Lost Boys
Why feminism and popular culture have our boys searching for an identity

Boys will be boys, the old maxim goes. But not if misguided feminists have their way, says philosopher Christina Hoff Sommers. In her book The War Against Boys, Sommers attacks the modern myth that society is somehow “short-changing” girls. According to Sommers, it’s boys who are actually subjected to society’s fiercest discrimination. The book sparked a furious debate between liberals and conservatives in 2000 in America, prompting many publications to feature the subject on their covers.

Now that the dust has settled, let’s consider both sides of this controversy. Are boys really the dangerously aggressive, violence-prone lads that feminists make them out to be? Or are boys becoming effeminate softies, as some conservatives suggest?

More important still, what does God have to say about our lost boys?

The War Against Boys

Sommers attacks several well-known feminists in her work. Her foremost target is Carol Gilligan, author of Making Connections, a book about how adolescent girls are victims of a male-dominated society. Gilligan compares a girl’s life to a river flowing into the sea of Western culture “in danger of drowning or disappearing.” According to Sommers, Ms. Gilligan’s sweeping accusations against men in 1990 quickly attracted many powerful allies. This helped set off what some feminists refer to as a “girl crisis.”

A host of books followed on the heels of Gilligan’s—the most famous of which was Mary Pipher’s Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls. In her book, Pipher calls American society a “girl poisoning” and “girl destroying” culture. “Something dramatic happens to girls in early adolescence,” she wrote. “Just as planes and ships disappear mysteriously into the Bermuda Triangle, so do the selves of girls go down in droves. They crash and burn.”

In Failing at Fairness: How America’s Schools Cheat Girls, Myra and David Sadker painted an equally ominous picture for girls. They wrote about a lively 6-year-old girl at the top of a playground slide: “There she stood on her sturdy legs, with her head thrown back and her arms flung wide. As ruler of the playground she was at the very zenith of her world.” But all that would soon change, according to the Sadkers. “If the camera had photographed the girl … at 12 instead of 6 … she would have been looking at the ground instead of the sky; her sense of self-worth would have been an accelerating downward spiral.”

If all this were true, what a miserable, hopeless society America must be for girls. But as Sommers points out, all these “findings” were based on bogus data and biased research. The media didn’t help matters either. After a 1992 study attributed girls’ low self-esteem to their second-class status in society, more than 1,400 news reports helped to hype the “short-changed” girls myth. (By comparison, there were approximately 150 news reports about Sommers’s controversial book in 2000. And many of those reports were critical of her book.)

Following the heels of hype, in 1994, Congress passed the Gender Equity in Education Act. This bill categorized girls as an underserved population, placing them on par with minority groups that consider themselves discriminated against. All of these developments helped reform public education in the United States, giving girls more opportunities to “catch up.”

Other Side of the Story

According to Sommers, though, it’s boys who are behind. “Contrary to the story told by Gilligan and her followers, by the early 1990s American girls were flourishing in unprecedented ways,” Sommers wrote. “The vast majority of girls were occupied in more constructive ways, moving ahead of boys academically in the primary and secondary grades, applying to colleges in record numbers, filling the more challenging academic classes, joining sports teams and generally enjoying more freedoms and opportunities than any young women in human history” (op cit; emphasis added).

That is a remarkable statement—and one that Sommers supports with a barrage of evidence. Girls now outnumber boys in student government, honor societies, debating clubs and on school newspapers. They read more books, are more studious, and are more likely to study overseas. They also outperform boys on tests of artistic and musical ability.

Conversely, the typical boy is a year and a half behind girls in reading and writing skills. Boys are more likely to be held back or suspended from school. More boys drop out. More boys are on Ritalin, and more get involved in crime, alcohol and drugs.

There is an ever widening gap developing between boys and girls—but the facts suggest that it is boys who are behind.

Male Feminization

Sommers’s most stinging indictment is against feminists who aim to destroy what she calls “conventional maleness.” “The belief that boys are being wrongly ‘masculinized’ is inspiring a movement to ‘construct boyhood’ in ways that will render boys less competitive, more emotionally expressive, more nurturing—more, in short, like girls. Gloria Steinem summarizes the views of many in the boys-should-be-changed camp when she says, ‘We need to raise boys like we raise girls’” (ibid).

