This is a long, overdue reading of this book, because I kept pushing past it. At this point, the Boy Crisis is too important to not be discussed.
This book is about the problems that face boys, which have been the roots of many problems in contemporary society. The plot is quite executed well, since it slowly descends from the macrocosm to the microcosm of masculinity’s place in America.
What makes his ethos interesting is how he used to be one of the most prominent feminists in America. In the book, he talks about meeting prominent feminists like Margaret Mead and Gloria Steinem in his slow progress in understanding how the male gender has individualized issues different from those of the female gender. It was only until he started looking at the data and the statistics that he came to the conclusion that men have pressing obligations of their own that are being ignored.
Farrell makes use of statistics in order to back up the assertion that boys and men do have a rough patch handed to them. He also makes the point about the cumulative cost that comes when boys grow up without fathers, which is the trillions of dollars spent on Homeland Security, prisons, police officers, and other broken-window solutions to a deeply rooted problem.
Farrell is also persuasive in noting that when boys do not have a father figure in their life, they look for one to provide them guidance. Unfortunately, for many father-deprived boys, they will see a father figure within a white supremacist, a gang leader, or an ISIS recruiter. They will also see a father figure in a Catholic priest who ends up sexually abusing them. When they can find no father figure to guide them, they guide themselves into nihilism, which is how they turn into mass shooters. This was the case with plenty of mass shooters who were raised in a single-mother household.
As for the reconciliation between father and family, Farrell suggests that it involves understanding that fathers typically do not choose to stay away from their families when they are working. He noted the Catch-22, which was that the more the father cares about the family, the more he works. The reason being that by working extra hours or traveling to business meetings, it involves more money, therefore more security for the family. Of course, this is how men are stuck in their traditional male roles, whereas mothers always have the option to become either a breadwinner or stay-at-home.
Although, I do have issue with the root cause of the boy crisis, which is the lack of boundary enforcement by the father. If there is an economic disadvantage for dad-deprived boys, then society around them already acts as a boundary to that child when his mother cannot. That dad-deprived boy has probably been told “No” more times than he can count, with such examples as:
“No, you can’t hang out with your friends at the pizzeria. We need the car and the gas money to pick up your sister.”
“No, you can’t get that for Christmas, because we don’t have the money.”
“No, you can’t take that college-credit course because I need to bring you there and it conflicts with my job schedule.”
“No, I can’t help you drive to get your driver’s license, because we all work.”
“No! No! No!”
Society and his mother already impose boundaries–ones that keep constricting and constricting as the boy gets older. Mothers may typically impose boundaries, but SOCIETY enforces the boundaries when a father cannot.
Another problem for dad-deprived boys is the numerous health, mental, moral, and existential issues that come with a lack of an effective father figure. It turns out that fathers in healthy relationships with their own children involve a lot of interaction. When the father is not present from birth, this results in the child having a decreased life span, decreased attention span, and a lack of empathy.
Of course, Farrell does note the exceptions, since not all boys are raised by heterosexual parents. When it comes to homosexual parents, boys can have a healthy relationship with them and society, so long as they are in a stable, functioning relationship. In essence, it is the same as heterosexual parents. Farrell introduces intersectionality when dealing with the boy crisis. One intersectionality is between race and gender, citing the fact that African-Americans have statistical disadvantages placed upon them, especially African-American men. He argued that addressing the boy crisis would complement the fixing of racial inequality.
The alienation that dad-deprived boy feels in his own household and society as a whole contributes to his purpose void. Basically, when the young boy does not have guidance from his father, he will look to guidance from the rest of society. Of course, society will reward him with social bribes by bequeathing upon him arduous tasks, such as risking concussions in football or enlisting in the army, in order to earn some measure of social credibility.
Within the context that this was written, it was written a year after the #MeToo movement began. Farrell begins his book talking about a young slam poet who expressed shame at becoming a man. Indeed, Farrell encapsulates the collective shame that men have started to feel during that time.
