Sax's proposed model for contemporary masculinity is an unknown civil war hero, Joshua Chamberlain, a scholar and modest gentleman-warrior, who cared deeply for his troops. His intent by referring to Chamberlain isn't to uphold martial values, but promote humane, traditional ones, like the "core" values taught in a Connecticut boys' school he visited. Those principles are the sort enshrined on libraries and prep school walls: "scholarship, integrity, civility, tolerance, altruism, sportsmanship, responsibility, and self-discipline."
Now you can argue that our culture is plenty masculine-affirming. After all, for every Homer Simpson young boys see on TV, they play with an assortment of GI Joes and super-action heroes, but Sax sees this as the wrong sort of affirmation.
The reason why boys are having trouble today is more complicated than a short book can adequately describe. Sax knows that girls have their problems, from eating disorders to feverish, adolescent identity issues. What's worse is that girls must live in a toxic, hypersexed culture. However, as he points out, their problems are the subject of somebody else's book.
The book's brevity and lack of detail may reflect the fact that he's less an authority than a modern Paul Revere, warning us that not only is the enemy coming, but they're already taking over our children's minds and bodies. If Sax is right and the failure-to-launch crisis is rooted in rich and middle-class families, it may be likely that something can be done about it. After all, those are the parents with money and political clout. Helping the boys now being maimed by toxic meds and plastics, unresponsive schools, and a whirling, electronic, infantilizing culture will benefit the children of all classes. According to Sax, that's a trickle-down effect our society can sorely use.
Richard Handler is a radio producer with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in Toronto, Canada. Contact: email@example.com. Letters to the Editor about this department may be e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Sexual Paradox: Men, Women and the Real Gender Gap
Scribner's. 340 pp. ISBN: 0-743-28470-7
Boys Adrift: The Five Factors Driving the Growing Epidemic of Unmotivated Boys and Underachieving Young Men
Basic Books. 267 pp. ISBN: 0-465-07209-7 and 0-465-07209-5