lost boys

The War on Boys – and Men

15 April 2024

6.4 MINS

Who will stand up for men and boys?

In the increasingly toxic West, where its enemies are working overtime to deconstruct and delegitimise everything, we see casualties mounting. Certainly the core institutions of marriage and family have been taking a real beating, with everyone the loser: men, women, boys, girls.

I have spoken about all four groups often enough, but here I return to what can so routinely be ignored and neglected: the fate of males. The ‘war on toxic masculinity’ has been one of the more recent expressions – and justifications – for this. So pervasive and harmful has all this been, that those who seek to address it – people such as Jordan Peterson – are mobbed wherever they go.

Young men especially need to hear their messages and words of support. All they have heard for far too long is how bad they are, simply by default. How many lives have literally been saved by the talks of Peterson is an open question, but he is constantly inundated with reports from boys and young men saying they have been so very much helped by his words.

Here I want to look at one other author who has done much on this topic of late. Brenda Hafera of the American-based Heritage Foundation has penned a short article along with a 32-page research report on how males, at least in America, are faring – and it is not a very pretty picture.

Let me speak to each of her pieces. In an article published recently, she summarises the findings of the longer report. In both publications, she reminds us of key works which we would do well to revisit. We need to pull from our shelves and re-read such classic works as The War Against Boys: How Misguided Policies are Harming Our Young Men by Christina Hoff Sommers (Simon & Schuster, 2000) and The Boy Crisis: Why Our Boys are Struggling and What We Can Do About It by Warren Farrell and John Gray (BenBella Books, 2018).

Identity and Happiness

In her brief essay, she opens with these words:

“Many boys and men are struggling to flourish in their roles as sons, students, employees, and fathers, and to achieve the sense of purpose that comes from being rooted within marriages, communities, churches, and country. Much of the literature on the boy crisis contains impressive, even essential social science work that clearly demonstrates that boys and men are falling behind.”

After summarising some of her findings, she closes with these words:

For much of history, human beings have been most willing to give the last measure of their devotion for what truly provides identity: God, family, and country. Each of these encompasses the individual, pulling him out of himself and toward a life of sacrifice, responsibility, and devotion.

Expressive individualism is a stark deviation from the traditional understanding that freedom and virtue are intertwined. As articulated in the classic work Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life:

“influenced by modern psychological ideals, to be free is not simply to be left alone by others; it is also somehow to be your own person in the sense that you have defined who you are, decided for yourself what you want out of life, free as much as possible from the demands of conformity to family, friends, or community.”

Solutions to the boy crisis must counteract such messaging and ideas, putting forth a substantive view of marriage, revitalizing religious institutions, and honoring fatherhood and male mentorship as fundamental sources of meaning. They will re-establish a proper understanding of the human person and the ties between happiness and virtue.

Sadly, there are no silver bullet solutions to these issues. The devastation is far-reaching and multitudinous, and the work we have to do matches the price we have paid.

Let me turn to the research report and offer some highlights from it. It begins with these words:

Men and boys are struggling mentally, physically, academically, economically, and spiritually because of the absence of fathers, the failures of our education system and policies, and changes in both the job market and our culture.

Playing a key role behind the scenes is expressive individualism, a radical autonomy that replaces the embodied relational person, connected to family and human nature, with the isolated psychological self who constructs his or her own morality.

Solutions to the boy crisis must encourage relationships rather than personal license. They must repair the ties between inalienable rights and their accompanying duties, between happiness and virtue, and better situate the individual within the broader social matrices that truly shape him: God, family, and country.

Millions of boys and men in America are unmoored, if not lost. In both subtle and not-so-subtle ways, they are told they are unneeded. Boys find themselves in classrooms that seem designed to frustrate them. Single men live in their mom’s basements playing video games.

Those who marry become the dolt detached dad starring as the lead in “Everybody Loves Raymond”. Such caricatures are intended to be the stuff of comedy, but their tragic counterparts are the hillbilly elegy men south of Richmond who are “puttin’ themselves six feet in the ground / ’Cause all this damn country does is keep on kickin’ them down.”


Consider just two specific areas. While dads are considered by many today to be superfluous, or fully replaceable by other females, the research has long clearly stated otherwise. Simply think about the role dads provide when it comes to play:

While dads contribute in many ways to the raising of children, play is particularly important for childhood development because it “permits the young brain to remain flexible, enabling it to react to an immense variety of potential stimuli.”

Play begins when a baby is around six to nine months old. Think of the belly laugh that erupts from a toddler as dad throws his child up into the air, seemingly testing the bounds of safety but always maintaining control.

Not something to be treated as frivolous, play is essential to regulating and channeling impulses and learning the confines of the human body. The developmental benefits include “enhanced physical fitness and improved cognitive, emotional and social function.”

