Is Sheryl Sandberg's 'Ban Bossy' Campaign Bad for Boys?

Is Sheryl Sandberg's 'Ban Bossy' Campaign Bad for Boys?

After days of discussing, researching, arguing, reading and thinking about Sheryl Sandberg’s 'Ban Bossy' campaign I have to admit, I’m exhausted. And confused, because the one question that keeps popping into my head is: what about the boys?

Oh no. I'm not actually going to defend men here, am I? After all, men are responsible for building a society that is inherently biased against women. They set that glass ceiling in place. Most men don’t even bother to join conversations about gender equality. They don’t need our help, or our sympathy.

Just look at the statistics presented by Stephanie Coontz, one of our nation’s leading experts on gender. Men still dominate in “the most important industries” (whatever that means), especially technology. They occupy most of the positions on lists like Forbes’ 400 richest Americans, and they make more money than women with similar skills and education. Women make up only 17% of Congress, 40% of management among full-time workers and 4% of Fortune 500 CEO’s.

Despite these numbers, a nagging worry persists in my mind, especially as I see campaigns like Sandberg's. The privilege once associated with being born male seems to be dissipating. Manufacturing jobs have moved abroad. Traditional blue-collar jobs are disappearing. The days of men forgoing college and still earning a comfortable living for their families are over.

Boys are being hit particularly hard in this new, more egalitarian environment. As educator Jessica Lahey states in the Atlantic, “[s]omething is rotten in the state of boys' education.” Here are some statistics she cites in her article, Stop Penalizing Boys for Not Being Able to Sit Still at School. They stand in stark contrast to Professor Coontz’s conclusions and indicate that trouble is looming:

- Boys are kept back in schools at twice the rate of girls

- Boys get expelled from preschool nearly five times more often than girls

- Boys are diagnosed with learning disorders and attention problems at nearly four times the rate of girls

- Boys do less homework and get a greater proportion of the low grades

- Boys are more likely to drop out of school, and make up only 43 percent of college students

- Boys are nearly three times as likely as girls to be diagnosed with Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

Wow. I had a feeling it was bad, but the disparity between girls' and boys' performance appears to be even worse than I had imagined. Is it possible that, in our quest to boost girls and women, we are inadvertently leaving boys and men behind?

Think about it. Women have effectively changed or are striving to change education at every level, all the way up to Harvard Business School. We have laws that protect us from discrimination in the workplace, though obviously we still have a ways to go before they're actually followed fairly and consistently (Hello, Bloomberg L.P.).

After becoming moms, we almost immediately consider how we will continue contributing to society. We push our daughters toward STEM-based studies. We engage in intense debates about bossiness vs. leadership. We have Mommy & Me groups and Girls Night Out. And we have Sheryl Sandberg and her ilk, telling us from their privileged perches to lean in.

What do men (and boys) have?

Not much. No support groups, no Dads Night Out. No church, synagogue, mosque, country club or community institution like the ones that once provided men with some sort of a social life. No whiling away the hours on Facebook. Heck, we barely let our fellas watch a Sunday football game or enjoy a round of golf. Being a guy today seems lonely, difficult and confusing.

Perhaps I shouldn’t care that men are being displaced. Perhaps it’s good for them to know what it feels like to be the underdog. Or the forgotten. But where, I wonder, will that ultimately lead us? To more boys on Adderall? To more isolated, unhappy young men on the news after another mass shooting? As I see the many obstacles males are facing, my greatest concern is that girls and women rising will lead, almost by default, to boys and men flailing.

I’m incredibly proud of the progress we ladies are making. And I know we still have a long way to go before we achieve true equality or can simply ride a bus without fear of rape or worse. But my trepidation over the future persists. Whatever progress girls and women make, we can’t leave boys and men behind. A great society is one in which everyone succeeds, regardless of whether we're male or female.

(photo credit: arztsamui/

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