Boys are four times as likely to commit suicide than girls between the ages of 15 and 19. They’re also significantly more likely to drop out of school, become homeless, and end up in prison, says Dr. Warren Farrell.
Yet, President Joe Biden’s newly established Gender Policy Council focuses only on the problems faced by females and completely ignores the problems faced by men and boys, like absent fatherhood—the single biggest predictor of suicide, says Dr. Farrell.
Dr. Farrell has been researching and writing about gender issues since the 1960s. As a longtime feminist and the only man to be elected three times to the Board of Directors of the National Organization for Women in New York City, he has become an unlikely critic of the Gender Policy Council.
This is American Thought Leaders, and I’m Jan Jekielek.
Jan Jekielek: Dr. Warren Farrell, such a pleasure to have you back on American Thought Leaders.
Dr. Warren Farrell: I loved your last interview so I’m really looking very forward to this one.
Mr. Jekielek: It was a great interview. I remember it well. It’s almost two years ago that we did that. It’s quite incredible how time passes. I saw this new op-ed, it’s not that new now, it’s perhaps three weeks old, and it just struck me that you are a very unlikely critic of a Gender Policy Council. How did this all come about?
Dr. Farrell: Yes, unlikely critic because I was on the board of directors of the National Organization for Women in New York City. So one would think that, therefore, anything that was focused on women and girls, I would be a very strong supporter of. The White House Gender Policy Council, which was signed into an executive order this week, the theoretical stated goal, by virtue of it being called a White House Gender Policy Council, would be presumably to help both genders in areas where they’re having problems.
But the Gender Policy Council’s mission is to focus only on women and girls; its second mission is for racial justice. So for me, if you were to ask your children, five-year-olds, if you say, “Are there boys?” “Yes, of course, mommy, there’s boys.” “Are there girls?” “Yes, of course, mommy, there’s girls.” “So what are there? Just girls or just boys?” “There’s both, mommy. What’s the matter with you?” Your five, six-year-olds notice. President Biden apparently doesn’t though.
He does, of course, but he feels that the only people that have issues that are worth paying attention to on a policy level are women and girls, and this leaves out the entire black male population.
If you go to any city and you look at the homeless population, a very high percentage will be black males. The prison population, a very high percentage will be black males. What we’ve known since 1965, the year of the Moynihan Report, is that the black male population is not a problem in the inner city doing crime because of being black. But rather, it was that 25 percent of the black male population was raised in fatherless families that were, what I call, “dad deprived.” That was the portion of the black population that was committing the crimes and selling the drugs and joining the gangs.
Now, in the Caucasian population, the percentage of children who are raised without that dad involvement is higher, 32 percent now, than it was in 1965 when the Moynihan Report came out, and it was 25 percent. In the black population, fatherlessness is now double what it was then: 25 percent to 50 percent, so you can get some idea of what President Biden is leaving out.
If he doesn’t attend to the importance of fathers and the importance of families, he is basically helping to create the crimes that he will then be cleaning up, the mental health problems that he will then be cleaning up, and the fastest way to a big government is to eliminate that and make the government into a substitute husband.
So I just was shocked that a man who talks about division and unity and diversity and inclusion and equity, would leave out boys and men, both in the black community, and the white community, [and] the Hispanic community, and the LGBTQ community. You’re not protected by the Gender Policy Council if you’re an LGBTQ male, just female. You’re not protected if you’re a black person, if you’re male, just if you’re female.
That is such a travesty. This is not what I joined the National Organization for Women for. I joined it for genuine equality, to free both sexes from the rigid roles of the past to more flexible roles for their future. I really feel deeply sad. It’s like helping to raise a child—everybody I loved and cared for was a feminist—and seeing that child turned toxic and then say that they’re a victim, even as they are blaming other people and neglecting other people.
Mr. Jekielek: When we interviewed last time, we were talking about your book, “The Boy Crisis.” Maybe you can actually explain again for the benefit of our audiences. It’s not necessarily obvious based on the readily available information or the information that’s broadcast through our media and society that there is a boy crisis. So what is that exactly and why is it black men that are disproportionately affected?
Dr. Farrell: First, when I first started the research for “The Boy Crisis,” I assumed it was mostly in the United States. I eventually found out from you and the United Nations studies that in all 53 of the largest developed nations, boys are falling behind girls in every academic subject but especially in reading and writing, and reading and writing among academic subjects are the two biggest predictors of success or failure.
