The Boy Crisis

Originally published at:

Warren Farrell talks to Ken Wilber take an in-depth look at the many social, cultural, and psychological challenges that young boys are facing today, while noting how many of these challenges are the products of well-intentioned — but often misguided — feminist praxis.

This is a topic that is near and dear to my heart. I wonder, what would be the social reaction to a men’s movement as described above? Will men be vilified if they try to assert that they, too, are treated unfairly in certain circumstances? The answer, I think, isn’t so clear cut. It feels to me like any attempt by a men’s movement to assert our needs would be interpreted as a binary attempt to take back power or to oppress, which obviously ignores the complexity inherent in these problems.

Moreover, I also wonder how we can create tools to better disentangle people from manufactured identities around gender. I suspect this is where spiritual practice comes in, especially “witness” style practices that try to pull back the core monad of our consciousness from the constructs we put up to define ourselves.

Anyway, I think I’ll add this book to my (really really long) reading list.



One close to my heart too Russ. Is good to see it being covered, and Farrell is unfortunately nowhere near as popular a men’s voice as he should be in the men’s world, even though in my opinion he is probably the best. The men’s rights movement has much good to say, but unfortunately has many of the same green pathologies as femininism does, just with perhaps less extremes and certainly less influence.

You don’t need to wonder what the social reaction to the men’s movement is like, there is plenty of evidence of it being treated like a hate group. At Warren Farrell’s talks no less. Men’s rights often gets laughed at or treated as some potential violent abomination by the mainstream media. It’s getting better, but slowly.

My take would be there needs to be a rigorous look at the negatives and positives of female and male roles, the limits, the privileges of both, the true historical context of suffering on both sides.

I think what is important is to be wary of not taking away from the conversation about feminism and women’s rights, since I think that could be interpreted as a transfer of power by shifting the conversation. It’s a “both, and” conversation since a lot of the things being fought for in the women’s rights movement also apply to a men’s rights movement. Yes, there are power differentials, but I think when one looks at them from the AQAL perspective, one sees that while men may hold more exterior power, women may hold more power in different quadrants (I don’t know for sure; it would be cool if someone analyzed this!).

For example, there has been a lot of work recently on reframing the body image conversation for women with the goal of de-stigmatizing body shapes and sizes that don’t conform to what society has traditionally called “beautiful.” However, the same conversation isn’t taking place for men. For example, there is a running joke about “dad bod” for men who don’t have the ideal body, and it’s a joke often propagated by women. This is a direct contradiction to body positivity that is being pushed by women’s advocacy groups, and likely only serves to undermine their core argument (which has truth to it) that what we decide is and isn’t beautiful is mostly a social construct and shouldn’t be used to negatively judge or stigmatize a person.

I personally think there is a lot of work to do with men and body image, and with women who consciously or subconsciously reinforce unhelpful social constructs about what is considered “attractive” in men, physically speaking. Look at the Marvel movies; would you ever see a fat male superhero? Probably not. They’re all unrealistically muscular, so much so that the workout routines of these actors are well known (like Gerard Butler’s workout for 300, which basically is an all-day proposition). So, what does that tell boys who may be obese because they don’t have healthy food choices (which are expensive in the United States) when they don’t see heroes that look like them on TV or in movies?

There’s a lot of food for thought on this topic.

I agree with this, though I think the problem lies as much with these “men’s groups” as it does with the surrounding cultural atmosphere. I’ve seen multiple groups form on the web around work like Farrell’s, and, using David Deida’s stages, the ones that tend to get the most traction appear to be either expressions of stage 1 masculinity (e.g. incel culture, PUA culture, and many aspects of “red pill” culture) or, less commonly, stage 2 masculinity (e.g. groups that focus on their own victimization — however, I think many men’s groups are reacting to the “feminization” of men that we commonly see at stage 2, which has been held as ideal masculinity by the green altitude for decades now.) Either way, most of these groups I’ve seen have largely been reactive, and almost totally anti-feminist in orientation.

I think that in order to succeed and actually rise to the challenges of our time, we need to see groups that are organized around more integrated stage-3 masculine principles — which can better integrate masculine and feminine polarities, transclude the fruits of the feminism project, and blaze a new path that speaks more directly to men’s dignity and helps them better align their strength, their vulnerability, and their capacity to execute their vision.

Very well said, and totally congruent with how I see things, which is that “patriarchy” has come to be commonly defined as the “hitherto male-dominated public sphere” (as opposed to the traditionally female-dominated private sphere) — the result of a once-consensual and necessary division of labor, but one that has since become largely outmoded and made obsolete by the continued unfolding of culture and technology. I think that “patriarchy” in modern terms has come to describe the inertial resistance and residue as our modern self-organizing systems were disrupted and forcefully re-organized by women moving en masse into the public sphere for the first time. Social autopoiesis is a bitch, especially in rapidly changing times.