Steinem’s chilling statement ought to arouse the “conventional maleness” in any right-thinking man. But is Western culture really being feminized? Some of Sommers’s critics do not think so.

A Boy’s Culture

This is a boy’s world, Richard Cohen wrote in the Washington Post. “They—tasteless, reckless and often mindless—are the target audience for many movies, especially those looking for repeat customers” (June 29, 2000). Cohen referred to gross-out flicks that attracted scores of boys: Me, Myself and Irene; Road Trip; Scary Movie; American Pie and There’s Something About Mary. That boys are willing to watch raunchy movies several times is why blockbusters are often so juvenile, Cohen said. Television and radio, too, have become boys’ mediums—not that they are necessarily after 12-year-old listeners. Their main target audience is 18-to-34-year-old men who act like boys. “The result,” Cohen wrote, “is a boy’s culture, a school hallway society where a belch passes for wit and two Whassups constitutes a dialogue.”

In one sense, Cohen’s argument only confirms the conclusions in The War Against Boys. Since so many of our boys never really grow up, one wonders why girls aren’t further ahead of their male counterparts.

But what are we to make of the obvious irony Cohen draws attention to? On the one hand, some boys are becoming more effeminate in a liberal-influenced educational system that looks upon masculinity as potentially dangerous. On the other hand, perhaps in reaction to the feminist movement, you have an increasing number of boys becoming more warped, rebellious and prone to commit violent acts.

Both of these movements are perverted extremes—and a fulfillment of Bible prophecy! God offers solutions to both problems, if we will just turn to the Bible for answers. In this much-maligned and misunderstood book, God tells us how to raise boys properly.

From the Beginning

Few people understand that men and women, of themselves, are incomplete. After creating Adam, God said it was not good that man “should be alone” (Genesis 2:18). So God gave Adam a helper in Eve. Together, these two became one flesh through marriage (verse 24).

To preserve unity and happiness in their marriage, they had to fulfill their God-given roles as outlined in God’s law. God appointed the man as head of the wife (1 Corinthians 11:3; Ephesians 5:23). The woman was to be his helper—his assistant (Genesis 2:20; Titus 2:1-5).

As soon as he had a chance, Satan attempted to reverse these God-given roles. In Genesis 3, we read that Satan first approached the woman. He tried to convince Eve that she had been “short-changed.” He wanted her to believe that God and Adam were really against her. In verse 4, we read where Satan’s deceptive influence culminated in a bald-faced lie. “You shall not surely die,” he told Eve, “if you eat from the tree God has forbidden.” In verse 6, the woman took from the forbidden tree. It seemed like it was the right thing to do. Adam then weakly followed his wife’s lead. It would not be the last time a weak man followed his wife.

From this one account we see that role reversals are not unique to this day and age. What is unique about today, however, is just how pervasive it is becoming. The Apostle Paul noted this as an indicator of Christ’s imminent return. “This know also,” Paul wrote, “that in the last days perilous times shall come. … [E]vil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived” (2 Timothy 3:1, 13).

Where Are the Real Men?

Isaiah 3 graphically portrays just how bad it will get before Christ returns. “For, behold, the Lord, the Lord of hosts, doth take away from Jerusalem [referring to end-time Israel—primarily the American and British peoples] and from Judah [the Jews] the stay and the staff, the whole stay of bread, and the whole stay of water” (Isaiah 3:1). These are the curses God is about to bring upon our peoples because of rebellion against His law. He will soon take away our many material benefits.

Notice what else God takes away: “The mighty man, and the man of war, the judge, and the prophet, and the prudent, and the ancient, the captain of fifty, and the honourable man, and the counseller, and the cunning artificer, and the eloquent orator” (verses 2-3). Because of our rebellion, God is removing strong male leadership from our midst!

