A repudiation of the fashionable claims of “girl advocates” by controversial social critic Sommers (Who Stole Feminism?, 1994).
“It’s a bad time to be a boy in America,” the author (a mother of sons) declares. She spends much of her time in this contentious study establishing and documenting her thesis that, contrary to the declarations of Harvard educator Carol Gilligan and her myriad followers, it is boys, not girls, who “are languishing academically and socially.” Sommers produces convincing, even devastating evidence of the academic dishonesty practiced by those who support the opposite thesis—the so-called “girl-crisis” writers. Gilligan and her colleagues, according to Sommers, base their alarming conclusions on insubstantial and shoddy research. (Gilligan, for example, has neither published nor released to the public in any other form her three studies that were the foundation for her 1982 bestseller, In a Different Voice.) Sommers also assails other widely publicized gender studies sponsored by the American Association of University Women and the McLean Hospital of the Harvard Medical School, showing that they are at best biased and at worst (in the case of the McLean study) vitiated by “outsized claims and lack of evidence.” Sommers recognizes that the disturbing results of these flawed studies attract journalists, many of whom “prefer disseminating sensational claims to looking for dissenting voices”; she knows, too, that “apocalyptic alarms about looming mental health disasters . . . sell well.” Sommers argues that what alarmists have characterized as “crises” are often simply the evanescent traits typical of adolescents—of both sexes. Sommers is much less convincing, however, when she offers her remedy—a simplistic package of back-to-the-basics instruction and “moral education” to overcome the “socially crude, disrespectful, and untoward behavior” in the public schools (whose “permissive” teachers and administrators she blames for crimes ranging from “intruding into . . . children’s psychic lives” to the shootings at Columbine).
A sharp study that raises troubling questions about the integrity of the research underlying much current educational polemic—and the policies that these polemics have inspired.