A War Against Boys?

A War Against Boys?

Doug Anglin isn’t likely to flash across the radar screen at an Ivy League admissions office. A seventeen-year-old senior at Milton High School, a suburb outside Boston, Anglin has a B-minus average and plays soccer and baseball. But he’s done something that millions of other teenagers haven’t: he’s sued his school district for sex discrimination.

Anglin’s lawsuit, brought with the aid of his father, a Boston lawyer, claims that schools routinely discriminate against males. “From the elementary level, they establish a philosophy that if you sit down, follow orders, and listen to what they say, you’ll do well and get good grades,” he told a journalist. “Men naturally rebel against this.” He may have a point: overworked teachers might well look more kindly on classroom docility and decorum. But his proposed remedies—such as raising boys’ grades retroactively—are laughable.

And though it’s tempting to parse the statements of a mediocre high school senior—what’s so “natural” about rebelling against blindly following orders, a military tactician might ask—Anglin’s apparent admissions angle is but the latest skirmish of a much bigger battle in the culture wars. The current salvos concern boys. The “trouble with boys” has become a staple on talk-radio, the cover story in Newsweek, and the subject of dozens of columns in newspapers and magazines. And when the First Lady offers a helping hand to boys, you know something political is in the works. “Rescuing” boys actually translates into bashing feminism.

There is no doubt that boys are not faring well in school. From elementary schools to high schools they have lower grades, lower class rank, and fewer honors than girls. They’re 50 percent more likely to repeat a grade in elementary school, one-third more likely to drop out of high school, and about six times more likely to be diagnosed with attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

College statistics are similar—if the boys get there at all. Women now constitute the majority of students on college campuses, having passed men in 1982, so that in eight years women will earn 58 percent of bachelor’s degrees in U.S. colleges. One expert, Tom Mortensen, warns that if current trends continue, “the graduation line in 2068 will be all females.” Mortensen may be a competent higher education policy analyst but he’s a lousy statistician. His dire prediction is analogous to predicting forty years ago that, if the enrollment of black students at Ol’ Miss was one in 1964, and, say, two hundred in 1968 and one thousand in 1976, then “if present trends continue” there would be no white students on campus by 1982. Doomsayers lament that women now outnumber men in the social and behavioral sciences by about three to one, and that they’ve invaded such traditionally male bastions as engineering (where they now make up 20 percent) and biology and busin...


Duggan | University of California Press Gardels