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Does Girl Power = "Boy Crisis" ?

The American Jewish community never fails to worry. We worry about anti-Semitism. We worry about intermarriage. We worry about assimilation. And lately, we’ve been worrying about boys. In response to the steady retreat of boys and young men from Jewish communal life, many of us have declared our community plagued by a “boy crisis.”

An interesting word choice: crisis. I gave myself five seconds to free-associate with “crisis” and here’s what came to mind: AIDS, Ebola, Global Warming, Hurricane Katrina, Health Care. Curiously enough, “boys” did not surface as a crisis. Neither did “girls.”

After reading “The ‘Boy Crisis’ That Cried Wolf” an article by Rona Shapiro, senior associate at Ma’yan: The Jewish Women’s Project, I share Shapiro’s concern about the disproportional weight we attribute to male participation in Jewish life and her unease with the sensationalized language used to characterize Jewish gender dynamics in general.

The statistics quoted in Shapiro’s article do give us cause to worry. In the Reform Movement, boys comprise only 43% of youth group participants, 28% of campers at Camp Kutz (the Reform movement’s leadership camp for teens), and 33% of first-year rabbinical students at Hebrew Union College. And a recent study of affiliated Jewish teens conducted by Brandeis University’s Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies reveals that girls outnumber boys in youth programs 2-to-1. Yet as Shapiro points out, when four out of every five American college students were male, there was no “girl crisis.” And when women were not ordained as rabbis and not called to the Torah for aliyot or even allowed on the bimah at all, no one proclaimed a “crisis” of any kind.

Why is it that when the gender scale tips with girls’ involvement out-weighing boys,’ does the Jewish community declare a state of emergency? And perhaps more importantly, what’s the cause of this perceived “crisis” in the first place?

Some suggest that boys and men are retreating from Jewish life because women now dominate it (or so they think), and boys just haven’t found a way to adapt to shared leadership with their female counterparts. In response to this male absence, the Union for Reform Judaism recently launched a “Young Men’s Project.” Moving Traditions, sponsor of the program: “Rosh Hodesh: It’s a Girl Thing!” has also begun a major initiative for boys.

These initiatives may be addressing a need, but the reasoning behind their inception is questionable. If boys’ disengagement from Jewish life is, in fact, spawned by a discomfort with “dominant” involvement and/or leadership among girls, should we really be advocating exclusive, boy-centered initiatives as an acceptable solution? Might this only exacerbate a “Sexism Crisis” ?

Perhaps the real crisis is the Jewish community’s lack of innovation in meeting the needs of boys and girls alike. We need to work collaboratively and creatively to accommodate the ways in which our community’s needs have evolved.

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We as girls have an advantage, but this is an advantage we have carried with us through more support and care for years, while the more aggressive, less supportive treatment boys receive from infancy is not hurting them in the information age. We must stop playing girls against boys and boys against girls. We must see all of us as very equal but greatly affected by differential treatment over time from infancy.

