We now know a 1997 study that was instrumental in embedding PC feminist politics into the education of young children for what it truly was and is — a farce.
The study, entitled Listening to Boys' Voices, by clinical psychologist Dr. William Pollack of Harvard, along with his subsequent best-seller, Real Boys: Rescuing Our Sons from the Myths of Boyhood (1998), sparked massive media coverage of what was termed "a national crisis of boys." Leading newspapers covered the "crisis." It was announced on the cover of Newsweek. It was explored in a segment of ABC's 20/20 and discussed on the Today Show.
What is the crisis? An epidemic of "violent" behavior by boys — for example, of teasing and bullying at school — that is said to pose a danger to society and to boys themselves. Boyhood has to be modified, activists said in response, largely through the public schools. We must start training more gentle and caring young men, they said.
Now, the study upon which the crisis was founded is in question.
In an interview, John Haskins of the Parents' Rights Coalition of Waltham, Mass., confirmed that the father of one of the boys might be on the verge of coming forward to attack the data, methodology and ethics of the research project. Haskins explained that the father needed to know that "qualified professionals" will support his concerns. The parent is an academic at a university and speaking out in isolation could be disastrous to his career.
Several "irregularities" are making him weigh the risk, nonetheless. For example, the issue of parental consent to the study is unclear as the only permission came as the result of silence. A long letter to parents from the school discussed diverse topics, including the study. Parents were asked to contact the office if they objected to their son's participation.
Also, the boys were required to sign their names to the surveys, a demand that may violate the Ethical Standards of the American Psychological Association. The standards state that a researcher must shield subjects "such as students" from any negative consequences of declining to participate. Anonymity is the standard protection offered to those who might otherwise experience "a lowering of a grade or evaluation, loss of privileges, or any other negative consequence over which the researcher has some degree of control."
It is no coincidence that criticism of the study is arising only now. Most of the boys involved have gone onto higher education and, so, are not as vulnerable to harmful backlash.
A strange secrecy surrounds the results of this study. Although national policy was being formed on the basis of his data, Pollack did not publish the results and he refused to disclose many details, such as where it had been conducted. The location is important because it indicates whether the sampling was representative.
Information came to light through research Professor Christina Hoff Sommers did for her most recent book, The War Against Boys: How Misguided Feminism Is Harming Our Young Men (2000). She was curious about a press release issued in 1998 from the prestigious McLean Hospital, the psychiatric teaching hospital at Harvard Medical school. Under the heading "Adolescence Is Time of Crisis for Even 'Healthy' Boys, Finds McLean Study," the release stated that "despite appearing outwardly content, many boys feel deep feelings of loneliness and alienation." The concluding sentence called for changing the way boys are raised "in our homes, in our schools and in society."
Sommers requested and received the elusive 30-page research paper. In a 1998 speech delivered to the American Enterprise Institute, she reported on her findings. For example, the study had avoided peer review by not being published in a professional journal: Portions of it had been released to the popular press instead.
Sommers concluded that "the child-doomsayers" were "irresponsibly portraying healthy American ... boys as pathological victims of an inimical culture." The "stereotypical boy behavior" of adolescence was under attack by politically correct academics who considered such behavior to be offensive and socially destructive.
After pointing out that the majority of research indicates that American boys are generally well adjusted, Sommers concluded, "It never occurs to the would-be-reformers of boys that their efforts" to "feminize" them is "grossly unfair" to boys themselves.
The underlying assumption of such reformers is that there is no significant psychological difference between boys and girls. The clear differences in behavior between the genders are supposedly due to socialization that can be reversed. Much of the "de-socialization" can be done at taxpayer expense through public schools that exercise parental-style prerogative toward shaping the attitudes of children.
Child-crisis writers like Pollack have profited richly from attacking the so-called "bully culture" of boys. Since the 1997 study, Pollack has created a virtual cottage industry of crisis through his subsequent lecturing and books — Real Boys' Voices and Real Boys' Workbook (both 2001). He had been quick to pick up on public concern on violence in schools by boys from Columbine and uncovering what he widely publicizes as the "Columbine Syndrome."
The structure of the alleged boy crisis in America has been built largely on the foundation of one study. Professor Howard Schwartz, author of Revolt of the Primitive, has written two exposés of Pollack's Listening to Boys' Voices. Schwartz describes how the subjects themselves viewed the one-sided questions on the survey as jokes, shouting out answers to each other.
One subject reportedly said, "Our immature attempt at humor four years ago should not be the benchmark for the 21st century."
McElroy is the editor of www.ifeminists.com. She also edited Freedom, Feminism, and the State (Independent Institute, 1999) and Sexual Correctness: The Gender Feminist Attack on Women (McFarland, 1996). She lives with her husband in Canada.