Look around! Where are the mighty men of valor today? The great military generals? Men of wisdom? The visionaries? The great speakers? Eloquent orators? The men of sterling character?

Where are they? God has removed them. Christina Sommers offers indisputable evidence of this fact. “How do boys fit into the ‘tragedy’ of America’s ‘shortchanged’ girls?” she asks in her book. “Inevitably, boys are resented, being seen both as the unfairly privileged gender and as obstacles on the path to gender justice for girls. There is an understandable dialectic: The more girls are portrayed as diminished, the more boys are regarded as needing to be taken down a notch and reduced in importance” (op cit).

This is the destruction radical feminists refuse to acknowledge. For them, it’s not about teaching girls and boys to work together, each fulfilling their different, complementary, God-given roles. It’s about competing with boys—climbing to the top, even if it means stepping on boys along the way.

Father’s Role

Two hundred years ago, the father’s role was clearly defined, unlike today. He used to be right at the center of family life. He was the head of the family, the primary caregiver, breadwinner, protector, moral educator and law-enforcer.

Today, assuming the father is still at home, you would be hard-pressed to find a family where Dad fulfilled even two of those responsibilities. Men have relinquished their duties in the home and have therefore been taken down a notch at a time—to the point where boys grow up unsure of what role they are to fulfill, if any.

Even the fact that feminism’s most vociferous critics are women is in itself telling. As Mark Cochrane wrote for the Vancouver Sun, “Women willing to trash feminist research make good surrogates for male intellectuals who could never get away with it” (July 29). Surely, male apprehension to speak out against such angry, aggressive women bent on feminizing little boys is in itself proof that feminist doctrine is having an effect. Most men are terrified of being labeled a chauvinist!

There are others, of course, who are at the opposite extreme, believing the man’s role is far superior to a woman’s. Isaiah spoke of this modern-day phenomenon too. “And I will give children to be their princes, and babes shall rule over them” (Isaiah 3:4). God is not talking about adolescents becoming congressmen. What He means is that our adult leaders will act like children.

Notice what kind of children: “And the people shall be oppressed, every one by another, and every one by his neighbour: the child shall behave himself proudly against the ancient, and the base against the honourable” (verse 5). He’s talking about spoiled, undisciplined, selfish, disobedient and angry children who never really grow up! Rebellious children simply become rebellious adults. When little boys are allowed to indulge in the perverted sins of what Richard Cohen calls our “boyish culture,” they most likely will grow up to look upon women as mere objects.

Isaiah prophesied of both these perverted extremes! Notice verse 12: “As for my people, children are their oppressors, and women rule over them. O my people, they which lead thee cause thee to err, and destroy the way of thy paths.” Here, the leading men referred to in verses 2 and 3 are not even mentioned. We’re left with a society, according to Isaiah 3, where rebellious children oppress and women dominate.

Where are the real men? Verse 12 can also refer to men who act like children and who rule like women. As the Jamieson, Fausset and Brown Commentary asserts, “They who ought to be protectors are exacters as unqualified for rule as children and as effeminate as women.” This kind of perverted leadership, as it says at the end of verse 12, will eventually lead to our destruction. Those who lead us destroy the way of our paths.

Steel and Velvet

In a world where men have abdicated their God-given role as the loving head of the home and where popular culture seeks to lure children into every imaginable perversion, it’s no wonder our boys are in trouble! Unless we get back to the Bible’s wisdom, men will continue to be taken down a notch and boys will grow up unsure about their role in the family.

Feminists look upon masculinity as a potential evil that needs to be made more feminine. The “boyish culture” pushes men to become more reckless and irresponsible.

God rejects both of these ridiculous extremes.

An excellent definition of godly masculinity is summed up in the way Carl Sandburg described Abraham Lincoln—as a man of steel and velvet. Lincoln was a powerful and persuasive speaker, a man of valor and strength. He was a mighty man of war when he had to be, facing down the forces of evil that threatened to destroy the American nation.

And yet, Lincoln was a man of peace. He was merciful, kind, gentle, thoughtful, friendly, patient and humble. Imagine describing a great warrior as such today. But that’s the way Lincoln was. He was neither feminine nor domineering. He was a real man—a man of steel and velvet.