This also makes me think about the life of El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz–otherwise known as Malcolm X. He was raised in a single-parent household after his father was killed by a white supremacist group. As a result, Shabazz had to grow up a lot faster by taking care of his younger siblings next to his mother; at the same time, the stress caused his mother to be institutionalized and he was frequently getting in trouble. When being failed by the only white people he trusted in his early life, who were his teachers who told him he could not possibly become a lawyer, he turned to a life of crime as a hustler in Harlem. He would eventually find a father figure within Elijah Muhammad, head of the black nationalist group the Nation of Islam, however he would eventually lose favor with him on the accounts of hypocrisy and abuse of power. When embarking on the Hajj, he met Muslims of many colors and nations, which softened his racist beliefs.
The story of Malcolm X is the story of every single angry, young man in a single-mother household. All of the statistical disadvantages that Farrell noted were experienced by him. What ultimately brought him to the path of stability was his Hajj, where he was embraced by many people from all over the world as part of a religion-family.
While Farrell’s book fits within the non-fiction genre, the fiction genre can definitely be the realm where these concepts are played out in cathartic expression.
I recall the lyrics to the Metallica song Hero of the Day:
They’re off to find the hero of the day
But what if they should fall by someone’s wicked way?
Indeed, there are plenty of “heroes-of-the-day” who will use their wicked ways to exploit lost, young men.
The statistic pitfalls of dad-deprived boys makes me think about that film American History X, when Derek Vinyard–played by Edward Norton–goes down the path of white supremacy through a local white supremacist leader named Cameron Alexander after his father was killed while on the job as a firefighter. The film highlights how hatred is a perpetual cycle, which of course is rooted in the lack of an compelling father figure. Murray unfortunately was not effective enough to out-father Alexander while Sweeney was more so. Although Derek’s father was the one who originally instilled racist beliefs within him, it was Alexander who ultimately turned him into a white supremacist.
In many ways, the film is about three figures trying to win over the next generation in an otherwise indifferent society. Those three figures being Murray, Principal Sweeney, and Alexander. In some ways, Derek himself can be included within those figures, since his younger bother Danny is following in his footsteps and the whole plot involves Derek trying to take Danny out of that life by acting as a father figure himself. It was a theme that I noticed long before reading this book. Of course, the film mostly revolves around Derek, but there is that interpretation that can be seen with this film.
Connecting To The Previous Book
How do I connect the crisis affecting future generations of men with a book about the mysteries of New Jersey?
Well, this might play into the purpose void. How can that void be filled involving New Jersey mysteries? Perhaps a way to find that purpose is to first fill the void. Perhaps, for any young, male New Jerseyan, it involves identifying oneself with the state of New Jersey and its mysteries. Perhaps, he would share commonalities with the archetype of the Jersey Devil–brashly independent, adaptable, unstoppable, straddling between civilization and wilderness. It does not necessarily involve actually believing that the Jersey Devil or any of the mysteries exists. Instead of viewing them the same as icons and clay fetishes, they should be viewed as supporters of a coat-of-arms or the animal on a sigil; like how the Starks are represented by the direwolf and the Lannisters are represented by the lion.
If no man can provide a clear guidance, perhaps the archetypes within one’s own mind can provide some sort of guidance. Possessing the invincibility and zone-straddling that the Jersey Devil may involve endeavoring to master ones own fears of the unknown or the future. The possibilities would be endless if you can make them endless.
This does sound like something Jordan Peterson would write about in Maps in Meaning, though I have yet to read his writings or his inspiration Carl Jung. Though, it does lean in that direction.
Farrell has a poetic way of writing which resonates throughout this book which play upon syntax and alliteration. He also has the tendency to subvert common sayings and adages in order to make his points. This does make it easier to understand from a semantic viewpoint.
In order to illustrate the statistical and scientific points that he makes, Farrell includes anecdotal and fictional relationships that match the statistics. Normally, anecdotes would not be substantial in themselves, however they simply tell statistical data in narrative form.
The boy crisis should not be a political topic–let alone one that is monopolized by the right-wing. When those boys have issues and become men, those men carry their issues with them into adulthood; and when men have issues, everyone has issues by default. There might be politicians who talk about the plight of men, but they may only do so cynically; and instead of addressing their real-world problems, they give them boogeymen and scapegoats to make as targets.
