You might have noticed the PragerU videos going around claiming to have proof of a coordinated “War Against Boys” in our schools today. These videos are popping up everywhere, from ads in MineCraft game videos to viral sharing on Facebook. They represent the most recent work of Christina Hoff Sommers’ decades long crusade against what she sees as the problems with liberals and feminism. The two basic points of the video (and the book it comes from) are that 1) feminists invented a problem with girls’ education in order to ignore the problems with boys’ education, and 2) feminists have convinced society to improperly socialize boys, both inside and outside of schools.
The science behind these claims is incredibly problematic, but I want to look at that after looking at the real problem. Lee Skallerup Bessette sums up the implications of boys seeing these videos well:
My problem is that vulnerable young boys are seeing this and then taking it into their classroom experience, so they are already primed for outrage and distrust of the system and of the girls in their classes. I mean, yes, that's shitty too.
— Lee Skallerup Bessette makes zero magic (@readywriting) December 18, 2017
I followed this up with a lamentation that I couldn’t find a good article that explores her points in addition to the scientific problems together, so I thought.. why not write that article here?
My brief time as an 8th grade teacher taught me that I tend to see in students what I want to see. I noticed that every time some flashy professional development speaker came along with some idea that sounded cool to me, I suddenly started “seeing” that problem in my classes. I finally realized that I need to see students for who they are, not who I wanted them to be. Pretty basic, I know… but I am a bit thick-skulled sometimes.
So when some teachers – especially here in the South – that are already skeptical of feminism see “The War Against Boys”…. how will that affect the way they see (and teach) their classes? Then, on the other side, you show these videos to young boys, convincing them there is a conspiracy – led by women – against them? Throw that in with the “purity culture” pervasive in so many parts of society (that teaches that girls are just there to tempt boys into all kinds of bad situations)…. you have a recipe for a disaster.
Much of this is not new… I remember hearing things about wars against manhood/boyhood/etc back in school in the 80s and 90s. But we need to start seeing the connection between all of this and our current political leader’s weirdness and hatred towards women. Go look into how many political leaders from more conservative area were raised on this idea of “feminist war against men” + “women are out to tempt you to sin.”
But what exactly is the problem with the science of “The War Against Boys”? For this, I will defer mostly to this review of the book The War Against Boys: How Misguided Feminism Is Harming Our Young Men by E. Anthony Rotundo (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/style/books/reviews/waragainstboys0703.htm). Its a short look at the problems, which can be summed up with this excerpt:
Examined carefully, Sommers’s case does not hold up well. She persistently misrepresents scholarly debate, ignores evidence that contradicts her assertions, and directs intense scrutiny at studies she opposes while giving a free critical ride to research she supports.
This would also apply to the current videos making the social media rounds, since they are based on the same logic. Rotundo’s conclusion is an important point to consider (he does examine specific points to back up his assertions in between these two quotes it you are interested):
But Sommers’s book is a work of neither dispassionate social science nor reflective scholarship; it is a conservative polemic. Sommers focuses less on boys than on the feminists and cultural liberals against whom she has a long-standing animus. As a society, we sorely need a discussion of boyhood that is thoughtful and searching. This intemperate book is a hindrance to such conversation.
So what is meant by “long-standing animus”? This review does not give too much explanation, but we can turn to another source to discuss that. This “take down” of Sommers is long, but it goes into many of the organizations and movements she has been a part of, as well as her support for the abuse of GamerGate. I link to this not as ad-hominem or guilt by association type of attck, but as context to know why Sommers has “long-standing animus” towards liberals and feminists. This take down shows how her books and videos come from a context that is extremely politicized in nature, specifically against the many straw-man caricatures she creates of those she disagrees with:
While she may bill herself as the “Factual Feminist”, her history suggests she’s a right-wing shill who uses her platform to spread misinformation about feminism, in the hope of opposing social change.
What you end up with is a factually skewed view of complex problems in schools that simplifies those problems to “girls are getting better treatment than boys” because “liberals and feminists hate boys” being fed to children as they watch videos about their favorite video games, and then shared by their parents and teachers on Facebook… none of which are aware of the hidden political agendas behind the videos. This is exacerbated by the teachers who watch the videos and swear they see this “war” happening in their schools.
Can I comment on that last part as a former school teacher? Really? You see evidence of a war against boys all the time – but you haven’t noticed it until some slick video on Facebook convinced you to see it? Who is the head of this war? Where is all of the organization coming from? The feminists and liberals? Even when you work in a school in Texas with mostly conservative-leaning teachers?
No, you don’t see a war against boys. You see a side to take, and instead of being a neutral observer, you join your pre-determined “side” and share the video to attack the other side. Passive-aggressively, of course, because the recent version of the videos has toned down the “evil liberals and feminists” to some subtle dog whistles. What does that mean when you are the one hearing those whistles?
Look, schools have problems. Every one of them has plans to address those issues, so they know. Sometimes those problems are focused among boys, or girls. But the problem is both, not either/or. Black and white dogma like the War Against Boys is the true problem – a carefully crafted war against society, designed to divide us all and destroy one side.