The Perfect Example

Jesus Christ fulfills that description far better than Lincoln did. Artists have portrayed Christ as a skinny, soft-spoken, long-haired, effeminate wimp who died of a broken heart. How deceived this world is!

The Bible says effeminate men won’t even be in God’s Kingdom (1 Corinthians 6:9). It also says it’s shameful for a man to have long hair (1 Corinthians 11:14).

Jesus was a real man. Physically, He was a man of impressive strength and endurance. Before His ministry began at age 30, He worked hard as a carpenter (Mark 6:3) and ate only clean foods, observing all the physical laws of good health (Hebrews 4:15). During His ministry, He walked from city to city through mountainous terrain—sometimes traveling many miles in one day. Prior to being tempted of the devil, Jesus went without food and water for 40 days—something no frail weakling could ever endure. Before His crucifixion, Jesus was brutally beaten (John 19:1) and then nailed to a stake with iron spikes. Yet, having led such a robust and healthy lifestyle, He lived through what would have easily killed the average man—not dying until a Roman soldier finally thrust a spear into His side.

Did the artists who painted portraits of Jesus ever read the account in John 2, where Jesus confronted the moneychangers in the temple? Upon witnessing the shady transactions going on inside God’s house, Jesus grabbed a handful of ropes and started whipping the sheep and oxen that were being sold, driving them from the temple. He kicked over tables and chairs and threw money all over the floor. His deep and powerful voice then bellowed through the halls of the temple: “Get out of God’s house, and take all of your belongings!” Bear in mind, this was at the very beginning of His ministry, when no one even knew who this man was (read verse 18). Yet these Jews were terrified of this strapping young man—so much so that no one stepped forward to challenge Him.

Now imagine that same scene with a sad and sickly Jesus, like the one portrayed in so many pictures and movies. The real Jesus was nothing like what most people imagine! No one knows what He looked like exactly. But from the above examples, we can state with positive assurance that He did not look like what popular paintings depict. He was a muscular man of perfect health and enduring strength.

Yet physical fitness is only a fraction of what godly masculinity is all about. Jesus was a learned man who took His education seriously as a youngster. When He was a boy, Jesus walked into the temple at Jerusalem and discussed the truth of God with the most educated theologians. Luke 2:47 says that all who heard Him were “astonished at his understanding and answers.” They were amazed by how much this 12-year-old understood! As Jesus grew up, verse 52 says, He increased in wisdom and stature. His education never ended.

By the time His ministry began, Jesus had developed into perhaps the finest and most persuasive speaker in mankind’s history. Those who heard Him were astounded. Those who had not heard Him came from far away so they could. The people who knew Him as a child couldn’t believe this was the same Jewish carpenter speaking so eloquently as a man. When He finished speaking, He often whisked away in secrecy, hoping for a bit of quiet time in the desert or on top of an isolated mountain. Even then, the throngs of people would sometimes track Him down in hopes that they would never be separated (Luke 4:42).

Obviously, a man that popular offered more than eloquent speech. Jesus also had a commanding presence. After His sermon on the Mount of Olives, the masses were astonished at His doctrine, as it says at the end of Matthew 7, because He “taught them as one having authority” (verse 29). True, this got Him in trouble at times. In the end, it even led to His death. But that was only because Jewish authorities were jealous of how popular this man was with the masses. Even Pilate, who oversaw Christ’s execution, acknowledged that Jesus was an innocent, just man who spoke the truth (Matthew 27:24).

Together with these steel-like traits of vibrant health, intelligence, decisive leadership, righteous indignation and the power of persuasion, Jesus also had the many velvet qualities that helped Him lead a life of balance. Above all, He was humble. When the publicans and Pharisees criticized Him for spending time with sinners (as if they had never sinned), He responded by saying the sick are the ones who need a physician most (Luke 5:31-32). Christ taught, by example, that the servant was not above his master. That’s why He instituted the ordinance of humility at His final Passover by washing the feet of all His disciples. He was their Lord and Master, to be sure (John 13:13)—but that just meant He was to serve those under Him all the more. In God’s Kingdom, He taught His disciples that those who serve the most will be appointed to the highest positions. As the most humble servant who ever walked this Earth, we can see why Jesus qualified to be King in God’s Kingdom.

