Our Town: How to turn boys into men

Our Town: How to turn boys into men
"Young men must now get into the top group of elites or get left far behind. Photo by Tom Ferraro

There is an unsettling trend being seen on college campuses called “The Boy’s Crisis.”  Academically, girls are outperforming boys at a significant rate. Sixty percent of university graduates are female, and the high school dropout rate for boys is twice as high as for girls.  More young men are turning to gaming, pornography or fantasy football rather than hitting the books, committing to a career and grinding away.

This crisis for males is not a new trend at all.  Back in 1990 Robert Bly, the noted poet and storyteller, wrote the best-selling book “Iron  John, A Book About Men” where he outlined the trend toward male softness starting in the 1960s.  He hypothesized that the males’ effort to be kind, caring, receptive and gentle was in response to the women’s movement.    Bly nearly singlehandedly started the men’s movement of the 1980s but that movement seemed to have died without a whimper.

Robert Bly suggested that the Fifties male was a hardworking provider but was finally left with a feeling of isolation, deprivation, and desperation. The Sixties came along with the Vietnam War.  Young men refused to sacrifice their lives to what was largely seen as a meaningless war and either left for Canada or became conscientious objectors.

This youthful revolt ended the draft but also introduced the soft male of the Seventies, young men who were receptive and with a Zen-like attitude to life.  This trend was led by Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters, and Timothy Leary and his LSD experiments, but all that ended violently when Charles Manson’s cult of hippies and misfits murdered nine people, including Roman Polanski’s pregnant wife Sharon Tate.

Fast forward to 2023 and I have no doubt that young men are still struggling to find a place in the world. You can see evidence of that not only with the lowered rates of male college graduates but also in the universal knowledge that the work force has shrunk since COVID. Many young men are opting out of the corporate system.

My guess is that the pressure to succeed is so great and the competition is so profound that unless you are in the very elite group of young men who graduate from an Ivy League college, you are finished before you even start.

I’ve taken to calling these young men our next species. They consist of a very small group that have the following characteristics: They are about 6-foot-3, handsome, well-groomed, have great etiquette, come from wealthy families and fly privately.  They now ask their peers questions like “Well, so how many country clubs do you belong to?” And they ask this without a hint of pomposity but rather with sincere curiosity, as if they assume that everyone  belongs to more than one golf  club.

Years ago there was a cover story in The Atlantic by Matthew Stewart titled “The Birth of New Aristocracy” where he described the desperate race families were in so that their children were not left behind.  It was now necessary to live in the “gilded”  zip codes, gain entrance into private boarding schools and then an Ivy League college in order to establish yourself in a profession as  a financial analyst or an investment banker.

This social upper class wall firmly exists in America and behind this wall lives a very small minority of young men. They have been properly fed,  properly schooled and properly trained.  As an example of proper training, a few years ago I had the chance to play at Pine Valley Golf Club, regularly ranked as one of the most exclusive golf clubs in the world right behind Augusta National. I recall standing in the pro shop and watching as Warren Buffet walked through the shop, having flown in on a private jet. And right behind him was a tall, well-groomed  young man who had flown in with him and who was taking in all the subtle and not so subtle wisdom that his mentor, Mr. Buffet, was teaching him.

And so is it any wonder that if you are a young male and are not among this very small group of privileged young men that you might turn to fantasy football and video gaming in an effort to deny the reality that you face?

The new trend may be called “The Boy’s Crisis,” but it’s not new at all. This problem has been developing since 1960. In today’s world, for a young man to get ahead in life he must be provided incredible social, financial, educational and emotional assets.  He must then embrace these gifts given to him and work hard in order to rise into the highest ranks in business.  I doubt that this state is about to change any time soon.

This small group, which was once referred to by Gertrude Stein as ”those tall young men,” comes from the top 10% of income earners.  This is the way of the world and it is no surprise that it has produced a crisis in males from the other 90% of families.  One can surmise that A.I., robots, androids and computers will pick up the slack caused by the dropouts.

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