Girls up, boys down?


By Frank Wessling

Will the world be better when women dominate because they have the power of better knowledge than men? With muscle and brute strength needed less for survival and required hardly at all for human progress, what future is there for boys?

Some educators and psychologists have noticed how girls are passing boys in education. Colleges are now graduating more women than men, and women have entered virtually all fields of study. They seem to represent the future in an era when the so-called knowledge industry is the driver of economic growth.

Is patriarchy really dying? People in the Davenport-Quad Cities region could see the evidence dramatically in recent weeks as the Quad City Times published lists and pictures of the outstanding graduates from high schools all around in both Iowa and Illinois. In school after school girls rule.

In many cases only one boy showed up among six or seven girls.


Boys are not doing well in comparison. Perhaps they never did do well as a whole but it wasn’t noticed until girls had a chance to show what they can do in the knowledge game. Now we see that equality brings the game to a whole new level, as they say in the sports pages.

Meanwhile, boys, with their different needs for physical action, dominate among the handicapped and troubled. Far more boys than girls are diagnosed with attention deficit disorders. Far more boys are autistic.

Far more fathers than mothers are missing in children’s lives and far more boys get in trouble with the law and become the men who fill our prisons to overflowing.

A healthy equality among men and women is certainly desirable. Better opportunity for women in education, business and public life is moving us in that direction. Women still become mothers, though, and this complicates the story, makes it more than a simple contest of reaching parity in pay and housework and retirement benefits.

There have been enough efforts to create systems of equality among men and women to tell us it isn’t easy, especially across a society as diverse and open as ours. Perhaps the best way of proceeding is to keep going where our best instincts have led up to now — respecting the desires of women to be the agents of their own lives — with a balancing addition. We need to notice how boys and men are affected by a changing world and respect new needs they may have.

Answers and solutions won’t come easily or from elsewhere. We aren’t Sweden, small and homogeneous, and we aren’t pioneering Israelis on a kibbutz. We are the most pluralistic and varied society in the world. But that can be an advantage. We already know what it takes in tolerance and respect for others in order to live together. We should be able to use that understanding for a move beyond patriarchy to justice.

When a man loves a woman, truly loves her, he wants her to flourish as a healthy person. When a woman loves a man she wants the same goodness for him. In the world God intends for us, our work is to love each other in that way, as Other. Our work is to get beyond ourselves, to see beyond, and thus find ourselves through a union that fulfills beyond our imagining.

This religious vision of life has relevance for any society, including our own national society. If girls are on an up escalator of influence and power among us, we will need some of that vision and energy to make sure that boys aren’t going down at the same time.

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