I saw this which surprised me, and I said, “Why is it in the developed nations?” I’ll come back to that in a moment as to why, but then I started looking [at how] the boys are doing badly in school. This has more implications than just school. So I then saw that boys were far more likely to drop out of school, and that the boys who dropped out of school were more than 20 percent likely to be unemployed in their 20s, which is at five times the unemployment rate pre-COVID that was normal.
I started looking at one factor after the other, then started looking at suicide rates, and saw that suicide rates were much higher among boys and girls. So for example, when boys and girls are 9, they commit suicide very rarely and equally to each other. Between the ages of 10 and 14, I saw that they committed suicide twice as often as girls. Between the ages of 15 and 19, they committed suicide four times as often as girls. And between the ages of 20 and 25, they committed suicide five times as often as girls. I would eventually find out that suicide—the single biggest cause predictor of suicide was being raised without a dad.
I then started looking at other issues like crime and prisons. I had run for governor some years ago. I was speaking to prison populations, [and] one of the questions I would ask the prison populations is, “How many of you were raised with an actively involved father?” Usually, about three or four percent of the hands of the prisoners went up. “How many of you were raised with minimal or no father involvement?” The hands flooded.
Then I would talk with the prisoners about what it is that fathers bring to the parenting process that is so important, and I would explain things like boundary enforcement that leads to postpone gratification. And I gave these explanations as to what is the value, the positive value, I would explain to the prisoners, of roughhousing: how does roughhousing produce intimacy and empathy rather, and the ability to make a decision between being assertive and aggressive.
And I had prisoners with tattoos, with rings in their ears, muscles that I’ll never have, come up to me afterward and say, “Dr. Farrell, can I talk to you for a moment?” and they pulled me aside, and their tears would start coming out of their eyes, saying, “I thought I was always a waste. I thought I just deserve to spend my life in prison. For the first time in my life, I’m feeling needed. I’m feeling like I need to get out of prison, get back to my children, and help them have the skill sets to not make the mistakes that I made.”
I began to see what happens when you tell men that they are needed. Through every World War, men were willing to go and fight so we wouldn’t all be under Nazi rule, and be willing to die, and be willing to be disposable as part of their male obligation. Now, when you tell men they’re needed, they come forward, but we are not telling men today that they’re needed.
We’re telling men that they’re full of male privilege, that they’re the oppressors, that they’re part of the patriarchy, and that the future is female. You send a 14, 15-year-old boy to school and you tell him the future is female, this doesn’t make him feel inspired to be involved in the world, and if you tell him that there’s no need for him as a father, that all fathers are jerks, this does not inspire him to be engaged as a dad.
Mr. Jekielek: Absolutely fascinating. We talked a little bit about this a couple of years back. It’s incredible to hear this again, and so one would expect and I’m beginning to see your concern about this new council given that this critical issue doesn’t seem to be addressed by society. So are there places in the country or are there programs in the country that are actually dealing with this, in your view, that perhaps the administration could learn from?
Dr. Farrell: Yes. A lot of faith-based communities are seeing how, when there’s a lack of dad involvement, there are problems. I remember speaking to a faith-based community in Bedford-Stuyvesant in New York, and it was a 100 percent black community. As I’m walking out, I turn around and I see a huge black image of Jesus, and then the minister got together with me and 28 boys that had been involved, four different men’s groups, boy’s groups.
As I talked to the boys, almost all of them had been in prison and almost all of them told me that they would still be doing the things that led to them being in prison if it wasn’t for their belief in God, and if it wasn’t for the ministry, and the way that the minister took each of them aside and paid attention to them each individually, in a sense, helped them become. Not only was God a father figure but the minister was a father figure.
Of those boys, only one of them out of the 28 had a significant amount of father involvement, and I just saw how important those faith based communities were to these boys that I then have looked at so many other dimensions of help.
There are fathers groups in the country and there’s a group called Boys to Men, a group called the ManKind Project, a group called Young Men’s Ultimate Weekend. These are groups that are really helping boys through rituals to help them make the transition to manhood. Others, Boys to Men in particular, are doing very good work with mentoring and now, I’ve been working with them.
It’s not just to help boys have a mentor, but the research shows that the best way to have a boy developed responsibly is to find a boy who’s younger than he is to mentor, that once a boy starts mentoring another boy, he has a reason to not take drugs, to not drink, to not be irresponsible, to do his homework, because he wants the boy who he’s mentoring to be proud of him. So he becomes like a mini parent.
