Following is the full transcript of American educator, activist Warren Farrell’s TEDx Talk on The Boy Crisis: A Sobering look at the State of our Boys at TEDxMarin conference.
Warren Farrell – Activist
Let me check with you first. Raise your hand please if you have a son, a grandson or a nephew? Please raise your hand? All right. Keep your hand raised please, if your son, grandson or nephew is having problems either with motivation, grades, ADHD or addiction to video games? Keep your hands raised if one of your sons, grandsons, or nephews fit that category. Okay. About 30% of the audience fits that category.
So question one, is why are we blind to something that is so much around us that we would have to even ask the question: is there a boy crisis? Second two, is there a boy crisis? Number three, that I’ll be looking at tonight is some causes and a solution or two. So let me start with our blindness.
Think about when we hear of a police officer shooting a black boy. We rightly protest black lives matter. But no one even thinks of saying boys’ lives matter. The boy in black boy were invisible too. The boy part of black boy doesn’t matter because historically we’ve been dependent upon boys dying in order for us to live. We bribed them by social bribes calling them heroes, telling them they’ll have glory if they die on our behalf.
So, our first issue is if our very survival has been dependent upon our sons’ willingness to die, being sensitive to their death competes with our survival instinct. We can’t get anywhere in terms of seeing the evidence for the boy crisis, unless we take that curtain up first. When we take that curtain up, I think the type of evidence we will be seeing, is that for the first time in U.S. history, our sons will have less education than their dads. We take this worldwide.
The U.N. finds this year that boys have fallen behind girls in every single one of the 70 developed nations. So what the developed nations have in common? They have in common a much greater propensity for divorce, leaving boys often times without their dads. So dad-deprived boys becomes the number one cause of the boy crisis. When you have less father involvement, what happens? Is that the boy ends up – and a girl by the way – ends up having less likelihood of being empathetic, assertive, being much more likely to do badly in every single grade area in school, being more likely to be suicidal, homicidal, to shoot up schools and being more likely to be in prison.
When you look at prisons, prisons are basically centers for dad-deprived boys. In California, in Alexis 1980, we built 18 new prisons, one new university. Here’s a bit of 700% increase in the prison population in the United States since 1972. That’s a 93% male population. Mostly a dad-deprived boy population.
Here is the most frequent pattern. The boy hears his parents in conflict, soon the dad disappears. The boy becomes depressed. Anthony Sims — here in Oakland — his last Facebook post was, “I wish I had a father.” Boys who hurt us — Anthony Sims, soon became the Oakland killer earlier this year. But other boys act out not by killing singly like Anthony Sims, but act out by doing school shootings. Most people don’t know that there has been one school shooting per week on average since Sandy Hook. And we often say school shootings are the result of guns, they’re the result of family values, the result of mental health problems.
But girls live in the same families, with the same family values, the similar mental health problems, the same violence on TV, but our daughters are not doing the shootings. Our sons are. And so, here’s just a sense of the location of those shootings in two years after Sandy Hook. School shootings are mostly white boys method of acting out their hopelessness and also the white boys method of committing suicide. My perspective is I see suicide as a reflection in boys of our inability to help track boys in a constructive way toward manhood. And we see that in the data also.
So for example, before age nine, girls and boys committed suicide equally. Age 10 to 14, twice the amount for boys. 15 to 19, four times the amount for boys. Age 20 to 24, six times the amount for boys. So if dad-deprived boys is the number one cause of the boy crisis, the number two cause is very much related. Boys go from the dad deprivation in home to a male teacher deprivation in school. We didn’t use to know the importance of that. We now know that boys do do better with male teachers on average.
But we also have discovered this year a result of the U.N. doing a study worldwide, that the feminization of education is a contributing factor to boys’ problems. When the United Nations did a study worldwide, they found that boys all over the world are one-third more likely to be graded higher on a reading test when the teacher doesn’t know that the person who took the test is a boy. This leads to cause three lack of purpose.
When I was a boy, we basically had two senses of purpose. You’re either a warrior or you were a sole breadwinner. But as divorce has occurred, male-female relationships got shook up, and the feminist movement came in and they did a wonderful thing which was they expanded girls sense of purpose from the old raised children only, to being able to raise children, raise money or do some combination of both. But no one stepped in and helped expand boys’ sense of purpose in an equivalent way. Instead boys were sold… earn money, earn money, or alternatively be a loser. The women’s movement and the society helped create a furtive action to introduce women to professions they hadn’t been comfortable with such as STEM professions: science, technology, engineering and math. But no one introduced boys to the caring professions.
So one possible solution to the purpose void is to expand boys’ sense of purpose, to consider the option of being a full-time dad, an elementary school teacher, a social worker, a nurse. We even have to say words like male nurse. Or we can look at more broadly the creation of a larger White House Council on boys and men in the way that we already have a White House Council on women and girls, to address the 10 plus causes of the boy crisis. A question that somebody once asked me was, “Well, will boys not consider themselves losers when they become full-time involved in the caring professions, and there is pressure then.” But I saw back as early as 1976 a clear example of why boys will not consider themselves losers when they get more involved with their sons.
I was at a party in ’76, and a guy comes up to me and says, “Are you Warren Farrell?” And I go, “Yes.” And he goes, “You formed a men’s group that I joined and the group had more impact of my life than any other thing,” And I said, “Well, what created that?” He goes, “The most important question the group asked me, was an exercise in which we were asked what is the biggest hole in your heart? And I didn’t know the answer but I blurted out without thinking about it, that it’s actually I was so involved in my career – I told the group Warren – that I ended up neglecting my son, neglecting my wife. And that’s the biggest hole in my heart. And it’s really a deeper hole now because I got divorced, I got remarried. And the men’s group knew at the time that my wife was pregnant with a boy. And the group said to me, ‘Well, what would you like to do if you could do anything you wanted?’ And I said, ‘Well, actually, it would be to take five years off and raise my son full time.’ And the group encouraged me, I should say pressured me to ask my wife and talk to her about that. And my wife said, ‘Go for John.’ And so, I went for it and it’s now been two years.”