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Jones says that he suspects the core of the problem arises
from the “de-masculinizing” of boys in the early years of
education when they are introduced to a matriarchal school
society and forced, contrary to their nature, to sit quietly for
long hours in the classroom. Boys grow up without a sense
of who they are or what it means to be a man. “I guess the
feminists would say that’s perfectly alright because guys have
run the world for a long time,” he said. “But I don’t think it’s
that simple.”
In Oskaloosa, Mortenson would applaud that conclusion.
He believes boys’ drift away from college begins at an early age
and has been influenced by some of the larger cultural shifts of
the past few decades. Namely, millions of fathers have lost their
jobs inmanufacturing and agriculture, leaving themwithout
economic purpose and unable to provide a vigorous role
model for their sons. Millions of other boys have been raised in
families without any father present.
“For generations, men served as the breadwinners in the
family. That was their role,” saidMortenson. “Today that role
has been removed. I live in one of the richest farming regions
in the world, and an economist toldme recently that Iowa
now has two farmers per township who actually make their
living from farming. Two. What about the rest of the men? I
don’t think we have begun to discover what to do about men
in an age when their economic purpose is being changed so
profoundly.”
Over the years, as he hammered away at the issue,
Mortenson has brooded on the question of who will save boys.
The paradox, he says, is that men—as an interest group—have
virtually no political infrastructure. InWashington, the
American Association of UniversityWomen (AAUW)
exercises a potent voice in support of women in higher
education. But an AAUMdoesn’t even exist. Nor do any other
groups designed to work on behalf of male gender issues.
“Men won’t, or can’t, save themselves. That’s the sad fact,”
saidMortenson. “They
don’t have their act
together, and they
don’t seem engineered
for that kind of effort.”
These ruminations
have ledMortenson
to an unexpected
conclusion: Women
must save men. In his
view, women have
their act together
and can work toward
change far more
effectively thanmen.
They must realize that
their own, decades-long struggle to win educational parity has
succeeded beyond all expectations, and now they must lend a
hand to their vanquished adversary.
Besides, he argues, women have a lot at stake in this issue.
“This year approximately 200,000 more women will receive
bachelor’s degrees thanmen,” Mortenson says. “That means
200,000 women will not find a college-educated husband to
marry. Next year there will be 200,000 more, and on and on.
Women are being
faced with two bad
choices: not tomarry
at all, or marry a guy
who delivers pizzas.”
In a more general
sense, he argues
that a culture filled
with ill-educated,
drifting men does
not add up to a pretty
picture for anyone,
including women.
Mortenson cites a
conversation he had
with the president of
an historically black
college where the
female/male ratio had
reached the startling
figure of five to one.
“He was really
disturbed about the
environment on
the campus, saying it
bordered on domestic
abuse,” Mortenson recalls. “The men were treating women
badly, playing themoff each other. Women were getting
into fistfights over men. The social conditions were totally
unacceptable.”
Mortenson was encouraged to hear Laura Bush’s
announcement early this year that she would take on the issue
of boys during the Bush second term, and he notes that it
was she, not the president, who took the initiative. But even
Mortenson is at a loss to describe what policy changes he
would recommend toMrs. Bush.
He toys with ideas like a return to gender-separated schools
that would allow boys to operate in a more rambunctious
environment. Or efforts to redefine masculinity toward the
service-oriented jobs of the future. At this point, he says, no
one knows what will work and what won’t.
The difficulty stems, in part, from the very scale of the
issue. The unraveling of a gender involves half the population.
Social issues usually arise within sub-groups andminorities
whose problems are connected to their own special conditions.
But a gender spans all racial groups and economic classes; it
encompasses virtually every human condition.
The prospect of discovering effective antidotes is daunting,
Mortenson says, and he is not optimistic about the near future.
“Right now I see only the faintest response to this issue,” he
said. “I am convinced that we will not see resolution inmy
lifetime. And I can guarantee you that it’s going to get worse
before it gets better.”
u
Robert A. Jones is a former reporter and columnist for the
Los
Angeles Times
.
James Jones, president of Trinity College, believes most
traditional liberal arts colleges “are really struggling with
(male-female) imbalance.”
“We don’t want to
accept the idea that
boys need help. The
notion about boys
has always been that
they can take care of
themselves.”
—Tom Mortenson
Janet Durrans, Black Star, for CrossTalk