We all know how once we have children, we go from being boys to men in many ways because we really start saying, “I have responsibilities now. I can’t just think of myself.” So I’m working with Boys to Men to develop more, to have each boy have somebody that he can be of help to.
By the way, if you’re a single mom listening to this, the most important single way that you can help your son and daughter is to get the biological father involved, and the easiest way to get the biological father involved is to understand what he contributes that balances out what you contribute. … On average, you’re more likely to be protective and nurturing and facilitative of your children’s gifts and talents. The dad is much more likely to be tough love, to enforce boundaries, to do things like the roughhousing that I was talking about before. Both of these have positive purposes.
When I did the research for the boy crisis, the children that I found that did the best have, what I call, checks and balance parenting, where the mother’s contributions are paid attention to and respected, and the dad’s contributions are paid attention to and respected, and the parents negotiate the difference. Mom wants the children not to climb too high on the tree in the backyard; dad says climbing the tree will be good for the child. It turns out that climbing the tree will be good for the child. However, if the child falls out of the tree at a high level and there’s nobody there to cushion the fall, that may be the end of the child.
So the balancing, the balance between, yes, the child can climb the tree faster and at a younger age than the mother is comfortable with, but maybe the dad needs to be under the tree, and maybe there are certain parts of the tree that should be out of bounds, and maybe the dad shouldn’t have his cell phone with him while he’s protecting the child. Then the child gets what the benefits of both are.
But if you can’t get the biological dad involved, then make sure you get your children involved in sports, not just team sports that are organized, that helps prepare them to be effective in a corporation, but also pick up team sports where they have to create their own rules, decide which friends they’re going to trust, which friends that they’re not going to trust, and also single sports where it takes just largely your effort like tennis or gymnastics to succeed at that sport. You have a team, but you’re contributing to the team largely through your own efforts. That’s what I call the liberal arts of sports. Get your children involved in all of those sports. They are very good for child development.
Get them involved in Boy Scouts, get them involved in boys clubs, get them involved in things where they’re helping other people. Make sure Thanksgiving isn’t about them and the family only, but make sure Thanksgiving and other days are days where they go out to the communities of poor people and see how they’re living and help them out. Give them food, have them contribute. The more you have your children contribute to others, the less self-centered they become.
Mr. Jekielek: That’s absolutely fascinating. And of course, these don’t need to be faith-based groups, right?
Dr. Farrell: Correct. Oh, absolutely not. But faith based groups too, are often helpful. Because when people don’t have a father, the belief in a father and a guiding force combined with a minister that isn’t just good at giving sermons, but is also good after he or she gives a sermon, and comes down and sees the gifts that your son has and spends time with him as an individual. And yes, it should be a male minister if it’s a son that is having some of the issues of the boy crisis.
Mr. Jekielek: That’s that’s really fascinating. I may have to play a bit of devil’s advocate here, but the other thing that struck me, as you were speaking, is that you describe the gender roles in a very traditional way. And in your mind, is that how it needs to be?
Dr. Farrell: Definitely not. Historically speaking, we had traditional gender roles. Women raised children, men raised money. Neither sex had freedom to be whoever they wanted to be. That was when we needed a very high percentage of males to be soldiers and to either risk being killed, or killing and being killed. So males had to forget about what they felt and what they wanted to be and who they were. They had to be willing to be disposable.
The essence of masculinity was to prepare yourself to be disposable, which is why feminist perspectives on that like men have male privilege—being disposable is not quite male privilege. But that was when we had a lot of very strong demand for large numbers of men to be willing to die in war, or to be the sole breadwinners. Now, women are sharing much more of that breadwinning burden. So men can be freer to do things that they love to do, as well as just things that they need to do.
So the ideal is that a father and a mother look at their children and discover what their natural personalities are, and then help them have the discipline to fulfill those natural personalities. Most of the time, men will be more likely to be certain things and women more likely others, but there’s a lot of fantastic potential for female engineers. There’s a lot of fantastic potential for men being full time dads.
A woman, for example, who wants to be what is called a “have-it-all-woman.” She wants to break through glass ceilings, she’s talented, she’s strong and she’s persevering. She needs to look for a man as a husband, who is a caring, nurturing man. But usually women who are successful look for men who are even more successful.
The problem is that there are two parents who are away from home becoming very successful and no one is really giving children the nurturance that they need. So reversing roles is something that we have the freedom to do for the first time in history. It can be very enhancing to both sexes. We have not a need for a women’s movement blaming men, and not a need for a men’s movement blaming women, we have a need for a gender liberation movement, freeing both sexes from the rigid roles of the past, for more flexible roles for our future.