Thus “patriarchy” is not a historic oppression of victimized women by sociopathic men, it’s the Zone-7 inertia of our public-sphere systems being forced to transform at a rapidly accelerating force. Which means that “patriarchy” as we know it today is actually a very recent phenomenon, and emerged right alongside women’s suffrage. And there have been very real and often injurious patterns of resistance that have taken generations to identify and overcome as women began to occupy the public sphere, and I imagine will continue for generations to come.

And here’s the thing — men are encountering very similar resistances and inertias when it comes to their relationship with the “private sphere”. The major differences being, men have no organizing force telling them they should value the private sphere as much as the public, as compared to women who have spent the past century trying to master both. However, much of this comes down to transformations in the LR quadrant — in America, the combination of industrial mass production technologies, and the need for women to labor in factories during WWII, created a cultural tipping point and irrevocably altered the social fabric, bringing women into an entirely new relationship with the public sphere.

Men have not yet encountered an equivalent LR-quadrant push out of the public sphere and into the private sphere, and therefore the “men’s movement” is still a full century behind the feminist project. However, my sense is that the “automation age” that will emerge over the next two decades will begin this process, as men are suddenly forced to cultivate an identity that is not so dependent upon work, money, and social status.

I often use myself as an example — because of the new freedoms our technology allows us, I am able to do the vast majority of my work from home with my laptop, and thus have the opportunity to be far more directly involved with raising my daughter and being present for her — an opportunity I know the vast majority of men throughout history have not had. I have the freedom to find my own balance between the private and public spheres, and to craft an identity and a sense of personal meaning that includes both. (Not that I hold myself as a paragon of fully integrated stage-3 masculinity, but at least I have the time, space, and energy to do the work.)

So the opportunities for men to take this next step and to form a worthwhile men’s movement that is aligned and integrated with healthy feminism are increasing. My only question is, will it be able to successfully coalesce and gain traction in this culture of social-media-induced aperspectival madness? I am somewhat less confident of that — and in fact, I would say that many/most of the regressive stage-1 masculine cultures I described above are themselves the inevitable expressions of this madness. We shall see…


Totally agree with both of your takes that it needs to be an and/ or both and conversation. That is my main beef and ultimately where I removed myself a little from my involvement of the men’s world. I used to go on a men’s call with the owner of the biggest website ‘A Voice For Men.’ While alot was said was great about it, a rare place for men to talk about the suffering, it did to me have this entirely partial view that frankly got nihilistic with the underlying subtext being ‘the world doesn’t give a shit about men’. Some of which is true frankly, while some of the demonizing of the men’s movement may have some merit in some of it’s less than healthy parts my stance is that it’s much more the world’s lack of embracing and treating men as disposable more than the faults of the movement itself. Alot of the very angry/ nihilistic part of the men’s movement is repeated exposure by the media displaying men’s rights as laughable or some rape enabling abomination that wants women back in the kitchen, so I have disagree slightly with you there Corey that it is as much to blame, not blameless but some of the reaction from feminism and the media is I feel at least, more guilty of the hate dishing out than what comes out of the men’s rights world which mostly just battles to be taken seriously.

I agree to an extent with this, though to me it’s running before you can walk a little. While women are in a fair place to do that, as you said they are a century in front of men in the gender debate. Men’s story of victimisation and suffering hasn’t even been heard yet. And perhaps you can correct me if I’m wrong, but I always had an aversion to some extent to Deida’s work, although there are other reasons also, based on the fact there was no mention of male disposibility as far as I know in his work, or that while men generally receive more respect and power, women get more empathy and support.

In fairness though I suppose it can be argued neither gender can fully appreciate the limits, flaws, strengths and relational side of their gender without the other. Men can’t sit with their victimhood and the typical feminist view represses female agency or their own female historical kind of power.

Great point, that doesn’t get the limelight it needs to the in the traditional feminist narrative, and also unfortunately doesn’t get appreciated in the men’s rights world either. I’ve heard Farrell talk about a great point that what may well help men appreciate the private sphere more is online entrepreneurial work from home jobs, that’s clearly on the rise and quite obvious how that would enable more equality around child rearing. I’ve heard Paul Elam the owner of A Voice For Men as though that’s a pipe dream or inconsequential, ans I say unfortunately Farrell just doesn’t get the popularity he should, even though ironically his books are the first and most potent to kick it off.

