In March 2009, President Obama signed an Executive Order creating the White House Council on Women and Girls. “The purpose of this Council is to ensure that American women and girls are treated fairly in all matters of public policy,” said President Obama. Today, Dr. Warren Farrell is leading the charge of a new proposal, to create a White House Council on Boys to Men.
Dr. Warren Farrell’s books, in 15 languages, include Why Men Are The Way They Are, and Women Can’t Hear What Men Don’t Say (on couples’ communication). His Father and Child Reunion documents fathers’ importance; Why Men Earn More facilitates women’s careers; and The Myth of Male Power exposes male powerlessness. His forthcoming Reinventing Boyhood is with John Gray. Dr. Farrell has two daughters and lives with his wife in Mill Valley, California.
Rahim Kanani: As the lead author and thinker behind a proposal to create a White House Council on Boys to Men, describe a little bit about the motivation behind this effort.
Warren Farrell: The study and proposal to create a White House Council on Boys to Men was originally inspired in 2009 by a call from White House Boards and Commissions Director, Joanna Martin. Since my background included years of serving on the Board of Directors of the National Organization for Women in NYC, she was inquiring of my interest to advise the already-formed White House Council on Women and Girls. I was delighted, but also suggested there was a need for a parallel council for boys and men. Since Martin handles commissions that are already created, she suggested I might do a proposal to that effect, and she’d help me direct it to the appropriate players at the White House.
This inspired me to appoint a multi-partisan group or “commission” of about 30 leading thinkers and practitioners. Together we spent 18 months debating and drafting the study and proposal to create a White House Council on Boys to Men.
Rahim Kanani: Why a White House Council, and why now?
Warren Farrell: The five different areas in which boys are in crisis—education; jobs; emotional health; physical health; and fatherlessness—are handled by different portions of the government. First, White House co-ordination creates the best possibility of avoiding different departments having program duplication and becoming territorial. Second, the best solutions are holistic ones; a Council located in any given department would be less holistic and more territorial.
Most important, a Council on boys and men parallel to the White House Council on Women and Girls would signal to the world that boys and men are facing problems, alert schools and parents as to the nature of these problems, and alert all the nation’s institutions to explore how attending to these problems might help our sons, daughters, families and nation.
Once boys’ and men’s challenges are clear, the question “why now” quickly becomes “why didn’t we see this sooner?” The answer? Virtually every society that survived did so by socializing its sons to be disposable. Disposable in war; disposable in work. We need warriors and volunteer firefighters so we label these men heroes. Men need the approval, and want to be eligible for marriage and fatherhood, so we all have a vested interest in not questioning this socialization for disposability. Thus men don’t speak up and women can’t hear what men don’t say. But exactly because men’s attitude toward their own problems remains “when the going gets tough, the tough get going,” and because few men realize that their façade of strength is their weakness, this outreach to the silent sex is all the more important.
Rahim Kanani: Explain a little bit about the proposal you and your team have drafted, and the kinds of actions recommended to move this issue forward.
Warren Farrell: Here is some depth about the five areas we find to be in crisis:
We find that boys are more medicated and less educated. They are considerably behind girls in reading and writing, motivation, grades, and standardized test scores. More boys are dropouts and expelled. In higher education males have gone from 61% of graduates to a projected 39% in 2019.
Among Hispanics and African-Americans, the male-female gap is greater. As for consequences, by his mid-30’s, the African-American boy who drops out of high school has a 60% chance of having spent time in prison.
As for recommended actions, a Council might explore include more male teachers; updated teacher education; boy-friendly teaching, testing and schools; and incentives for children having both parents.
Boys’ suicide rate goes from equal to girls’ prior to adolescence to five times girls’ between 20 and 24. Among the elderly, men over 85 have a suicide rate 1300% higher than their female peers. A Council might proffer such solutions as parent and professional education, communication and relationship-skill training, and encouraging mentoring and two-parent families.
