Elevate Difference

Boys Adrift: The Five Factors Driving the Growing Epidemic of Unmotivated Boys and Underachieving Young Men

Most of the attention Dr. Leonard Sax gets is for his advocacy of single sex education for boys. In his first book, Why Gender Matters: What Parents and Teachers Need to Know about the Emerging Science of Sex Differences, Sax described the developmental and biological differences between the sexes and how contemporary early education puts boys at a disadvantage. In his follow up, Boys Adrift: The Five Factors Driving the Growing Epidemic of Unmotivated Boys and Underachieving Young Men, Sax elaborates on the modern crisis of maleness.

Sax is interested in boys, and tends to ignore females except as counter-examples, which is fine because one cannot be all things to all people. Sax also, in spite of himself, writes about a certain class of white affluent suburban boys. He tries to allay critics on both of these counts, with sometimes hilarious results. In explaining how inclusive his work is of all cultures, Sax offers this compelling example:

“Emily (or Maria or Shaniqua) goes to college...Justin (or Carlos or Damian) may go to college...” I am still laughing. Maria, Shaniqua, Carlos, and Damian? Are we seriously playing a "Let’s think of Black- and Latino-sounding names" game? At least Sax is trying to fill the ethnic diversity requirement, even if he has a clunky way of showing it.

Regardless, the focus of Boys Adrift is the plight of affluent white boys living in American suburbs with a few generations of American living (read: consumerism and apathy?) pumping through their veins. “Damian” is actually not his concern. But whomever he is speaking about, Boys Adrift was written from Sax to parents.

From a hyper-academic kindergarten curriculum that favors females, to phlalates that leach into your Dr. Pepper and stunt mental development, Sax covers the basics of what we're talking about when we're talking about the modern crisis of manhood. He identified this crisis of boys as a “failure to launch,” an epidemic of fat, Halo-playing man-children who don't understand why everyone keeps telling them that they should move out of their parents house.

Gender issues aside, Boys Adrift would interest anyone seeking a comprehensive history of Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder and its treatments and the various, terrifying ways that environmental estrogen has infiltrated our bodies, wreaking physiological (early puberty in females) and societal (sexually mature girls in school alongside their prepubescent male peers) havoc on post-baby-boom generations.

The educational problems that Sax describes are applicable to kids of all kinds (even, dare I imagine, Shaniqua), and it's a little annoying to see them attributed to gender difference. Pegging problems like a struggle to pay attention and a failure to get decent grades to a condition of maleness might feel good to parents of a struggling boy, but to a female who failed similarly, it seems wholly unhelpful if not insulting.

There is a lot here, and Sax's work will comfort many parents, but the work is not without some contradictions. Early on in the narrative we learn that modern American schooling is not conducive to male brain and body development—it does not play to their strengths or their timetable. Later, Sax cites a statistically notable decline in boys’ intellect since the 1990s. The statistics rely on grades given in school. But if school works against boys, then their grades in school are not a fair or accurate measures of their intellect, so what use are they?

Recommended for those curious about education, gender, boys, men, and environmental estrogen.

Written by: Ann Raber, July 30th 2009

Thw book may be percieved as slightly sexist, but is due simply to the subject matter. If a book was written on the decline of responsible mothering techniques, another growing epidemic, we would still believe it is sexist. Boysadrift offers many valuable insights to parents of boys. I was glad to see a man stand up and say that the boys of today are at risk of failing to become mature responsible men and offering solutions to the problem. Wouldn't mature, responsible, respectfu. gentlemen only benefit society?

Anonymous #3 has some contradictory issues. Isn't calling them an "epidemic of fat, Halo-playing man-children who don't understand why everyone keeps telling them that they should move out of their parents house" pretty effectively naming patriarchy and the fact that these Halo-playing morons will still grow up and get the best jobs? That isn't an extreme enough example for you?

I agree that men like Sax are full of crap and perpetuating an anti-feminist backlash, but again, isn't this review at least mildly funny to anyone? I took it as a joke.

For what it's worth, feminism has a whole has never been all that extreme. Equality is not extreme, and this site regularly uses terms like "patriarchy" and phrases like "male privilege." Read more than one review before hating next time.

I'm disappointed in this review. Why? Because I expect a feminist site to call a spade a spade. Boys may be "underachieving" but don't worry, the culture will make sure that they make more money and get the top jobs when they grow up.

Girls have usually made better grades than boys in grade school and high school. However, when they started entering universities and progressional schools in large numbers (due in large part to feminist activism), men like Sax started talking about "how our education system privileges girls." Please!

As long as our education system ignores feminist achievements, uses sexist language, drones on ad nauseum about "the great men of history" without admitting that these "great men" often exploited women, and attributes girls' good grades to hard work instead of true brainpower, I will view Sax's book as another example of anti-feminist backlash.

I hate to say it, but American feminism today has become wimpy. I'm not advocating that we go back to 1970's extremism, but we've gotten stuck in the paralysis of analysis and need to start using real words again, like patriarchy and male privilege.

The most obvious answer to your first question is that men are feminists too and feminism effects men and women.

To the second, we only "trash" books that reinforce oppressive power dynamics, which may or may not come in a book about boys. Read more of the site and I'm sure you'll see that we're equal opportunity with offering critical feedback and spreading the love.

If this book is about boys, why are you reviewing it in the first place? Just to trash it?

"docrighteous" seems to have missed the sarcasm and humor in this one. I think it's a hilarious review. And remember folks, patriarchy hurts men too.

"the plight of affluent white boys"??

Give me an effing break.

My verification word is "whinger". Perfect term for this book. Oh, what about the boyz? What about them indeed.