His 50 or so evidence laid out points about the importance of fathers and what they do in his new book is one of the most important and potential for healing around. If there was hope for it I’d put Warren Farrell top as the spearhead if he can get more appreciation.

I share this concern, and my experience validates this. Alot of the cultures I see war on the other side. Tribes built on echo-chambers, ridiculous extreme feminism leads to extreme masculinism (that word needs inventing by someone lol), where there is a deeply nihilistic eye for an eye, red meme battle over power. I put my faith in men and women’s natural attraction and love for eachother and some more integral views gaining traction. Even in the pro MGTOW view I see this unconscious attraction to the feminine play out, but there is this sense that dating is not safe, or women are inherently selfish, or you will be shamed by the culture for appreciating women.

The body thing is definitely true. That is essentially the essence of the incel (involuntary celibate) culture. Basically if you took women’s need to be beautiful, flipped that on it’s head, made it about needing to be hyper masculine, with a bunch of semi body dysmorphic disorder types armed with rigorous studies and facts about measurements of skulls, shoulder to hip ratio and everything else you’d name then you land at the incel subworld.

Personally my stance is that there needs to be a rigorous look in to the good and bad parts of masculinity and femininity. Both held equally, and seen in relationship as there is no bad or good without the other side. Perhaps combined with spiral dynamics, the evolution of the genders in partnership, all relevant territory for integral making a difference to the debate. The history of the genders is a story of love more than war, and some when that needs to be remembered.

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The gender pay gap was briefly discussed in the conversation between Ken and Warren Farrell. For up-to-date stats and commentary on the issue by a specialist, read this piece on Truthout.

My daughter is pursuing professional volleyball in Europe, because it doesn’t exist in the US. Males in that sport earn much more than women. My son works in a small business and the owner hired a woman recently and is paying her much more than him. She does have a relevant degree, but he has felt very slighted by this.
Another point to raise not related to pay gender gap, is there would be far fewer women raising children alone if men (and women) would be more responsible with their sexual drives. It takes no education to have sex, but it does take education AND will power to prevent pregnancy when having sex.

I work with young men on parole and probation. I read the Boys Crisis and look forward to listening to the podcasts on the subject. Ken and others have given us the map and now it is time to put in the work. It is my intention to do just that.

Only on episode 1, but they are talking about the differences in wages between men and women. One of the areas that I think can benefit the group of young men that I work with is vocational education. There are apprenticeships available for youth through the community college but it is highly competitive. The youth I work with generally struggle with the traditional 9-12 grades educational system. I’ve heard European countries usually split paths around these grade levels with some going the traditional academic route and some getting more trade school specific education. I think this would address some of LR needs that Corey addressed above.
With that being said, I think the general education systems can make more strides in incoporating mindfulness practices K-12. We have to make our education system more Integral. It is still a left-brain, Upper Right dominated system.

Just finished all of them. This could almost be called the Men’s Crisis. Both made great points. One thing that really hits home is how or why this is not more on the radar. Also, the insight on how green level doesn’t really know what to do with this subject.

In keeping an integral perspective its important to recognize the duality that exists in always having to have a reactionary movement to every manifestation (#metoo : #himtoo). It seems to me that no matter what stage of the masculine we find ourselves at, no perspective other than a recognition of the feminine perspective will ever bring the blockages into coalescence. The #metoo and the #himtoo movements are only still things because they aren’t allowed to be and diminish of their own volition. The best action for most things is non action. Simple awareness. Recognition of what is without the need to act. Perhaps the most integral approach possible in all but the most extreme circumstances.

One of the things that was pointed out in this podcast was that fatherless homes between 1965 and now in white homes went from 3% to 35-40% and black homes went from 25% to 75%. My concern of non action might be to theorize these numbers would increase.

They might increase but what goes up must come down. I grew up in the 80’s and came from one of these fatherless homes. As a father myself, I am very motivated to ensure that despite the hardships of marriage and fatherhood, I wont make the same mistakes with my children. Granted, there are all kinds of manifestations that could easily cause me to fail at this, but the motivation is there not because its what’s right or just, but because I want my son and daughter to avoid being the 6 year old Dave that still lives with me in my timeless now. In this way its completely selfish and selfless at the same time.

Sounds like your action is responsible and appropriate. Good job!

Putting this here to advocate how serious men’s issues are at times. The huge disparity in male suicide, how men heal and how it’s not addressed in therapy, and at times the utter deficit in compassion for men:

Sometimes I think some of the bigger voices in the men’s movement could certainly do with seeing things more integrally, both sides of the story, but I see a deficit in the integral world of appreciating just how little is heard of the other side of the gender story in the therapeutic, academic and media world. The men’s advocacy gets nothing like the attention, empathy or respect that feminism does in the 21st century and that needs to be grocked.