I feel the problem of the male crisis has Ì¢‰âÒnot been looked atÌ¢‰âÂå in terms of much differential treatment that increases as we go down the socioeconomic ladder and more time in those environments. If anyone looks in those areas, they cannot help but see how the numbers of boys problems diminish greatly as we go up the socioeconomic ladder, even higher socioeconomic areas those Males are also falling behind their female peers. As we go down the socioeconomic ladder, the numbers increase greatly. We need to also look at much differential treatment of boys and girls beginning from infancy onward through adulthood. It is amazing to me that such differential treatment has not be looked at by the researchers. I imagine there are two reasons: 1. The belief in genetics has blinded researchers to the great social causes of learning, motivation and academics. 2.The present view of average stress sees stress as only occurring in some present situation, event, or work. We need to see how our average stress is made up many layers of past, present, future Ì¢‰â‰ÛÏ experiences, fears, preparations for defense, needs, values of others, a host of unresolved mental work that remains with us we each carry as individuals as an average that take up real mental energy from thinking, learning, motivation to learn, and affects our mental/emotional health. The problem is more complex than school curriculum or boy chemistry. We need to stop looking at where boys are in life, character, and behavior and begin looking at how boys are treated from infancy very differently from us as girls. We need to see how the more aggressive treatment they are given from infancy by parents, teachers, peers is creating more learning problems and less than correct behavior or care for authority and school. To understand this, "we must redefine our average stress as many layers of mental work we carry with us that take away real mental energy leaving less mental energy to think, learn, concentrate, and enjoy the learning process. This differential treatment creates very real differences in learning by individual and by group. The problem involves two entirely different treatments of Males and Females as early as one year of age and increases in differential treatment. This is creating the growing Male Crisis. The belief Males should be strong allows aggressive treatment of Males as early as one year, designed to create more layers of agitation, fear, and tension, so they will be prepared to fight, defend, and be tough. This is coupled with much "less" kind, stable, (very little verbal interaction) and less mental/emotional/social support, knowledge, and skills for fear of coddling. This increases over time and continued by society from peers, teachers and others in society. This creates more social/emotional distance from parents and other authority figures who have knowledge; lags in communication, lower social vocabulary, poor sentence structure; also higher average stress: more layers of mental agitated conflicts and fears taking away real mental energy that hurt learning and motivation = to learn; also more activity due to need for stress relief; also more social/emotional distance from adults/teachers, defensiveness and wariness of others further hindering emotional and social growth; and higher muscle tension (creating more pressure on pencil and tighter grip) that hurts writing and motivation to write. It creates much lag in development creating a learned sense of helplessness in school. This differential treatment continues through adulthood, almost fixing many Males onto roads of failure and escape into more short-term areas of enjoyment. Also society gives Males love and honor (essential needs for self-worth) only on condition of some achievement or status. This was designed to keep Male esteem and feelings of self-worth low to keep them striving and even give their lives in time of war for small measures of love and honor. Males not achieving in school or other are given more ridicule and discipline to make them try harder. Support is not an option for fear of coddling. Many Males thus falling behind in academics then turn their attention toward video games and sports to receive small measures of love/honor not received in the classroom. The belief boys should be strong and the false belief in genetics that denies any connection with differential treatment and lower academics, lower esteem, and other problems over-rides all good sense when it comes to raising today. I feel there is an almost emotional cannibalism allowed upon Males, even young Males who appear to to be weak to make them tough. Since we as girls by differential treatment are given much more positive, continual, mental, emotional/social support verbal interaction and care from an early age onward this creates quite the opposite outcome for girls compared with boys. We enjoy much more continuous care and support from infancy through adulthood and receive love and honor simply for being girls. This creates all of the good things: lower average stress for more ease of learning. We do enjoy much freedom of expression from much protection that makes us look less stable at times; we enjoy lower muscle tension for better handwriting/motivation; higher social vocabulary; lower average stress for reading/motivation; much more positive, trust/communication with adults, teachers, peers; and much more support for perceived weaknesses. We are reaping a bonanza in the information age. The lower the socioeconomic bracket and time in that bracket the more amplified the differential treatment from a young age and increased and more differentiated over time. Now with girls and women taking over many areas of society, we are enjoying even more lavishing of love and honor, while boys and men still treated to be tough are failing more and are being given even more ridicule and abuse by society and yes, also by girls and women. My learning theory and article on the Male Crisis will go to all on request or can be read from my home site at http://learningtheory.homestea...

Why are you afraid of focus being given to boys when they are having trouble? Leave your grief about the status of women in the past behind you and look to now and the future.

Society changes very quickly. Since the women's movement, women have dominated society's concern for equal status while the status of men has been *assumed* to be superior. Men's superior status in society may have been true most of the time for the past 40 years, but the present does not hold this truth any longer. Women have higher enrollment rates in college, receive more bachelor's and master's degrees, there are more women in medical school, women under 30 earn considerably higher wages than men under 30, and women are starting to "dominate" the Jewish community. The gender scales have flipped, it is time to be concerned for the status of our boys as well.

