On Of Boys and Men

Olasky Books April 2023 Subscribe to Olasky Books

After half a century of helping girls and women to be all they can be professionally, maybe it’s time to see what’s happening to boys and men. Richard Reeves points out in Of Boys and Men (Brookings, 2022) that “the modern male is struggling.” He then explains “why it matters, and what to do about it.”

Reeves shows that one aspect is biological: “Boys’ brains develop more slowly,” so at every level of education females are now doing better than males. Reeves asks, “When almost one in four boys (23%) is categorized as having a ‘developmental disability,’ it is fair to wonder if it is educational institutions, rather than the boys, that are not functioning properly.” Two simple helps: Start boys in school a year later and drop the “go-to-college obsession” so boys not academically inclined can learn a trade.

The first could be easy to achieve, the second (given issues of cultural prestige) is harder, but money may talk: Plumbers, electricians, and others are needed, and up-close-and-personal repair jobs cannot be handled by people ten thousand miles away. The question of manufacturing employment is more complicated, but “a one-two punch of automation and free trade” has left many men reeling. The first punch was probably inevitable but the second was not. I’d say it made sense at suite-level but not at street level to let poorer countries grab manufacturing: That left a lot of brawny guys with little to do but drug or drink themselves to death.

A loss of jobs comes with a loss of male bread-winning status: “Governments increasingly see their role as supporting women raising children, in part so that they are not trapped in a dependent relationship with a man.” The emphasis on reducing dependence is troubling: Men and women should depend on each other, and we need to reemphasize the importance of marriage not only in individual happiness but in raising the next generation. The absence of fathers particularly hurts boys, so this is a trend hard but essential to reverse.

Can public policy and taxation preference marriage over single parenthood? How could that work with fighting poverty that is particularly rampant among households without dads? Reeves stops short of fully facing the political and cultural problem, but his book is a good start upon which groups like the Institute for Family Studies can build. There’s nothing inevitable about cultural collapse.

Nor is there anything inevitable about churches and other Christian organizations failing those who trusted leaders. Bully Pulpit: Confronting the Problem of Spiritual Abuse in the Church (Zondervan, 2022) deserves careful reading by both pastors and Christian nonprofit execs. Author Michael Kruger, president of Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, shows how spiritual abuse is even deadlier than other kinds because its victims have often sacrificed much for organizations they see as quasi-families: “abuse within a trusted relationship is significantly more traumatic than abuse by a stranger.”

Ten days from now is the official publishing date for Jon Ward’s Testimony: Inside the Evangelical Movement That Failed a Generation (Brazos, 2023). Ward, a Zenger Prize winner who grew up in a devout but sometimes legalistic home, has learned that threats come from both ends of the political and theological spectrum: “Twenty years ago, I thought that the biggest threats to truth were postmodern relativism and godless liberals. Today, to my shock, my own tribe of Christians has taken a battering ram to truth.”

But what is the truth? Major Garrett and David Becker defend liberal democracy in The Big Truth (Diversion, 2022), which looks back to the 2020 election and forward to 2024. Truth Changes Everything by Jeff Myers (Baker, 2022) shows how Jesus followers upset apple carts. Defenders of small government and neighborhood apple-selling make a lively case in Localism in the Mass Age (Front Porch Republic Books, 2018), edited by Mark Mitchell and Jason Peters.

Worth noting: Trevin Wax’s The Thrill of Orthodoxy: Rediscovering the Adventure of Christian Faith (IVP, 2022) is an excellent overview of how churches can be both hospitals for sinners and schools for saints. David Marshall’s The Case for Aslan: Evidence for Jesus in the Land of Narnia (DeWard, 2022) is a useful help to parents who use C.S. Lewis’s seven children’s novels for bedtime stories, as I did with each of the four Olasky boys.

Marvin Olasky

Senior Fellow, Center for Science and Culture
Marvin Olasky is a Senior Fellow with Discovery Institute and its Center for Science and Culture. He taught at The University of Texas at Austin from 1983 to 2008 and edited WORLD magazine from 1992 through 2021. He is the author of 28 books including Fighting for Liberty and Virtue and The Tragedy of American Compassion.