The Lost Boys: How Institutional Neglect Has Failed A Generation Of Young Men

Our society is all about empowering girls and building up women. But does building women up mean breaking men down?

By Hayley Lewis4 min read
Suzanne Tucker/Shutterstock

Men have dominated society for virtually all of history. Over time, women have fought for and earned greater freedoms and rights, many of which were a long time coming. Although women certainly deserve every right a man has, these rights shouldn’t come at the expense of men, and they certainly shouldn’t come at the expense of young, impressionable boys.

Feminism Overemphasizes the Value of Nurture over Nature

One feminist recounts that before having boys, she fully prescribed to the idea of nurture over nature when it came to gender differences. It wasn’t about biology, but the impact of familial and societal nurturing that made the biggest difference for how young boys turn out. She describes how her own bias changed after having sons, stating that “their boy-ness made me doubt what I’d always believed — that it’s nurture, not nature; that underneath, all humans are basically the same. But it was impossible not to notice how differently they behaved to some of the girls we knew.” 

Their boy-ness made me doubt what I’d always believed.

Simply ignoring that these differences exist makes a huge difference in the type of adults these little boys grow up to be. Another feminist mother proudly claims that she is redefining what it means to be a man, and instead says that she is “not raising her son to be a man.” Rather, she says, “I’m raising my son to be a human being.” I get the point and don’t disagree that every human should learn to value others simply because they’re human, regardless of gender. But this kind of thinking completely disregards any inherent aspects of males and females, for better or for worse. 

Gender differences need to be acknowledged and properly directed.

Inherent gender differences only grow to be detrimental if we allow them to, and not acknowledging those differences provides an ample breeding ground for letting minor things become major problems. But acknowledging gender differences can’t be just saying “boys will be boys” to justify the behavior when little boys fight. Instead, they need to be taught how to channel those emotions and properly direct their inclinations to fight and to defend. 

Acknowledgment, rather than the denial, that those inclinations exist, coupled with education, promotes a proper and controlled direction of those emotions and their accompanying activities. Little boys don’t have to turn into violent and aggressive men if they’re taught to channel those passions appropriately. Ignoring the reality of those inclinations only leaves little boys to their own devices, likely never to learn how to appropriately deal with those thoughts and feelings.

Saying All Men Are Predators Is Sexist and False

The current #MeToo movement has valid elements to their arguments as no woman deserves to feel or be preyed upon, no questions asked. Women should be protected, respected, and valued — and it takes good men to do that. However, movements and organizations like this often assume that all men are predators and that we should “believe all women” no matter what. By default, “believing all women” means disbelieving all men. What kind of message is this sending to both boys and men? I think of the many exceptional men I know and am heartbroken by the thought that these men are assumed to be predators based on their genetics. 

By default, “believing all women” means disbelieving all men. 

If we really want to talk about sexism, how is this mentality not exactly that? Instead of assuming that all boys will eventually become toxically masculine and talking about all the ways men are so bad, shouldn’t we have a conversation about what healthy masculinity looks like? In order to do that we have to acknowledge the innate qualities of boyhood and manhood. Ignoring those qualities only creates a breeding ground for the exact behaviors and ideologies we say we want to prevent. 

School Isn’t Made for Boys

Sadly, boys are becoming less and less successful in school. As a teacher, I see it every day. I grew up with five brothers and have a special place in my heart for the little boys who struggle in class; I’m notorious for getting the most difficult behaviors, and they’re nearly always boys. 

The Atlantic details how and why many of the studies showing that girls are underperforming in school are incomplete or outdated, and cites “data from the U.S. Department of Education and from several recent university studies [that] show that far from being shy and demoralized, today's girls outshine boys. They get better grades. They have higher educational aspirations. They follow more-rigorous academic programs and participate in advanced-placement classes at higher rates. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, slightly more girls than boys enroll in high-level math and science courses.”  

The average boy is a year and a half behind the average girl in reading and writing.

Nearly a third more women enroll as undergraduates in college, and the disparity has only increased over time. Boys are more likely to drop out, be suspended, or fail. The average boy is a year and a half behind the average girl in reading and writing. During the 2017-2018 school year, twice as many boys were diagnosed with a learning disability than girls.

The Atlantic piece cites a male high school student who found that girls outperformed boys in his school, much to the surprise of the staff. This student found that people were uninterested in his findings and saw that many had “been strongly influenced by the belief that girls are systematically deprived.” This mentality is often mirrored in many educational circles, and again, by denying the truth, we’re perpetuating a system and a culture that neither acknowledges nor addresses the needs of young men. There’s a reason that men are 3.6 times more likely to die by suicide than women. Isn’t it time we started questioning why this is the case? 

Fatherless Homes and the Dismantling of the Family

Finally, we live in a society that for years has been actively working towards dissolving the nuclear family unit. One in four children are raised without a father, and these kids are consistently shown to struggle more than those who grow up with any kind of father. These children are more likely to drop out of school, commit crimes, go to prison, abuse drugs and alcohol, experience poverty, and face abuse and neglect themselves. While these are only a few of the issues these children face, they apply generally to both boys and girls; they don’t even begin to address the unique challenges faced by boys growing up without fathers. 

Fatherless children are more likely to drop out of school, commit crimes, go to prison, abuse drugs and alcohol, and experience poverty.

Fathers having a positive effect isn’t just an opinion — there’s plenty of science to back this up, and it’s even more relevant for little boys, who have fewer problems in academics and with peers, and fewer instances of delinquent behavior when a father figure is present.

Closing Thoughts: We Can’t Continue To Fail Our Boys, and in Turn Fail Our Society

Women should be empowered to succeed in whatever ways and fields they choose, but not at the expense of men. This goes beyond issues in the workplace or everyday adult life, extending far back into childhood. We can’t continue to disregard the unique needs of little boys. Every child, regardless of gender, deserves a chance and the opportunities to do well in school, be respected, and succeed in life. Continuing to prop up only little girls and women will only cause harm to our current and future society as a whole.