Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Are boys the new girls? Now that First Lady Laura Bush has declared her interest in them on national television, and her husband has appointed her Gang Czarina, expect a torrent of TV specials and newspaper articles on the topic of boys, as if they’ve just arrived en mass from Mars. Harvard’s Dr. William Pollock has written a book, “Real Boys,” that is to the study of boys what Audubon’s “Birds of America” was to ornithology. The recent MSNBC documentary based on Pollock’s research is sure to be just the first of many in the boy blitzkrieg.

I applaud Mrs. Bush on her new hobby, even if there are shades of “Desperate Housewives” in it. I only hope the first lady’s involvement in the cause won’t turn a very real issue into just another political football. Politicizing it furthers the notion that championing boys is a reactionary stance, a sneaky attempt by social conservatives to undo the progress of the women’s movement. Truth is, both sides are guilty of bad faith when it comes to boys.

We’re not exactly on a sinking ship; we don’t have to choose either boys or girls to toss overboard. But it seems we can’t argue for girls without vilifying boys, and vice-versa. Last year Todd Harris Goldman’s popular book “Boys Are Stupid, Throw Rocks at Them” and merchandise bearing various boy-bashing slogans caused more eye-rolling than outrage (but just enough outrage to sell lots of tee-shirts and pjs). Grrrl Power advocates argued that society has said these things to women for generations, and it was never a problem until boys became the target. Others argued that Goldman’s slogans were just words, as if calling someone stupid was not as shattering in some ways as throwing rocks at them. No matter how you slice it, perpetuating the notion that your own self-worth should come at the expense of someone else’s, whatever their gender, is indefensible. Not to mention antisocial. Regardless of the sins of the father or mother, it’s wrong to visit them on our sons and daughters.

While there will always be those who see gender relations as a never-ending grudge match, the rest of us should focus our attention on creating positive learning and social environments based on mutual respect regardless of gender.

And if Mrs. Bush really wants to help, she should have a little chat with the husband, and bring him on board. He hasn’t been shy about throwing cash at pet causes. 150 billion dollars so far for his war. That amount would pay for over 2.6 million school teachers. It could insure over 93 million kids. We can’t even come up with the paltry funds to keep art, music, and after-school athletics available to all pupils in our public schools. These programs, in conjunction with active adult involvement in young people’s lives, are precisely what we need to channel all that wild energy and rampant teenage libido into positive, life-affirming, esteem-building activities for girls and boys alike.

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