Strikingly, mammals “that are deprived of play won’t develop to their full capacity.” While it is essential for all children, by preschool, boys can be particularly active, aggressive, impulsive, demanding, and adventurous and have a tendency to dominate peers; play is a means of properly directing those instincts.

Through play, children are constantly testing and expanding their limits and overcoming challenges, often with dad’s encouragement. Play is a means of strengthening the bond between a father and child, and “fathers play a particularly important role in the development of children’s openness to the world.”

Fathers tend to play more actively with their children; spend more time proportionally than mothers do playing with their children; and — particularly for boys — become the playmate of choice as motor skills develop.

This is not to discount or diminish the role of mothers, but to highlight the balancing role of fathers for children…

One other topic worth noting: technology. She writes:

Not all screens are created equal. Some of the effects of screen time are problematic because of the content (like pornography and much of social media), but all screen time is detrimental insofar as it removes individuals from the real world. It promotes the expressive individualism tenet that we are disembodied selves.

The amount of time men not in the workforce are spending in front of screens is staggering. Non-working men spend an average of 5.5 hours per day watching television and movies. The allure of video games has increased as they have become more engaging and addictive. Hours spent in front of a screen are hours spent not engaging in another activity.

From 1981 to 1997, “time spent in any kind of play went down 16% overall, and much of the play had shifted to indoor activities, often involving a computer and no other children. This kind of play does not build physical strength and is not as effective at building psychological resilience or social competence.”

In the modern era, screen time also includes online pornography, which is having a disturbing and disquieting impact on our boys. Pornography use is so widespread that when one group of researchers sought to conduct a study of its effects, “they were unable to find enough men in their twenties who had not watched porn to form a control group.”

According to some, Gen Z boys are exposed on average at the age of nine, and the British Journal of School Nursing reports that “children under 10 now account for 22 percent of online porn consumption under 18.”

In her conclusion, Hafera offers some practical steps that can be taken to turn all this around:

The crisis of men and boys shows up at each stage of life: boyhood, adolescence, and adulthood. Dad deprivation is the primary cause, though education policies and economic shifts have contributed in exacerbating and unique ways. Men and boys are struggling mentally, physically, academically, economically, and spiritually.

The solutions to the boy crisis will be far-reaching and multitudinous, including policies that may not immediately seem obviously relevant to the boy crisis:

  • Promoting school choice and classical and civic education;
  • Disrupting the accreditation monopoly;
  • Reforming colleges and universities;
  • Increasing vocational and apprenticeship programs;
  • Invigorating mentorship and single-sex activities and spaces;
  • Renewing positive media portrayals and societal respect for men and fatherhood; and
  • Establishing and revisiting age-appropriate curtailments on technologies, drug policies, welfare and disability regulations, and family law.

Needless to say, all this is fully documented. All up, there are 116 endnotes found here. We can be thankful to folks like Hafera for keeping us up to date on the latest battlefronts in this regard. Very few are dealing with all this, so we need more champions like her.

As mentioned, there is of course also a major war on girls and women. Just think how the trans militants are working overtime to rid the world of women. But we need to fight these battles on all levels, and standing up for boys and men must also be high on our agenda.


Originally published at CultureWatch. Photo by cottonbro studio.

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  1. Hannah 15 April 2024 at 8:30 am - Reply

    This is so very heartbreaking. Trans are trying to eliminate gender, and feminists are trying to get revenge rather than equality. What results will be a generation of aimless or self hating men.

  2. Warwick Marsh 15 April 2024 at 10:56 am - Reply

    Thanks Bill for this powerful article!!!!

  3. Richard Jardine 16 April 2024 at 7:23 pm - Reply

    Thanks Bill.
    About 25 years ago I attended an evening “How to drug proof your children”. I think it was put on by Focus on the Family. The speaker said the number one thing fathers could do to drug proof their children was to be there, to be an engaged father for the children, especially boys who need a father figure. For single mothers raising boys find a father figure such as a sports club leader or coach, an uncle or someone who could stand in for the father.
    They pointed out that prisons are full of angry men who had no male role model in their lives. Either they never knew him or he was always at the pub or a workaholic or otherwise too busy or disinterested in their son.
    How things have changed in the past 25 years. There is so much more that is fighting against the future men of our society. We have failed the following generation miserably.
    Come on men. Stand for Christ. Be prepared to be the role model in the image of Christ who loved the church so much that he gave himself up for it. This is how men are to love their wives. (Ephesians 5:25) If men were loving their wives as Christ loved the church, what wife would not want to submit to them? Unfortunately the text about submission has been so misused and misquoted and many men have taken it as a licence to exercise domination rather than following the example of our Lord Jesus.

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