Half Man, Half Amazing
A Review of Richard Reeves' 'Of Boys and Men'
some lose all mind and become soul:
some lose all soul and become mind:
some lose both and become:
Last night, I went to see Richard Reeves talk about his new book, Of Boys and Men, at Montgomery Bell Academy over on Harding Pike. A few months back, a friend had suggested I read Reeves’ book, and I did. It’s a straightforward, establishment-friendly assessment of why and how boys have been falling behind.
At the end of the book’s preface, Reeves declares: “We need a prosocial masculinity for a postfeminist world.” If that sounds a bit like word salad to you, don’t worry, it gave me pause too. What I think Reeves means is that we need to adjust our standards of masculinity in order to give men space to enter occupations they wouldn’t normally find appealing. He notes throughout the book how the modern workplace favors soft skills, which women have an easier time with than men.
There are lots of stats he pulls out to make his point about men falling behind. I’ll list a few:
- Women are fifty percent more likely to get college degrees than men
- Women earn higher GPAs in high school than men despite there being no corresponding gap in standardized test scores
- Men are three times more likely to commit suicide than women
- Three out of four teachers from pre- through high school are women
- Men have slowly been dropping out of the workforce as women have been joining
All of the above are fairly straightforward, but one worth underscoring is the absence of male teachers. There have been studies that reveal boys respond more positively to male teachers versus female teachers. Among the above statistics, hiring more male teachers would seem to most immediately bridge the male/female achievement gaps in grade school.
Much of the book focuses on how, in adolescence, boys fall behind their female counterparts 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 notes in the book.
To remedy these developments, Reeves suggests some solutions that I’ll also list here:
- “Redshirt” (delay school entry) boys by default
- One thousand new technical high schools, doubling to a fifteen percent share of students
- One million more apprenticeships
- Mass recruitment drive of male teachers, especially in English
- Subsidies for men entering health, education, administration, and literacy (HEAL) training and jobs
- Equal, independent paid leave for fathers and mothers: six months
At the beginning of his talk, Reeves centered the discussion by noting that the two most common words used by boys before they committed suicide were “useless” and “worthless.” Why is this the case? 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, as Reeves puts it, a partnership of capital in the stewardship of children, but there’s more to it than that.
MEN WITHOUT CHESTS
To say that Reeves’ assessment of the struggles of boys and men left me wanting more would be an understatement. Reeves offers a ten-thousand foot view of the issue with graphs and stats; this allows him to keep a certain distance from the issue at hand. At one point during his talk, he noted that he was “not proscribing, just describing.” If you find a more fitting epitaph for the liberal worldview, let me know.
I jokingly refer to this distanced, uncommitted, view-from-nowhere approach as “governance by spreadsheet.” Reeves, who cut a positively masculine figure at the podium, seems more a dispassionate “don’t shoot the messenger” type than the more spirited-but-irreverent iconoclast this moment seems to me to demand. To Reeves, the graphs just need to be adjusted, and his solutions are the means by which we may adjust the stats to be more equitable or something of that variety.
I’m reminded of C.S. Lewis’ observation in The Abolition of Man that the “men without chests” are not marked by their excess of reason or thought, but their lack of “fertile and generous emotion.” He continues:
We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.
We demand of men masculinity—or, as Reeves would have it, “prosocial masculinity”—but castrate them in the process. There’s no better example of this than in the institution of marriage.
MARRIAGE AS SUCH
If feminism did one thing, it effectively pitted the interests of women against the interests of men in the interest of women’s liberation—specifically, their economic liberation. In the process, it turned marriage into, says Reeves, a “social choice rather than an economic necessity.”
An additional dimension to this conundrum is that as women have gained economic freedom, their standards have remained the same. Charlie Daniels may have described the old world best when he sang, “A poor girl wants to marry, and a rich girl wants to flirt.” In the olden days, the only way for a poorer girl to climb socially was to marry up. Richer women, on the other hand, could afford to be less concerned about marriage as a means to social advancement and had a harder time meeting men who exceed their own expectations, hence the flirting.
As Rob Henderson reveals, 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. This fact is made more complicated by a recently released report from the Council of Graduate Schools, which shows that for every 100 men who earn a master’s degree, there are 134 women. For bachelor’s degrees, the ratio is 100 men for every 130 women.
The same is true regarding income: your average woman is much less likely to date or marry a man who makes less than she does. What we’re left with here is a surplus of women chasing a deficit of men, particularly in the rungs of higher education where the most fertile ground for feminism is found.