Mr. Jekielek: Dr. Farrell, as you were speaking earlier, I was also reminded of something we discussed offline, which was in the previous administration, you had visited the White House to provide some guidance. You described a meeting to me which you had with someone from the Attorney General’s Office discussing the realities in women’s shelters. I’m wondering if you could actually speak to that. I thought it was very fascinating.
Dr. Farrell: Thank you. The White House invited me under the Trump administration to brief them on the findings from the boy crisis. The first thing I found is that there was no need to convince them of the importance of fathers or the importance of families. But they were very fascinated by the data as to what was creating the boy crisis? What were the causes? What were the solutions? What was the evidence for it?
One of the things that I was talking about when it came to solutions, was the importance of couples communication. I’ve been spending the last 30 years doing a lot of work on developing a method where couples could hear criticism from their partner without becoming defensive. Currently, what the women’s shelters are doing is saying to the women, “You need to not go back to that man, because once a man is violent, he will always be violent.”
I said, “This is the wrong message.” The message should be that you and your husband or boyfriend have had a conflict. How did that conflict arise? Usually, it arises because somebody says something that the other person feels is a criticism. The other person becomes defensive, and sidesteps and counterattacks. Then the other person counterattacks to the counterattack. And before you know it, somebody, either the woman or the man, and it’s equally as likely to be the woman as the man, reaches out and hits the other person. Then the hitting starts to escalate. Is that what your findings are?
The other people who had backgrounds in that area said “Yes, that is.” And so Katie Sullivan, who was at that time the principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General, said her previous role was to be supervising all the domestic violence facilities in the country.
She said, “I 100 percent agree with you, Warren, that is the best approach. I suggested that type of approach to these women’s shelters. But Warren, they were so ingrained with the feminist ideology that any man who ever hits, he’s the problem. If a woman hits a man, she has a reason for it. If he hits her, he’s violent forever. I could not break through. Here I was, the leading authority in the country, the person with the most legislative power, the most organizational power, and I could not break through this tightly woven ideology of the feminists who took care of these women’s shelters, whose belief system was there is no solution, except to stay away from that man, or to put a restraining order on him, that type of approach.”
That is such an exploitation of their victimhood, and it’s helping those women feel like victims, as opposed to having a method of communication with their partner, and also ultimately with their children that would serve them well for their life. So what I was feeling and what we were all understanding there at the White House, was we are not helping women. We are hurting women by doing this.
Mr. Jekielek: Dr. Farrell, presumably, this sort of policy is to prevent women from going back into abusive relationships. Isn’t there a danger in the situation you’re describing that you could be sending women back into abusive relationships?
Dr. Farrell: The woman does not have to go back into a relationship until she feels ready to do so. You have to remember two things. Women acknowledged nationwide that they are more likely to be the first ones to hit the man, then the man hits her [back]. Most abusive relationships are back and forth abusive, that is, both sexes say that they hit each other. But again, even the women acknowledged that they are the first ones to do the hitting. Not all the time, but about 50 to 55 to 60 percent of the time, depending on which study you look at.
These are studies done almost completely by women. Most of those women, to the feminist’s credit, are feminists who expected to find that the men were always the ones hitting the women. They were questioning the 150 studies’ findings that said that the women were more likely to hit. But they ended up finding that even when they interviewed the women with leading questions the women said, “Well, no, actually, I was the first one to hit him, but he provoked me because of this or that.”
So there’s really this enormous opportunity we have for both women and for men, to learn what is the dynamic that leads to that violence. No one marries somebody with a desire to beat them up and to be violent towards them. But the more they love somebody, the more vulnerable they are to being criticized by them. Anger is vulnerability’s mask. If somebody insults me on a plane and I don’t know that person, I don’t get angry—I just listen or tune into a book.
But if Liz, my wife, insults me and criticizes me, I feel deeply hurt, because I love her so much. I know to not get angry, but to create a safe space for her. With the work I do in couples communications, I’ve taught myself, as well as others, how to be able to create a safe space for things that she’s concerned about and meditate into an altered state, where I can fully support her to have a safe environment for doing that.
That is what we need to be teaching women and men. It doesn’t make any difference whether that couple is straight or gay. It doesn’t make any difference whether that couple is a father and child, or a mother and a child, or the child and the mother, two people who have a history together that tend to develop tension around issues that don’t get resolved very easily, that they could resolve by learning how to listen together—everybody needs this model. We should be teaching this from first, second, third grade on, as part of emotional skill development in every school.
