Certain themes in education were trendy as I earned my teaching credential in the mid-1990s. Gender equity in the classroom was heating up as studies showed boys hogged all the attention in classrooms, while girls fell silently behind. Boys either had the confidence to speak up in class, or they subconsciously demanded attention by acting rowdier than girls. Either way, it had finally been determined that teachers had been giving more instructional time to male students for generations. So teachers everywhere, including me, tried to bridge that gap. We became conscious of how to make our girls more successful in the classroom and they have been making great strides ever since.
Now fast forward nearly two decades. More girls graduate from high school and college than men do. For the first time ever, more women than men make up law and medical school admissions. While striving to make classrooms more equitable for girls, our boys now lag academically behind.
I have noticed this shift spilling over into popular culture too. The leading male characters in television programs, particularly sitcoms, are not remotely like Andy Griffith anymore. Griffith, whose passing this week reminds us of what he meant to so many of us, was the symbol of a level-headed, respectable Dad. Leading male characters today, especially Dads, are more often than not cast as buffoons. Meanwhile, leading female characters are shown as witty and strong, characters every girl would like to be. These women roll their eyes at the inferior, boorish actions of the males around them. Moms like June Cleaver or Carol Brady may have been somewhat flat characters compared to how women are portrayed today, but they certainly didn’t play the part of fools.
Even in today’s commercials men often act like adolescents, drooling over a woman or some kind of food. They’re also cast to act like toddlers, catastrophically messing something up or wrestling over something frivolous. Where have the respectable males on TV gone, and what message does this send to our boys?
I recently wrote a negative review of the movie “Brave” because I thought it was over the top anti-male. Disney princesses have become stronger over time, so I expected Brave to have an empowering message for girls, but I didn’t like how every single male character in it had to be a fool to get that message across. Because it’s about the heroine not wanting to get married I went so far as to say the film is anti-marriage because with the men portrayed, I would run for the hills too.
I grew up with three sisters, no brothers, and my parents raised us to believe we were just as smart as any boy, so I get the girl power rallying stuff. Yet I didn’t even think “Brave” is a girl power film for my two daughters because it made being a girl seem so lonely and isolating. I received some criticism for my review from women, saying it’s high time princesses stopped brushing their hair all day, waiting for a prince to rescue them. I agree, but do we need to bash boys to do that?
It made news this year that for the first time more babies are born to unwed mothers in America than to married moms — 53 percent to be exact. What’s caused this shift, which is only expected to increase? According to a recent report in The New York Times, one of the strongest reasons women aren’t getting married today is because they don’t think men are as reliable as they used to be. The messages these women get day in and day out make this a sad, but understandable, reality in their minds.
Girls have been encouraged and empowered, and that’s great, but what’s been a well-meaning crusade to lift up girls has now skewed so far in the opposite direction, I fear we are now letting down our boys.
Julie Samrick is the mother of four young children and a resident of El Dorado Hills. She is also the founder of kidfocused.com, a site devoted to current children’s issues.