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Girls and Women Should NOT Be the Gold Standard for Judging Boys and Men

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(Article changed on January 11, 2014 at 19:29)

Duluth, Minnesota (OpEdNews) January 11, 2014: In the 1956 Broadway musical My Fair Lady, the character Professor Henry Higgins sings the song "Why Can't a Woman Be More Like a Man?"

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Ever since the rise of second-wave feminism in the 1960s and 1970s, many feminists -- including not only female feminists but also male feminists as well -- have in effect been singing the song "Why Can't a Man Be More Like a Woman?"

At times, they may sing a variant of this song: "Why Can't a Boy Be More Like a Girl?"

Both men and women have observed that girls mature faster than boys do. Good for girls! Oftentimes, girls are more sensitive and express their feelings more readily than boys do. Good for girls!

Nevertheless, despite these widespread observations, it does not seem to me to be a good idea to compare boys' development to girls' development as though girls were the gold standard by which to judge boys.

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However, in her tightly constructed argument in "American men's hidden crisis: They need more friends" at Salon Magazine online (dated Dec. 7, 2013), Lisa Wade seems to consider girls to be the gold standard by which to judge boys.

Now, I would say that second-wave feminism in the 1960s and 1970s did help precipitate a male identity crisis. This is why the title of Wade's article "American men's hidden crisis" caught my attention. While the subtitle of her article ("They need more friends") might sound as though she is going to argue against men being "loners," it turns out that she really means that men need more friendships of the sort that women commonly cultivate with other women. "Why Can't a Man Be More Like a Woman?"

Wade works with terminology that she credits to Geoffrey Greif: shoulder-to-shoulder friendships and face-to-face friendships.

But Wade has little use for shoulder-to-shoulder friendships. She has nothing favorable to say about them.

For Wade, face-to-face friendships are the gold standard.

I would allow that face-to-face friendships deserve a lot of credit, especially in the contexts of psychotherapy and spiritual direction. However, I do not consider face-to-face friendships to be the gold standard by which all other friendships are to be judged. For example, I do not see face-to-face friendships as always preferable to shoulder-to-shoulder friendships. Face-to-face friendships have a place in our lives. But so do shoulder-to-shoulder friendships.

But I would also allow that boys and men need optimal experiences of shoulder-to-should friendships. I use the qualifying term "optimal" here to imply that there can be less-than-optimal and at times seriously sub-optimal experiences of shoulder-to-shoulder friendships. Incidentally, there can also be less-than-optimal experiences of face-to-face friendships.

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But what about girls and women -- don't they also need optimal experiences of shoulder-to-shoulder friendships?   In theory, I would say, "Yes, they do." However, I am not going to develop this point here because I want to focus on Wade's article about boys and men.


Wade notes that "at about age 15 or 16 . . . the suicide rate of boys increases to four times the rate for girls."

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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)

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