Building a White House Council on Boys & Men

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In 2009, President Obama signed an Executive Order and created the White House Council on Women & Girls, “to ensure that American women and girls are treated fairly in all matters of public policy.”

It is now 2015, and there is no complementary White House Council on Boys & Men, despite the fact that a bipartisan group of activists has been working toward the creation of such a council since 2010.

I recently joined their efforts, and here’s why: I don’t want my boys (or any boys) bound, held back, or discriminated against because of someone else’s idea of what boys or men can or “should” be. I joined the effort to create a White House Council on Boys & Men because I see evidence of the statistics — statistics that show boys are less likely to be successful in school, less likely to go to college and more likely to commit suicide or go to prison than women– all around me. I joined because I know that environmental and societal factors contribute to these disparate outcomes, and because I want to change things for the better for boys and men. I joined because I’m not OK with the status quo.

Since I’ve joined the effort, I’ve learned more about the resistance to the establishment of the Council. Some people believe such a Council is unnecessary, or a sexist effort to take focus, attention and resources away from organizations that fight for equality for girls and women.

I recently invited Dr. Warren Farrell, chair of the Commission to create a White House Council on Boys & Men to discuss the controversy and explain how & why the Council would help boys, men, parents, families and society. Here’s an excerpt of our conversation:

On resistance to the creation of a White House Council on Boys & Men: 

Warren Farrell: Some feel that a White House Council on Boys and Men would take resources away from the White House Council on Women and Girls. That’s the sort of zero sum approach that says, if men, win women lose. I disagree with that.  When girls and women win, boys and men win. When boys and men win, girls and women win. We’re all in the same boat together.

What we’re saying to the White House is that the family is the key issue. When a boy or girl doesn’t do well, moms and dads worry about whoever is not doing well, and that affects everybody in the family. Parents pay more attention to the one who’s not doing well, and the other feels neglected. That’s not a good situation for anyone.

How would the establishment of a White House Council on Boys & Men help boys? 

Warren Farrell: It could help because it can begin to ask questions, for example, of our schools about what schools doing to provide physical education; to provide recess; to provide vocational schools; to provide more male role models in kindergarten, first grade, second grade, fifth grade so that particularly inner-city boys don’t go from a female-dominated home to a female- dominated school system —  and then we all look and wonder why a gang leader who becomes a boy’s first real male role model seduces them. That’s one example.

Another is making sure that there’s an incentive for families after divorce to keep fathers and mothers both involved — both education as to how important that is and working to change laws that allow somebody to move away from the other parent without the other parent’s consent.

We can do things like make sure…team sports are available to everyone. Team sports are crucial for children learning how to cooperate with each other and work with each other. That should not be something that only happens for the top players at the varsity or junior varsity schools….Sports teach you how to create your own rules and effect something from nothing, how to introduce yourself to new people, and it’s a very good training to be an entrepreneur. Team sports is very good training to work in a corporation with other people. Individual sports is good training for anything because it’s self-starting and following through and persisting and working with yourself is good training for any part of life. All of these things need to be emphasized not de-emphasized.

How can parents support the effort to establish a White House Council on Boys & Men? 

Warren Farrell: Google “White House Council of Boys and Men;” that will bring you to a website that will give you a huge amount of information about the issues and effort to establish a council.  So educate yourself on these issues. Read a book or two like Leonard Sax’s Boys Adrift  or anything by Michael Gurian, such as The Wonder of Boys. These are both people who are on our commission that have written books on this issue.

You can also get other parents together; talk about boys’ issues and tell them about the effort to establish a White House Council on Boys & Men.  You can contact other people in the PTA to organize about this, and five or six or seven of you can get together and contact your congresswoman or congressman and speak with her or him about the importance of this. Let them know that there’s an effort underway, and that there already Republicans and Democrats such as Sam Graves, Emanuel Cleaver, Jared Huffman and Chris Gibson who are supporting this effort on the congressional level. Get your congress person involved in the process. The website for the White House Council on Boys and Men will make it clear more about how to do that.

You can also sign the petition, asking President Obama to create a White House Council of Boys & Men.

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