Society needs to break the monopoly.
A way to do that is for everyone to understand the noticeable red flags when it comes to the mass shootings, terrorism, violence, and abuse that goes on around the world. It is not enough to deal with the problem with prisons and defense spending, rather there needs to be more. That includes taking preventive measures.
Being raised without a father means that the boy becomes the bully or the bullied; as the abuser or the abused.
What is also interesting about Warren Farrell is that he typically appears on right-wing outlets, in spite of the fact that Farrell is himself left-wing, as he made perfectly clear in this book. A thing to keep in mind to all the conservatives who read this, who have sons who are struggling to launch, is that you have a powder keg waiting to explode. If you do nothing to help him, or spend more of your time complaining about things that are beyond your control than your son’s problems which are under your control, you do nothing to make this world less of a dark, unsafe place.
As for boys trying to attract the opposite gender, they should learn that the girl a boy likes fits into one of two categories:
- She either has a boyfriend
- She already has many boys vying after her.
Many times, the pursuits are simply a waste of accumulated time, since there is always a chance that the girl may never reciprocate. Boys should learn to focus on their own priorities and not the priorities of someone who does not feel the same way they themselves do.
As for the slam poet’s concerns about being a man during the #MeToo movement, I think that it is important for him and many other men to note that when you think about Harvey Weinstein, Prince Andrew, R. Kelly, Roger Ailes, and all of these men who have done these things–they belong to a small minority of powerful men who were able to do those things within tiny, insulated environments and get away with it. They were willing to sully their own demographic into perpetual guilt, shame, disgust, and humiliation in order to placate their own selfish desires. If they genuinely cared about their fellow men, they would not have done what they did in the first place.
We should not let them dictate what it means to be a man and let next generations of men decide that. That is where Warren Farrell provides solutions.
Inspiration To Myself
Thinking about this for a while and putting my own identity as a man into question, I came to the conclusion that men should think of themselves as a gender independent of women. If feminism can preach this type of message to women, then men need to start thinking just like this. They need to ask the hard questions of:
“All of my success, is it to please a woman that I conceptualized in my own mind? Or is it for my own fulfillment?”
“Do I really need a woman in my life, or should I wait?
“Do I really need a family, or should I wait?”
The only way to fix the boy crisis is to make sure that the next generations of boys start actually prioritizing their own best interests before they make any decisions in their adult life. They should stop caring what girls, the popular kids, or rich kids think, since none of them are oracles who can tell the future; and the fact that they are just as lost as the “weird boys.” Children carry lessons they have been taught into adulthood, so it is important to teach prioritization in order to adapt to this confusing, go-go world.
At the end of the day, success is really a form of adaptation–the same way an animal species adapts to an ecological niche. Humans are no different, with the only difference being that we have to adapt ourselves to the marketplace or the concrete jungle. Boys should be taught that prioritization should not involve exclusively the opposite gender, rather it should involve their own happiness and fulfillment. Maybe, the opposite gender will tag along, but there is no clear guarantee of that happening.
There are generations of lost boys who will need to read this in order to better understand their own plight.
Recommend This To…
- Every parent who is wondering why their own sons are failing to launch. I could say that I would recommend it to any parent of a son, however, I specifically want to recommend this to any parent of a failing son.
- Anyone who feels alienated by both political sides. In these polarizing times, there is that reassurance to be had that you are not alone in feeling alienated and left behind. Farrell did feel that way by his own left-wing constituents.
- “American History X (1998).” IMDB.
- “The Autobiography of Malcolm X: As Told To Alex Haley.” 1st Trade Edition. Ballatine Books. February 1992.
- Farrell, Warren. “The Boy Crisis: Why Our Boys Are Struggling and What We Can Do About It.” BenBella Books. 2018.
- Metallica. “Hero of the Day.” Load. 1996.
- Sanneh, Kelefa (March 5, 2018). “Jordan Peterson’s Gospel of Masculinity”. The New Yorker.
- Sceurman, Mark and Mark Moran. “Weird N.J.: Your Travel Guide to New Jersey’s Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets.” Sterling Publishing Co., Inc. 2005.