"Why is it that when the gender scale tips with girlsÌ¢‰â‰㢠involvement out-weighing boys,Ì¢‰â‰㢠does the Jewish community declare a state of emergency?"

It was a state of emergency when the gender scales were tipped in favor of boys, then should it also be an emergency when they're tipped in favor of girls? Those who want a healthy society should want a relatively equal amount of participation between men and women. When the "gender scale tips with girlsÌ¢‰â‰㢠involvement out-weighing boys" it is a sign of a problem. Society is entirely elastic enough to recreate the past with the genders flipped. We all want equality, we can never achieve equality if we cannot give help to those who need it at the time they need it. The concern about boys is not meant to disadvantage girls, it is meant to help boys who ARE in trouble.

Perhaps you realize that a predominance of focus on the status of girls and women has hurt boys (think about the effect it has on mothers who assume her sons will be better off than her daughters and then focuses her attention on her daughter. The effect of focusing only on her daughter hurts her son), and are worried about a predominance of focus on the status of boys hurting girls' status once again?

I personally don't think this situation will happen, because even with all the focus on boys starting to emerge (and rightfully so), there are still plenty of people like you who will have concerns for the status of girls. This is a good thing, we need to be concerned with the status of all people in our society, not just girls because boys have historically had it better. Society changes and it changes rapidly. Ignoring the present and the probable future while thinking only of how things were in the past is a severe error of judgment.

"If boysÌ¢‰â‰㢠disengagement from Jewish life is, in fact, spawned by a discomfort with Ì¢‰âÒdominantÌ¢‰âÂå involvement and/or leadership among girls, should we really be advocating exclusive, boy-centered initiatives as an acceptable solution?"

Weren't women disengaged because men dominated at one point as well? It was necessary to take initiatives to change it then, and those initiatives were girl-centered. Clearly, they worked. It is time to start helping boys again, having boy-centered initiatives is probably the best way to help boys.

"Might this only exacerbate a 'Sexism Crisis' ?"

I don't think it's sexist to focus on the needs of each sex individually. It is sexist to focus on the needs of only one sex, and it is girls status in society has been predominantly focused on for the past 40 years. Perhaps this was necessary to bring women to equal status with men, but I think we are in a position today where we need to focus on our boys again. We can focus on boys and girls individually, so long as we focus on both. Mothers and fathers focusing on both their sons and daughters, not mothers wholly concerned with their daughters and fathers wholly concerned with their sons, we don't need sexism among parents directed at their children.

When I read articles like this one it reminds me so much of the beginning of the women's movement. Women were shouting out that society is unfair and unbalanced while many men tried to contradict them and dismissed their claims. Do not contradict or dismiss what is happening to our boys. Do not dismiss help for our boys claiming it will only add to a "sexism crisis". Our boys are in real trouble, we need to acknowledge their problems in order to help them and not fear that helping boys is somehow sexist and discriminatory towards girls. We can help boys and not lose sight of our girls.

"This is something we discuss daily at my current job at a leading youth organization - where the boys are, or are not. Interesting to note that " The Jewish Community" less often asks about its young women."

The statistics from this article indicate that the Jewish Community is aware of where both its boys and girls are. The statistics clearly show a heavy predominance of girls in most activities among the Jewish Community. It is necessary to discuss the participation of boys when their participation is so much less than girls. If the situation tips in favor of boys again, I'll bet you they'll be asking about girls.

This is something we discuss daily at my current job at a leading youth organization - where the boys are, or are not. Interesting to note that " The Jewish Community" less often asks about its young women.

How to cite this page

Namerow, Jordan. "Does Girl Power = "Boy Crisis" ?." 26 January 2007. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on June 2, 2020) <>.

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