That’s how we should be working with women centers around the country. In addition, women’s centers have really discriminated against women, because they’re saying to a woman, “You’re in a fight with a man, it’s you that has to go out of the house and leave.” Why not have the man go out of the house and leave? There should be equal numbers of women and men centers for temporary respite, and to teach the parents or the woman and man to be able to communicate better until they again feel safe.
Mr. Jekielek: So I’m very curious. If you were able to offer a prescription for how such a gender equality council would operate, or what kind of policy it would have, what would that look like?
Dr. Farrell: Yes, and I have talked to Jen Klein, the co-chair of the Gender Policy Council about this. She’s been very, let’s say, receptive and dismissive. Meaning that she said, “Oh, President Biden cares about men as much as women, and he’s been a great father.” I said, “Yes, and there needs to be policies that help boys and men that avert the boy crisis.” She’s expressed no interest in those policies, but here’s what some of them would look like.
First, would be to have this what I would call a father-warrior program, where we are talking about the importance of young men becoming fathers and making them into our new heroes. This requires emotional, intelligent development in males, rather than just repressing feelings. They should be able to express feelings and know how to facilitate feelings. They should have communication skills that they can bring to their peer relationships, and eventually to their romantic relationships, and eventually to their children.
Then second, there needs to be a teacher corps, a male teacher corps, to train young men to go into teaching in elementary schools. Today, 53 percent of women under 30 have children without being married. For the most part, those children either have no exposure to a father, or the average father exposure even among those where the parents live together is only for three years. So the children ultimately end up being dad-deprived. We need to have a program of a male teacher corps so that boys don’t go from a female-only home to a female-only school system.
Then we wonder why they’re vulnerable to being seduced into a gang as a form of family, or into selling drugs as a quick source of income, or being vulnerable to sexual abuse. If you watched the movie “Spotlight,” they talked about how the priests found boys that didn’t have fathers. Those were boys that had such a need for love that they were vulnerable to being victims. Hitler Youth sought out boys without fathers as ways of getting them on board.
Boys without father involvement don’t know how to channel their testosterone into being constructive. They tend to channel their testosterone into being destructive. So that type of male teacher corps would be another policy we need to have. We need to make sure we deal with the school system. Schools are very good at teaching and helping girls and women and boys to memorize certain things, and to think about certain things, but to sit.
But we know that boys develop best and are most receptive to learning by having a lot of physical activity mixed into it. We have been cutting back on physical activity and on recess. For multiple reasons, we need to re-install recess. We need to make sure that the school system is not only focused on kids going to college. Vocational education needs to return, because many boys feel that they aren’t natural academics. They need to be able to have training and something that they are doing.
We need to develop mentoring programs for boys, but also, as I was mentioning before, programs where boys can be mentors. The school system can help work with boys on being mentors, and finding mentors for them. We need to make sure that every family knows how to construct a family dinner night, so that the family dinner night does not become a family dinner nightmare. This family has to be seen as creating E Pluribus Unum, one from many. The way that we create one from many is for us to be working with families to know how to facilitate everybody’s perspectives on various topics.
If a boy feels like he wants to sell drugs, and this is really going to be great to have a fast way of earning money, he should be able to safely talk about that to his parents and his peers without being interrupted. His parents and peers and his sisters and brothers should be able to say, “So Jimmy, we understand you want to be able to sell drugs because you make a lot of money quick. Then you don’t have to worry about going to school and possibly failing. Is that right?” Jimmy needs to know he feels heard before he gets his parents perspective and his brothers and sisters perspective on why selling drugs might be not the best way to make money.
The reason that children talk so much on the phone to their peers, but don’t talk to their parents, especially during adolescence, is because they don’t feel that they’ll be heard by their parents without being interrupted and lectured first. So they close down, or they withdraw into video games. Are video games good? Yes, video games are good up to a point. But boys are far more likely to be addicted to video games than girls are. It’s the addiction to video games and the addiction to porn and the addiction to alcohol and drugs that are signs that our boys are not having fulfilment from what they’re doing.
We need to have postponed-gratification training and training to help men and women understand what do dads contribute? Why is boundary enforcement so important for children? Why is it that tough love is important? And why are the types of contributions that women make important? What does checks and balance parenting look like? All of this can be part of the policies of the Gender Policy Council. The result of that will be that women will find men who are worthy of their love.
