—a hundred percent increase in the past twenty years." Next, a biological marker: these boys have a sperm count half as high as their grandfathers', and their bones are considerably more brittle.

Why are more and more boys unable to get started in life? Sax, a family doctor who holds a Ph.D. in psychology and is a compelling speaker on the lecture circuit, gives five reasons for the crisis among them:

  • Teaching Methods: Girls develop up to two years earlier, but boys are expected to sit still and learn to read and write along with them; their hyperkinetic energy has no outlet in the current classroom structure.

  • Video Games: Boys formerly played outside, but now they're plugged into their addicting, indoor gaming consoles.

  • Prescription Drugs: AD/HD medication "may be causing irreversible damage to the motivational centers in boys' brains" and showing up years later, even after they've come off the meds.

  • Endocrine Disruptors: Environ­mental estrogens from plastic bottles and food linings may be lowering boys' testosterone levels and disrupting their endocrine systems.

  • Devaluation of Masculinity: Boys no longer have any real models for what it means to be a man. Jim Anderson, the idealized paterfamilias of the 1950s sitcom Father Knows Best, has been replaced by dopey Homer Simpson.

Sax doesn't just sound the alarm bell; he offers solutions: start boys later at school (Finns start children at 7 rather than 5); create schools that accommodate more rambunctious boys, or even better, teach boys and girls separately; cut back drastically on video games; throw out plastic bottles; and build a new, masculinity-affirming culture.

It's possible we could go on a big, national "detox" program, throwing away our plastic bottles and curbing meds and computer games, but building a new masculine identity may be tougher. In fact, it's such a huge issue that addressing it is almost beyond the scope of any short book.

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Last modified on Monday, 30 July 2012 10:21

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