Henderson also notes that in environments where men are more numerous than women, relationships are more likely to proliferate. These environments also stress courtship and romance more heavily as more men are competing for fewer women. Though these environments tend to cast women into more traditional roles, they also provide them more freedom of choice, at least in terms of romantic relationships.
On the contrary, environments in which women outnumber men produce two interesting side effects. First is the proliferation of casual, sexual relationships. Second is the energization of feminist movements in these environments.
In an excerpt from her book Too Many Women?, Marcia Guttentag tells:
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 surprising then that on college campuses, where women outnumber men, we’ve seen feminism of the “economic freedom” variety take such a strong hold. Even despite this economic progress, men’s and women’s mating preferences have not changed.
What then of the men left out of this—the focus of much of Reeves’ book, and perhaps the reason for his insistence that men get on equal footing with the fairer sex in school?
As the men who perform poorly in school stumble through post-secondary life, only to have their wages suppressed by unmitigated open-borders policies, many have chosen to simply opt out. No longer is earning a steady wage enough to attract a woman, now that women can provide for themselves.
This presents a total inversion of the traditional male role in regard to his relationship with the opposite sex. As one forbidden internet personality observed in 2009:
As women’s financial status rises to levels at or above the available men in their social sphere, they will have great difficulty finding an acceptable long-term partner. The men, for their part, will turn away from emphasizing their ability to provide as they discover their mediocre-paying corporate jobs are no longer effective displays of mating value. They will instead emphasize the skills of “personality dominance”.
Reeves is keenly aware of this dynamic, though he expresses it differently. With the decline of men’s leverage as mere providers, it shouldn’t be surprising that emerging in its place is a new hyper-concern with masculinity centered less around the traditional values that men held sacred and centered more around sexual licentiousness and “personality dominance.”
RED PILL BLACK MARKET
The most potent criticism of sexual dynamics between men and women is typified by Andrew Tate, a British-Romanian internet personality who made his fortune running cam sites and is now under investigation for sex trafficking in Romania. If you’re not familiar with his “work,” this interview with Piers Morgan provides a decent overview. His legal challenges aside, Tate was banned from every platform for being “misogynistic.”
Tate’s rhetoric resonates with many teenage boys who feel shut out by modern culture, a culture which can feel stultifying if your testosterone levels are at a healthy level. To Reeves, the emergence of Tate indicates there exists a vacuum in the “male identity” market. Tate, and figures like him, have emerged in response to the establishment's refusal to truthfully engage men and offer them salubrious advice.
Tate’s defiant vision of what it means to be a man appeals to boys who have heard the words “toxic masculinity” one 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 behavior, but I can understand his appeal.
I half-jokingly tell people that Tate is a kind of modern Lord Byron. Byron’s poem Don Juan was massively popular upon its release, despite 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.
With the benefit of distance, we now understand Byron as providing an injection of Romantic energy into a dead, stultifying time. He came of age during the era of Napoleon Bonaparte whose obsession with the then burgeoning Romantic movement—Byron included—colored his perception. Byron’s poetry and life inspired Nietzsche, Beethoven, and even the Brontë sisters.
I say all this not to defend Andrew Tate, but to point out that, despite Reeves' well-reasoned criticisms, his and his colleagues’ vision of masculinity will fall flat on its face in competition with Tate’s more spirited 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 and his kin appeal too much to the intellect, and thus, the immaterial spirit aspect of man. Neither, on its own, provides an effective 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,” says Lewis. Reeves offers a justification of virtue—or an update of virtue—that has little to say about how man should emotionally engage the world. For example, being angry over the advances of feminism to his own detriment is unacceptable for Reeves and his ilk. “Such advances have been unvarnished public goods and to question this is heresy,” you’ll likely hear them declare.
But Andrew Tate, if his massive popularity has anything to say about this, has exposed that many men are angry. And if institutions like the Brookings Institution– where Reeves is a senior fellow– refuse to concede that anger is partially justified, they’ll worsen the problem, forcing this vital aspect of masculinity to the fringes, where it eventually gets mutated to the point that a glorified pimp can win the hearts and minds of otherwise honorable men with ease.
Until a more compelling example of what being a man in the modern world should look like emerges, and until leaders and institutions can honestly confront and engage criticisms of feminist orthodoxy, we’ll see more Andrew Tates and less Richard Reeves.