Right now boys are dropping out of high school at a much higher rate. They’re unemployed at a much higher rate. They’re much more likely, 66 percent more likely to be living in their parents’ basement. I don’t know a lot of women who are looking for future fathers who are searching unemployment lines or the basement of parents of boys that have dropped out of high school. This is not the type of boy and future father that most women are looking for. We are hurting our daughters every time we are not paying equal attention to the problems that are leading to our sons committing suicide five times as often as our daughters are.
Mr. Jekielek: One thing that struck me as you were speaking, is that this warrior program that you were describing earlier might be susceptible to criticism—that it would foster something called toxic masculinity, for example. What would you say to that?
Dr. Farrell: Yes, to be a father-warrior is the opposite of what creates toxic masculinity. To be a father-warrior means that your job is to have emotional skills, social skills, ability to communicate, that you can use both with your peers, and also use in your romantic relationship, and also use as parents.
There is such a thing as toxic masculinity, but it comes about for the exact opposite reasons that feminists talk about. For example, historically speaking, every generation had its war, and we trained boys to be disposable in those wars. Now, if you’re going to be disposable in those wars, you get trained to be disposable by not being in touch with your feelings.
For example, let’s say you’re Jewish, and a sergeant makes some really gross anti-Semitic comment, and you are a boy in boot camp. You say, “Excuse me, sir, but I learned that’s a very anti-Semitic comment. The job of the sergeant is to say, “10 pushups.” You repeat that. “20 push ups.” You soon learn that the job of boot camp, the job of being in the army, is for you to be a voiceless cog in the war machine. People who speak up and express their feelings and say, “I feel offended by that, could you really change your language?” are stopping the war machine from working effectively.
So boys are trained to not be human beings, they’re trained to be human doings. They’re trained not to value their lives, but to be willing to prepare themselves to be disposable, in order to save the lives of women, children and other males. So yes, men developed from that, toxicities of having to repress their feelings, but those toxicities did not come from male privilege.
They came from the expectation that our men are here to protect us. Part of protecting us is to be disposable. We see this around us all the time. Firefighters are far more likely to be males willing to die at a fire to save your life, even the life of a stranger. In order to do that, you have to repress thinking about yourself.
Men who are successful, by and large, learn to repress their feelings, not to express their feelings. Now we need to say we’re in a new era where there has to be a balance between keeping your feelings to yourself and being able to express who you are. The Japanese millennials really understand this well.
They have a game called Karoshi. Karoshi translates in Japanese to “death at the desk, or death from overwork.” In the game of Karoshi, you each get a Karoshi figure. The job of the game is to climb the corporate ladder, or the ladder of political success as fast as possible and get to the top before any of the other people with Karoshi figures get to the top, and the person at the top commits suicide. Not in real life, but in the game.
And of course, the message that millennials in Japan are getting is that the traditional masculinity of just focusing on getting to the top no matter what is leaving out something. It is teaching you how to become a human doing. But in the process, you sacrifice being a human being. Their understanding of that says, “Basically, I’m committing suicide as a human being and I’ve created that by not paying attention to the things I really love.”
We have had many generations of what I call “the father’s Catch 22.” The father’s Catch 22 is learning to love your family by being away from the love of your family. So many men do things that disconnect them from love in order to serve the people that they love.
What feminists have done is to say, “Oh, you men earn more money than women do for the same work.” When in fact, it is not men who earn more money than women, until men and women become dads and moms and have children. Then dads tend to give up the things that they love to do that pay less, like being an artist or musician or elementary school teacher, to do things that they feel obligated to do, that will earn more money, that will give their children privileges and opportunities that they didn’t have themselves.
For men to do that is okay. Many men feel just fine about doing that. But the only thing they asked for is some acknowledging and some appreciation. Not when they do that to be told, “Aha, see, you’re more likely to be a corporate executive, you’re more likely to be a superintendent of schools, that proves you have male privilege. That’s what you’re in it for.”
Mr. Jekielek: You mentioned this idea of male privilege. You’ve mentioned that several times. What is the connection between the boy crisis and what we call it critical social justice ideology, or woke ideology or identity politics, in your mind?
Dr. Farrell: What’s been happening in the last 10, 15 years, especially on college campuses, there’s such sensitivity to nothing being said that could offend everybody. Woke cancel culture has been saying that white men, especially older white men, they’ve controlled the world. This is part of the patriarchy, that the world has been dominated by a patriarchy.