Amen Paul! This reply must be 20 characters long…:grinning:

It’s hard to know exactly what is the crisis. The issues and conflict of gender identity/roles goes back to the 1800s when there were the inital rising rates of urbanization, educated women, working women, women’s rights, contraceptive availability, commonality of abortions, etc. That was happening before the American Civil War.

By the end of the 1800s, there was moral panic about boys becoming effeminate and men emasculated, along with fears of moral decline of society. Also, it’s not like the higher rates of violence, suicide, and general mortality among men is a new phenomenon. Even education disparities haven’t come out of nowhere. Over a century now, girls have been getting better grades than boys.

All of that was long before our present iteration of feminism, much less the welfare state or whatever else. Obviously, there are many crises going on in our society, although more of it is based on class and race. Most of the boys falling behind are lower income and racial minorities, whereas most middle-to-upper class white boys are still doing well.

You’re Not The Man Your Father Was
by Neil Howe

Girls have gotten better grades than boys for 100 years
by Libby Nelson

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As an energetic boy born in the 60’s I was constantly told that I was disruptive and needed to be less of one thing or more of something else. The school teachers and principles wanted to speak to my mom often, etc. It was as if I wasn’t fitting societies standards. Having a severely dysfunctional family made it all worse and much of my “acting out” was probably a reaction to that.

I started experiencing depression at age 10 and by age 13 suicidal thoughts became part of my existence. Over the years I’d had some pretty deep depressions and had a owned a gun I’d probably not be writing this. I’d retreat into myself and by the time I was in my late thirties I felt completely disconnected from everyone and that I was a failure. Nihlism had a grip on me and despite the fact that I’d attempted therapy over the years and delved into philosophy and Psychology it seemed to me that there was no meaning that mattered and that the world had no use for a person like myself.

I’d transitioned into Green in my twenties and had always been supportive of feminism and by upper thirties it felt like I was being judged and attacked by women and it made start to question even my own progressive values.

Some of my darkest years through my forties had me getting into trouble with verbally lashing out at people and having one conflict after another and friendships ended. I couldn’t smoke enough pot and drink enough alcohol to numb the pain.

There was still a part of me inside that wanted to rise up and be alive and connect. It was as if there was a self inside that wouldn’t die. Despite my mind giving up there was a part of myself that would just observe all of this and when I’d exhausted myself it would come to the surface and wake me up. I remember many occasions in which I’d get mad at this part of my mind for not letting me wallow in my pain.

In my 50’s I began to reach out to people more than I ever had. Today at 56 it’s the first time in my life that I’ve felt connection despite the fact that I still struggle with a sense of purpose and ability to provide. I haven’t had a deep depression for over three years even though anxiety and depression are still there. If I get to focused on my role in society my mind moves towards darkness. If I think about the people I love and that love me it gets me through the day.

My lack of success by american standards is a huge trigger since I’m on track to retire in economic poverty. There is no family support system and that can way heavily upon my heart. That’s why I try to talk with people often and sometimes I’ll just go sit out in public and watch others and their families and try to feel happy for them.

My disgust for America is probably as much a response to it’s expectations of what it means to be a man as anything else. One of the strange ways I justify my existence is seeing just how sick the society I live in is. All these years I beat myself up and now I realize that it’s not so much me that was sick but the culture I was raised and live in.

Staying connected to nature is important and I smile when I walk in the park. The sound of children laughing and birds singing brings Joy. Flowers and bees make me smile. The world of humans is sadly sick but the universe itself is beautiful miracle! That keeps me going and also I continue to reach out to people and sometimes have an inspiring conversation with someone and feel a deeper connection. I feel one with everything despite my sadness for the human race!

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My life experience is similar, but with some differences. I had certain problems beginning in early childhood.

According to social norms, I had a learning disability which meant I didn’t learn like other people, although I always had a curious mind and measured high on fluid intelligence. Specifically, my learning dsability is a “word finding” issue. It has to do with word and fact recall, even when I knew the info. For example, as a child, I might not have been able to give the name of a close friend when asked.

This involved to learning things in webs of relationships, rather than as isolated factoids. Or rather this chunking of info was a compensatry skill that I learned from a learning disability therapist, an ability often picked up by high-functioning autistics. That period in the '80s was the beginning of the research on word finding and I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time to benefit from it.