Added to this sincere humility, Jesus was also a compassionate man. No matter how busy He was, or how crowded the scene, Christ always seemed to make time for the disadvantaged. On one occasion, when Christ left Jericho with a great multitude, two blind men cried out for Jesus to have mercy on them. The multitude ridiculed the two, telling them to mind their own business. But Jesus stopped, quieted the crowd and asked the two men if there was something He could do for them. They wanted their eyesight back. “So Jesus had compassion on them, and touched their eyes: and immediately their eyes received sight, and they followed him” (Matthew 20:34).

This genuine compassion for others even caused Christ to weep on occasion. In the case of Lazarus, Jesus cried because of the people’s lack of faith (John 11:32-43).

The gentleness of Jesus is reflected in how He treated children. In Mark 10, after some adults pressed to have Jesus lay hands on their little ones, His own disciples rebuked the parents! Jesus then rebuked the disciples, saying that we must all become as little children to enter into God’s Kingdom. Jesus then took these infants up in His arms and blessed them.

This same kindness is what drew so many women to Christ—some even wept at His feet. In the well-known account at Jacob’s well, a Samaritan woman was taken aback by Christ’s request for water since other Jews wouldn’t even speak to Samaritans. In the course of their discussion, Christ had discerned that she was involved in an adulterous relationship. He talked with her about the Holy Spirit, which she would need to repent of her sins. This woman recognized that Jesus had real spiritual power, and she told her city about Him (John 4:28-30). John does not record whether this woman repented. However, this account shows how quickly Jesus was ready to forgive people at all times, so long as there were fruits of repentance.

In the other famous adultery account, where the scribes and Pharisees were about to stone a woman caught in the act, Jesus intervened to prick the conscience of all those present. “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her” (John 8:7). After everyone left, He told the woman to go and sin no more.

Jesus Christ was the epitome of true masculinity. He wasn’t all steel—eager to use His authority to lord it over people. Neither was He all velvet—a weak and effeminate man who stood for nothing. Jesus was both steel and velvet: strong, bold and courageous—gentle, patient and meek. This godly form of masculinity is what, like a magnet, drew so many men, women and children near to Him.

This is the godly balance that is missing from all of today’s discussions on how boys ought to be reared. Those people who advocate softening boys would never tolerate them leading their wives and children as the head of the home. Likewise, those who think boys ought to be macho and look down on women would never stand for teaching boys to be compassionate, merciful, unselfish and kind.

What confusion. We are reaping what we have sown. Decades of godless living are beginning to take their toll. Our society is turning out boys who no longer know how to be masculine men.

Boys to Men

The Bible tells us much about what kind of man Jesus was—and the kind of man all men ought to become. Little is recorded about His younger years. Yet there is enough for us to know that, as a boy, Jesus obeyed His parents, Joseph and Mary, and developed an intimate relationship with His spiritual Father in heaven (Luke 2:51-52). The mere fact that Christ began His ministry at the relatively young age of 30 reveals what kind of upbringing He had—the character traits that were established and reinforced during His younger years—as a boy, a teenager and a young adult.

Jesus Christ’s spiritual Father and His physical parents taught Him how to be a man. As hopelessly ideal as that might sound to some, our people must come to understand that it is the only real solution to our increasing social evils. It will never get better—yes, many commentators have their so-called solutions—but it will never get better until we put God back at the center of family life!

Read Deuteronomy 6 and see how serious God is about parents teaching little boys how to be masculine men—and girls, for that matter, how to be feminine women. God says we ought to diligently teach our children all His ways, when we talk with them, sit with them, walk with them, when we wake up in the morning, and when we go to bed at night (verse 7). What an effect that would have on our children, even now in this sinful generation, if parents would accept full responsibility for their children’s upbringing and raise them the way God says to!