But the world in fact, has not been dominated by a patriarchy, it’s been dominated by the need to survive. And to survive, both sexes had rigid roles in the past. What we now have the freedom to do is to have more flexible roles for our future.
The belief of woke culture is that—in universities, for example, we should not have to listen to anything that might offend us. Those are called microaggressions. Microaggressions include even body language or tones of voice that might offend somebody else. I would like to say that the university should be exactly the opposite of that.
The university should be about free speech, and if that free speech offends you, you should be able to have the permission to speak up about why it offends you. And somebody else should have the permission and an encouragement to say why they said what they said and why they feel it is accurate. The very essence of the university should be A, free speech and B, curiosity, followed by curiosity, followed by curiosity.
When you hear something that upsets you, ask the person who’s saying it, “Tell me more about that.” Don’t interrupt them. Don’t distort what they say and argue with a distorted version of it. Ask them to tell you more. Like I was talking about before, a boy around the table who says, “I want to sell drugs.” The job of the parent, the job of a good communicator is—tell me more and find out what the motivations are and what the hurt is, what the pain is.
When someone is angry, we need to understand that almost always behind that anger is hurt and vulnerability. We need to access the vulnerability. When people write me angry letters about something in the boy crisis book or something in the myth of male power, I write back and say, “Yes, you must have experienced this way. Tell me more about that.” Their second letter has almost no anger in it. It’s like, “What? I’m being invited to elaborate?” Now an enormous softening occurs.
I have literally never had a second letter that had anger in it, but only like I am so honored to be able to be heard. Thank you so much for that. Then there’s a softer explanation of what they feel and fear. This is the atmosphere we need to be creating in our universities, one where curiosity and free speech is encouraged, no matter what it says. We need to be supportive of it at virtually every cost unless it’s directly an incitement to organize being violent. That’s where the boundary occurs.
Mr. Jekielek: Dr. Farrell, as we finish up, I want to talk about some of these different styles of parenting that you’ve been mentioning. For example, this idea of roughhousing, which is not necessarily obvious, or maybe counterintuitive in some cases, or certainly against some common orthodoxies. Also father style parenting and mother style parenting. Can you please elucidate on this for me?
Dr. Farrell: First of all, I want to make it clear that the children that do the best have what I call checks and balance parenting. But the male style of parenting is usually not respected because no one knows anything about it. Women can’t hear what dads don’t say, and dads can’t hear what isn’t in the literature, even if they read parenting magazines. There are no parenting magazines that talk about the value of roughhousing, the value of teasing, the value of letting kids get lost.
These are all things that dads intuitively do. But they don’t explain to anybody why they do it or what the positive functions are. So for example, a dad might say, “Let’s start roughhousing,” with the kids. Let’s say he has three kids and he throws the three kids on the couch, and he says, “Okay, the game is you three kids jump off the couch on my back, and you try to pin me down before I can pin all three of you down together.” “Okay, dad, that’s really great.”
And mom is looking on and going, “Oh, my God, I know what this is going to end in, it’s going to end in disaster. Somebody is going to get hurt. I swear somebody is going to get hurt, but I don’t want to be a controlling mom and the kids seem to be having fun. So OK, I’ll just sort of close my eyes and, and bear with it.” So they do that.
Eventually, the mom is about 99 percent likely to be right. Sooner or later somebody gets hurt and somebody starts crying. Then mom starts feeling guilty. “Oh, my God, I should have interfered sooner. But at least now he’s seeing that the kids are going to get hurt if they roughhouse and so now he’ll stop.” But instead, dad doesn’t stop, and he continues the roughhousing. But he says before he continues, “If you do that, again, I’m going to stop the roughhousing. Jimmy, if you stick your elbow in your sister’s eye, that’s not an okay way of winning at roughhousing. You’ve got to not do that. You can’t push your sister roughly out of the way like you just did.” “Okay, dad, I got it. I got it.”
Then dad goes back to doing the roughhousing with the kids. Mom is going, “Oh my God, he didn’t learn his lesson.” Then once again, somebody ends up crying or getting hurt. So then dad, instead of, “learning his lesson and stopping the roughhousing,” says, “Okay, no more roughhousing tonight. You did something that I asked you not to do. I gave you a clear explanation of it. No more roughhousing till tomorrow night.”
