I grabbed Of Boys and Men: Why the Modern Male is Struggling, Why It Matters, and What to Do About It after listening to an interview with the author on an episode of the Prof G. podcast. Scott Galloway—Prof G—has a knack for engaging an audience of young men and providing thoughtful commentary. His advice is often in direct contrast to those who encourage violence, misogyny, and isolation from civilized society: the young male influences that prey on worse impulses. Of Boys and Men addresses this central issue directly, as it dives into the modern culture that has created this cohort of disillusioned young men, and the real-world impact resulting from this social degradation.
The author admits from the get-go that this is a difficult topic to write about, in our patriarchic society where the attention has rightfully been focused on bolstering gender equality. But because of this emphasis on elevating girls and women who have been structurally disadvantaged, we have created a blind spot for boys and men—and their struggles.
Specifically, boys have been doing worse in school for a while, indicative of standardized tests and GPAs, and graduation rates. Explanations range from not having enough male teachers to cultural norms to the propensity for self-discipline, but the author advances a simpler explanation: girls are more biologically mature than boys at the same age, where the earlier onset of puberty in girls enables faster brain development and critically, fostering the academic skillsets that translate into success in the classroom. This completely resonates with my own experience; as my son advances through grade school, I’m reminded of this contrast, in behaviors and attitudes, between the girls and the boys1.
As for men, the book makes the argument that automation and globalization have combined to reduce the number of male-dominated jobs, which in turn affects their ability to provide as fathers and husbands, even though societal norms still expect men to fulfill the role. It goes back to the problem of cohorts of men who have lost economic ground and thus a degree of identity and self-worth, and in their disillusionment with the hand society has dealt, turn to men’s rights movements and incel groups for camaraderie.
Of Boys and Men does a good job of shining a spotlight on other issues that affect males in modern society. They have become blind spots, in that we’re well aware of the characterizations, but we seldom stop to consider the repercussions. These issues include:
- The prejudice faced by black boys and men;
- The lack of emotional support, as either a network or even acknowledged as a need;
- The overuse and oversimplification of “toxic masculinity” as a catch-all;
- The lack of institutional support or even recognition that any of this is problematic2.
I appreciate that throughout, the author cites relevant statistics and studies, though he also cherry-picks a few examples here and there to drive a point home. And true to the initial warning of how hard it is to talk about this topic, he regularly reminds the reader that these male-centric problems do not supersede the problems that girls and women face. Focusing on one gender doesn’t mean there aren’t just as many, if not more, problems faced by the opposite sex; it shouldn’t be a zero-sum effort.