Nonetheless, it didn’t make my childhood all that easier. I still hated school and struggled. A contributing factor is I’ve also had social and personality issues, but this aspect was never fully diagnosed. There was depression early on, although even the diagnosis for that only came after a suicide attempt during college.

I’m of an old enough age to have grown up before they handed out lots of diagnoses. This was a point of frustration. Even my depression had no real explanation, as my childhood was relatively comfortable and non-traumatic. It felt like I had no good reason and, according to hyper-indivdualism, the fault must be some kind of character flaw and failing of moral essence.

A factor might’ve been lead toxicity, as I spent my earliest years in a factory town that did pump out air pollution with lead in it. My generation, GenX, did have the highest lead toxicity rates in recent history. But no one was talking about that much in the past and it still barely gets passing mention in the corporate media.

Along with depression, I vaguely recall the psychiatrist speaking of something along the lines of a “thought disorder”. I was put on Risperdal which is an anti-psychotic but also used for depression. But having self-diagnosed myself as an adult, it seems I’m either what used to be called Aspsergers’ or the more common but less well known specific language impairment, both of which can impair social behavior.

Here is the thing. I’m certain my issues were largely social and environmental, not merely personal as would be explained by genetic determinists (and social Darwinists), but that isn’t to say genetics along with epigenetics wouldn’t have been part of it. That sense of an unfair and unjust society that blames the individual has caused me a lot of anger and despair over the decades and part of me is surprised I’ve lived this long.

I somehow made it to middle age, just having turned 45. Recent changes in diet, variations of low-carb, finally made the worst aspects of chronic depression to disappear. Yet a lifetime of depressive habits of mind and relating remain in place. I’m trying to relearn how to not be depressed at a late stage in life.

For all that I’ve been through, it’s never occurred to me to frame my own issues as part of a “boy crisis”. I’m not sure why that it is. I guess I don’t feel convinced that our society is easier on girls than boys. Sure, girls do relatively better in education, but then they do relatively worse outside of education. Plenty of prejudice remains against women.

Life can be shitty for both sexes, if in different ways. I tend to see race and class being far more significant. And on that level, I’ve always acknowledged that I have relative privilege. If I was an inner city black boy or poor white girl, life would be a thousand times harder than what I’ve had to deal with. I’ve always had a strong sense of how much worse things are for most people in the world. Simply to be born in a Western country puts even poor minorities at an advantage as compared to most other countries.

Struggle and suffering is always relative. Anyway, it’s pointless to participate in the oppression Olympics in aguing that one’s suffering is greater and more important than everyone else’s. My sense is that there is a real crisis going on and it’s negatively affecting most people across demographic divides.

In a sense, there is a boy crisis, particularly for disadvantaged boys. But that might not be the best way to frame it, as it turns a shared crisis into a competition of identity politics. In becoming divided, we are incapable of facing our shared crisis and responding well. It becomes yet another point of demagogic manipulation and reactionary politics.

Part of my attitude is that I grew up in a Green environment. My parents, although conservative Republicans, were going through a socially liberal phase as a young married couple. They raised my brothers and I in hyper-liberal and New Agey churches (Science of Mind and Unity). I internalized feminism and the ideal of the sensitive male before I could understand such things.

Even so, I’ve never reacted to that early upbringing. My childhood remains a happy time of life in many ways. That idealistic upbringing of progressive faith has saved me from fully and permanently falling into cynicism. It has never occurred to me that any of my problems had anything to do with me being male, per se.

My sense of crisis, even from a young age, always focused on larger issues of the entire society. Having grown up in the late Cold War, I was bottlefed on visions of post-apocalyptic dystopias. Overpopulation, pollution, environmental destruction, etc also was heavy on my mind. It seemed to me that this society in general was harmful to pretty much everyone.

That has become ever more clear to me as I’ve aged. In studying history, I’ve come to realize that the sense of mass crisis and moral panic goes back centuries and, in some ways, millennia. All of the main fears that keep popping up first emerged during the Axial Age, the first period of civilization as we know it based on imperialism and individualism.

There are many possible reasons behind this ongoing crisis. There is the increasing hierarchy, authoritarianism, and inequality. Also, there is the individualism that has become hyper-individualism, as opposed to the bundled mind of Buddhism and many tribal societies, which relates to the WEIRD bias we modern Westerners are trapped in. Language plays a big role in this, specifically as shown in linguistic relativity. But I suspect that changes in diet might be among the most key factors.

Whatever it is, much has fundamentally changed about humanity and society. And it’s experienced as fearful and threatening. We focus on narrow issues like the “boy crisis” probably because the larger sense of anxiety and distress is too overwhelming.