What now for men?

As readers may know, I have just been on vacation. On one sunny day in beautiful East Hampton, I was sitting on a street bench waiting for my companion (described in one comment by a reader of this blog as ‘my long-suffering wife’) and was watching a group of children who were playing on the pavement as they also waited. They were all probably around 8 to 10 years old. Two boys, rather big for their age, moved in on a rather pretty looking but smaller girl and started taunting her, calling her a ‘dwarf’ and pushing her once or twice. I was just contemplating whether I should intervene when the girl raised herself to her full (but not substantial) height, fixed her eyes on the boys in a steely gaze and said, ‘Imbeciles!’ I am certain the boys had no idea what the word meant, but they both suddenly backed off, looked sheepish, and sat down on the ground almost disoriented. I relaxed again. She didn’t need my help. In fact, what I had just witnessed seemed rather symbolic.

In a post I wrote about a year ago, I commented on the growing insecurity of men and asked what it might mean, in social terms. It is an ongoing issue, and today again we had confirmation of that in reports that girls are out-performing boys in Leaving Certificate results in almost all subjects. Nor is this a phenomenon typical for or unique to Ireland: similar trends are known to exist in the United Kingdom, the United States, India, Pakistan, and pretty much everywhere else.

Some commentators – wrongly, I believe – conclude that what this means is that the feminist agenda, or the policy to achieve equal opportunities for women, has gone too far and that men are now the disadvantaged. When we look at who occupies key positions of influence and power the picture is not much different from what it was 20 years ago; most corporate board rooms are overwhelmingly occupied by men, as are government ministries, religious prelatures, and so forth. The changes that have taken place have had their greatest effect at lower levels. But that is not to say that there isn’t a problem. It is clear that young males in particular are now disproportionately chronic under-achievers and as a result are often alienated from society; some of them drift into anti-social behaviour or worse, particularly in lower socio-economic groups.

There are a number of causes and so also a number of measures that should be taken. But one of the key reasons for this trend appears to be the lack of male role models for young boys in their formative years. Men are often not sufficiently visible in the home, as they are either excessively absent at work, or absent in bars and other such establishments. When children go to school, they will sometimes only ever experience women as teachers in their junior schools. These are trends we do need to take seriously and to try to reverse. Perhaps one place to start is to tackle student preferences regarding teacher training – we need to persuade more young men to think of a teaching career, so that there is a greater gender balance and more of a chance that boys will see that learning and intellectual achievement is not something peculiarly female and possibly ‘unmanly’. We need to do this urgently.

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8 Comments on “What now for men?”

  1. Vincent Says:

    If I may be forgiven for disagreeing with you. But on this I think you are very wrong. Male roll models, whether there or not are largely pointless, for by the time a boy takes notice the ship has already sailed. Nor are your examples for the Countries really that good for it points to what I believe is the problem.
    Boys learn in group settings and while they compete within that setting this happens only when everyone has achieved a level of competence. They hate with a passion once this situation has arrived, if they are forced to include boys younger, smaller or girls.
    The problem is that this naturally developed method is not transfered to the classroom, it used to be, but these days while they are within the class they are sole-traders. You can see this later, when one attends a seminar where no one and I mean none will speak.
    But in the earlier and more important period that collective eureka moment when a group of six boys figure out long-division is now replaced by accountant daddy showing junior the inns and outs, arriving at school to have his copy marked and then keeping his mouth shut about it.
    Think in terms of the men going out to kill a Lion they were never going to send in a 15 yo kid until he had seen someone older do the job properly.
    Years ago I remember watching a programme set in a Ivy league College, the Paper Chase I think it was called. Anyhow, what struck me was the group method of getting through the vast quantity of work.
    At a certain age or might be most ages of the male, they are happier in the Pelethon, rather that the didactic stupidity we have at the moment where there is an expectation that the Tour is completed in the same times, being king of the mountains, all the while peddling on his own.
    To my mind it is a blessed wonder that we ever attain the heights of World prominence give the teaching method in those early years.

  2. Vincent Says:

    Agus, teaching Irish to six kids sitting in a circle might stand some chance where they can chat to each other. Rather that at the moment to the teacher, where the poor kid lives in a state of permanent error and being corrected.

  3. Vincent Says:

    Grand job on the wireless.

  4. cormac Says:

    Re Leaving Cert results, is it possible the trend is real i.e. this is a phenomenon of nature not nurture? No-one suggests the male brain is identical to that of the female. Perhaps women are generally simply better at abstract subjects than men, and that this has only become apparent as discrimination in former times has disappeared?

    In short, is there not a real possibility that women are, in general, simply more intelligent than men, but this has been masked upto now? Might explain disinclination towards violence, emphasis on communication etc!

  5. Paul Says:

    I agree strongly with your suggestion of encouraging young men into professions such as teaching (and indeed nursing). The government has spent money on the WISE (Women Into Science and Engineering) programme; why not a parallel programme for Men Into Education and Healthcare…?

    In response to “nature vs nurture” mentioned in another post, the answer is probably “nature”. Evidence is strong that boys mature later than girls (16 year-old girls are often functionally adults while their male peers are more interested in playstations than physics). My experience in third level education is that by age 22 this difference has largely disappeared.

    However, the key selection point in our system is at 18, an age when girls have the academic edge.

    Solution? Perhaps boys should take the leaving a year or two later than girls or gender quotas are introduced for certain courses. Radical? Perhaps. But just think of what would happen if the balance were the other way around…

    • Jilly Says:

      Well, if history is anything to go by, if the balance were the other way around, we’d all wait a couple of hundred years, whilst assuming that the imbalance were entirely natural, before doing anything at all…

  6. shane brennan Says:

    You don’t need to be an Einstein or Joyce (ironically not great schoolboys either in their time.. late developers perhaps)to teach at primary or secondary or indeed third level ( in the case of the latter, no teaching skills whatever are required it seems!), but in Ireland traditionally you will need higher l. cert points for a place at training college than at most university humanities courses.

    I feel that both Boys and Girls wanting to be teachers at any level should at the very outset be assessed through interview and a series of very practical workshops where they and their future mentors can honestly ascertain ‘together’ whether they really possess the fundamental qualities so necessary to this career. These qualities should include ‘the ability to relax with large groups of younger people while also gaining their respect and attention’, also, an abiity to ‘simplify’ and ‘explain’ etc . Without these natural gifts of ‘intellect and personality combined’ (which can be seen in embryonic form evn at 18), some typical star leaving cert trainees will unfortunately (for them and their future pupils) become unhappy, frustrated and poor quality teachers in the years ahead. Others (many young men and young women too pehaps), unable, right now, to score highly enough in the dubious regurgitive test that is the leaving cert, and offered no chance to demonstate these more important intractive skill sets, will simply be excluded by our system from developing their natural and valuable teaching gifts.


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