Mom is going, “What, you’re going to have roughhousing again, tomorrow night, you haven’t learned your lesson?” But the next night, when the dad says, “You can’t be aggressive like this, you have to think of your sister’s feelings, you have to have some empathy and not push her out of the circle of our wrestling so you can be the kingpin.” This time when dad says it, they know from the last night’s experience that if they don’t pay attention to their sisters’ and brothers’ needs, if they don’t pick up the distinction between being assertive versus aggressive, they’re going to lose what they want most, which is to continue the roughhousing and the playing and the laughter with their dad.
That’s when the dad has created an incentive for not just empathy and assertiveness versus aggressiveness, but also for postponed gratification. Immediate gratification is wanting to push the sister and younger brother out of the circle immediately to win. But postponed gratification is realizing that if I restrain from being insensitive, I am then going to get more of what I want, the fun of roughhousing and all of the kids can have this together. I have to pay attention to certain rules.
But dads don’t explain this to moms. And as I said, dads can’t read this anywhere. I found that when I was doing the research for “The Boy Crisis,” I had to be really explicit about these types of examples so that mothers could realize there’s value to your input, and there’s also value to what dads bring. But no one in the culture teaches the value of what dads bring.
One other example, teasing. The commerce of masculinity is the trading of wit-covered put-downs. As you and I get to know each other better and better, I would be comfortable trading a wit-covered put-down of you. You would be comfortable doing that with me. If we didn’t like each other, we would be very cautious. We wouldn’t trust each other with something like that.
In hazardous professions, as soon as a new firefighter joins the force, they will find a sort of weakness, a difference. Maybe he’s too tall, maybe he’s too short, maybe it’s too heavy, maybe he has a funny background, maybe he’s related to somebody else that gives him some type of privilege. They constantly tease each other to see if they can have a good natured laugh about being mocked and put down. Then the other men know that if they can handle the teasing, that they have somebody who’s a team player, not a prima donna.
The problem with that is that in the workplace today, men can do that with other men and men sense from other men that once other men start to do that to them, that they’re beginning to trust them, that they’re beginning to admit them to their club of being able to tease each other. But if a man does that at work to a woman and says, “Oh, your dress looks beautiful today. Looks like you wore that in the middle of the night,” the woman will feel like that’s a hostile environment that he’s creating.
So there’s this enormous gap between what men do when they respect somebody, and then they start feeling comfortable playing with them and teasing them. But women who haven’t been taught that this is what men do when they respect somebody end up feeling offended by that and they report it to HR—which is no longer HR, it’s now “HER” and they hear only her perspective on things and they begin to demote him or let him go as a result of doing that.
What we need to be doing in HR and for parents is to communicate with each other. What’s the best intent of men doing that teasing? Why do fathers tease their children? If they’re sensitive to their children, they tease their children, because teasing helps the children pick up nuances of what tone of voice is being critical. What tone of voice isn’t being critical?
Why would they tease them though and just not give the criticism? Because teasing has a lot of fun attached to it, and playfulness attached to it. Oftentimes, if it’s done well, the child can absorb the criticism like you’d absorb wheatgrass and a fruit smoothie. It’s easier to take if it comes with humor and laughter. So these nuances of knowing what is teasing, what isn’t, what are jokes, what aren’t, these are all part of dad’s gifts to children.
But if dads feel like they’re being criticized as being insensitive by teasing, then they back off from doing that. And they say, “The only thing I’m appreciated for is for earning more money, so I’ll back off from being involved with the children. I’m never appreciated for that.” To bring both parents equally into the family, both parents have to understand the best intent of the other’s parenting style, and negotiate a compromise that works for that particular child’s personality.
Both parents need to be heard about what does and doesn’t work. Tough love is very helpful for most children, but it can be not helpful for some children. And none of this is helpful if it goes too far. All this has as the ability to be a virtue, and every virtue taken to its extreme becomes a vice. So that’s the communication process that needs to be happening in every family.
These are just two of the nine differences in parenting styles between dads and moms that need to be part of a Gender Policy Council. It would be helping and training parents to understand these differences and helping negotiate them, and how to negotiate them in front of the children, so that children can be able to see that tension, properly processed, properly communicated, can lead to deeper solutions for the children. It does not have to lead to parents splitting up and danger and insecurity, but could lead to a deepening of wonderful parents and a deepening of love.
Mr. Jekielek: Absolutely fascinating. Dr. Farrell, any final thoughts?
Dr. Farrell: No, it’s just that it’s a pleasure to be asked and to be drawn out by you. You just ask great questions. You listen so well. I can feel that you care so deeply. For me, this has just been a very, very enjoyable experience.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, it’s such a pleasure to have you on.
Dr. Farrell: Thank you.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.