Richard Reeves’ “Of Boys and Men”: A Review
“Some lose all mind and become soul, insane.
Some lose all soul and become mind, intellectual.
Some lose both and become accepted.”
— Charles Bukowski
“We need a prosocial masculinity for a postfeminist world,” writes Richard Reeves at the beginning of his book Of Boys and Men. A straightforward and sober assessment of why and how boys have been falling behind, Reeves examines how the modern workplace favors soft skills, which benefit women and discriminate against men.
Women are fifty percent more likely to get college degrees than men, and earn higher GPAs in high school than men, despite no average gap in standardized test scores. Men have been dropping out of the workforce as women have been joining, and are three times more likely to commit suicide than women.
Especially significant is the decline in male teachers. Studies suggest boys respond more positively to male teachers versus female teachers, but three out of four teachers from pre- through high school are women. Hiring more male teachers would bridge the male/female achievement gaps in grade school.
The book focuses on how boys fall behind their female counterparts in adolescence and have a hard time catching up. Reeves attributes this lag to the slower development of boys’ brains compared to girls’. “Boys’ brains develop more slowly, especially during the most critical years of secondary education,” he remarks. Reeves’ proposed solutions include delaying boy’s school entry by default; a thousand new technical high schools, doubling their share to fifteen percent of students; one million more apprenticeships; mass recruitment of male teachers, especially in English; subsidies for men entering health, education, administration and literacy (HEAL) training; and an equal six months paid leave for new fathers and mothers.
Two most common words used by boys before they committed suicide were “useless” and “worthless.” Why? In some sense it’s related to men’s declining performance relative to women and women’s subsequent untethering from “needing a man” as the institution of marriage evolved into a partnership of capital in the stewardship of children, but there’s more to it than that.
Reeves offers a ten-thousand-foot view of the struggles of boys and men with graphs and stats, which allows him to maintain his distance from the issue at hand. To Reeves, these stats can be adjusted through new policies.
I’m reminded of C.S. Lewis’ remark in The Abolition of Man that the “men without chests” are not marked by their excess of reason or thought, but by their lack of “fertile and generous emotion.” Lewis writes: “We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.”
We demand “prosocial masculinity” and castrate men in the process. And there’s no better example of this than in the contemporary institution of marriage. Feminism effectively pitted the interests of women against the interests of men in the cause of women’s liberation. In the process, it turned marriage into what Reeves calls a “social choice rather than an economic necessity.”
As women have gained economic power, their standards have also risen. Charlie Daniels described the old world best when he sang: “A poor girl wants to marry, and a rich girl wants to flirt.” In those days the only way for a poor girl to advance socially was to marry up, but rich girls could afford to be less concerned about marriage as a means to social advancement and had a harder time anyway meeting men who matched expectations.
A study of dating apps reveals that women are 91 percent more likely to “like” a man with a master’s degree compared to one with just a bachelor’s. Men, by comparison, are only 8 percent more likely to “like” a woman with a master’s degree, compared with a bachelor’s degree. Meanwhile a recently released report from the Council of Graduate Schools showed that for every 100 men who earn a master’s degree, 134 women earn one. For bachelor’s degrees the ratio is 100 men for every 130 women.
The same statistics hold regarding income: an average woman is much less likely to date or marry a man who makes less than she does. We’re left with here is a surplus of women chasing a deficit of men, particularly in the upper ranks of higher education where the most fertile ground for feminism is found.
In environments where men are more numerous than women, relationships are more likely to proliferate. These environments tend to emphasize courtship and romance as more men are competing for fewer women. Although these environments tend to cast women into more traditional roles, they offer women greater choice in terms of choosing a potential partner. By contrast, environments in which women outnumber men tend to generate more casual sexual relationships on the one hand, and energize feminist movements on the other.
As author Marcia Guttentag puts it in Too Many Women? “with a surplus of women, sexual freedoms are more advantageous to men than to women. Decreased willingness to commit oneself to an exclusive relationship with one woman is consistent with that fact. It follows further that the persistence of such circumstances would leave many women hurt and angry. Other women, not themselves without a man, would nevertheless often be aware of the unfortunate experiences of their women friends in relations with men. These circumstances should impel women to seek more power, and incidentally, turn them towards meeting their own needs. Most forms of feminism are directed to just such ends.”
It shouldn’t be too surprising that on college campuses, where women now considerably outnumber men, feminism has taken such a stronghold and that as men recognize their value as breadwinners no longer has as much appeal as it used to, they seek new ways to appeal to women.
The most potent criticism of current sexual dynamics between men and women is typified by Andrew Tate, an Anglo-American internet personality who made his fortune running cam sites and is now under investigation for sex trafficking in Romania.
Banned from almost every platform for “misogynistic” statements, Tate’s rhetoric resonates with many teenage boys who feel shut out by modern culture. For Reeves, Tate’s popularity indicates a vacuum in the “male identity” market generated by the establishment’s refusal to truthfully engage men and offer them salubrious advice.
Tate’s idea of what it means to be a man appeals to boys who have heard the words “toxic masculinity” too many times and are watching their female classmates thrive while they wallow in despair. I’m a bit too old for Tate’s exaggerated rhetoric to affect my own behavior, but I can understand his appeal.
Sometimes I jokingly tell people that Tate is a modern Lord Byron. Byron’s poem Don Juan was massively popular upon its release, despite many critics describing it as an “immoral poem” for its cavalier social criticism. Through his work and life, Byron developed a reputation as a lothario. After his desecration of King George III in A Vision of Judgment, he was called satanic.
The vision of masculinity conjured by Byron may have offered a more complete version of man than the shallow chauvinism of Andrew Tate, but the appeal is not so different: both men transgressed against the social mores of their time and were maligned and celebrated with equal fervor as a result. Despite Reeves’reasoned criticisms, his vision of masculinity will fall flat on its face in competition with Tate’s more aggressive vision.
Lewis, in his passage on “men without chests,” notes that “by his intellect [man] is mere spirit and by his appetite mere animal.” Tate appeals to the appetite, and thus, the animal aspect of man. But Reeves appeals too much to the intellect, and neither offers a path forward.
“It still remains true that no justification of virtue will enable a man to be virtuous. Without the aid of trained emotions the intellect is powerless against the animal organism,” writes Lewis. Reeves offers a justification of virtue that has little to say about how men should emotionally engage the world. Being angry about the advance of feminism, for instance, is unacceptable for Reeves. But Andrew Tate has exposed that many men are angry. And until mainstream opinion is able to acknowledge this anger we’ll see more Andrew Tates and less Richard Reeves.