With one out of three children in the U.S. living in father-absent homes, the Commission examined the potential benefits of more-involved dads to single mothers, and to our children’s emotional stability, academic achievement, social maturity, physical safety, and future marital success. It examines the possible impact of fathers on the reduction of social problems from poverty to unwed births and crime. It considers solutions ranging from examining the impact of paternity leave (e.g., in Sweden, 85% of fathers take paternity leave) to the potential of a male birth control pill; from legislation to create incentives for father involvement in unwed and divorced families to educating boys in school as to their value as future dads.
The Commission examines why the male-female life expectancy gap has grown from one year in 1920 to more than five years today. And why boys and men die earlier than girls and women from nine of the 10 leading causes of death.
The proposal cites the economic costs of neglecting boys and men’s health, from the cost of emergency room use, to the cost to women (e.g., half of elderly poor women were not poor before their husband’s death).
The Commission applauds the progress of the many federal offices of women’s health, and suggests parallel offices for boys and men’s health. Their mission might range from boys’ physical health (e.g., testicular cancer; safer football) to male emotional health (e.g., military men’s transition home).
One of every five men 25 to 54 is not working. Half of African-American young men ages 20-24 are jobless. The areas of future job growth (e.g., health; education) are areas our daughters are preparing for; the areas for which uneducated boys have typically found jobs (e.g., manufacturing; agriculture; construction) are in decline. And the mostly-male jobs requiring more education are being outsourced overseas.
A White House Council on Boys to Men would examine the potential for restoring vocation to education, and for developing our sons’ (and daughters’) skills to match employers’ future needs. It can expand the concept of a “man’s work;” and study other countries’ successes. And when men do work, it can recommend ways to increase safety (92% of workplace deaths are men).
In conclusion, respected publications such as The Atlantic have seen the symptoms and predict “The End of Men.” If the symptoms are ignored, and our sons see the “end of men” as their future, they will have little inspiration for life’s journey.
Solutions may need to go beyond more fathers, mentors and male teachers. They may require a fundamental reconsideration of what it means to be a man. In the past, we taught our sons to consider themselves “real men” if they did what was healthy for society’s survival—whether to risk death in war, or to build a railroad. Calling our sons heroes if they risked being disposable was often healthy for the society, but it is unhealthy for our sons.
The Council can provide leadership to sustain the respect for firefighters and soldiers that allows us to recruit protectors for our homes and country, even as we also encourage alternative paths to becoming a valued man. Leadership for the future must both question and honor traditional masculinity.
As our history of male-as-sole-breadwinner fades as downsizing and outsourcing burgeon, both sexes will need to be prepared to raise money and raise children. Our daughters have learned to do both; our sons have not.
A White House Council on Boys to Men can co-ordinate the nation’s best efforts to parent, mentor, and teach each of our sons to discover who he is. It can end the era of boys and men as a national afterthought. It can provide leadership to raise young men that our daughters are proud to love.
Rahim Kanani: What are a few poignant example of the crisis facing our youth today?
Warren Farrell: I think the increase in suicide is the most poignant: The more boys’ advance through adolescence, the more their suicide rate increases relative to girls’:
• prior to age nine, boys and girls commit suicide at equal rates.
• from ages 10 to 14, boys’ rate is twice as high;
• from 15 to 19, four times as high; and
• from 20 to 24, more than five times as high.
In brief, the more a boy is exposed to the pressures of the male role, the more he is likely to commit suicide.
Rahim Kanani: Where does the proposal stand now, and what needs to happen next?
Warren Farrell: It is now in with the Office of Public Engagement—the Office that handles the White House Council on Women and Girls. Also, two of our Commission members, Jennifer Granholm, the Governor of Michigan from 2003-2011, and Willie Iles, the director of Government Relations for the Boy Scouts (which has officially endorsed the proposal) have given it to Arne Duncan to study since he is so respected for taking it a holistic and global approach to the growth of our children.
What needs to happen next is for President Obama to issue an Executive Order to create a White House Council on Boys to Men, parallel to his already-created White House Council on Women and Girls.
To read previous interviews I conducted with Valerie Jarrett, Chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls and Senior Advisor to President Obama, please click here and here.
Rahim Kanani is a writer, advocate, strategist and entrepreneur for global social change. His articles, opinions, and interviews with global leaders can be found at www.rahimkanani.com.