Where Have All the Boys Gone?
In “Where are all the Boys?”, a post from the Jewish Women’s Archive’s blog, “Jewesses with Attitude,” author Eden Marcus describes reactions to her all female United Synagogue Youth (USY) chapter board. “Nope,” Marcus wants to respond, “It’s just us girls. I am the president, and all the vice presidents are girls as well…and guess what? We’re doing great.” Her mother asks her, “do you think they would have noticed if your board was all boys?” My answer is simple: Yes. Everyone notices when the board is all boys. Articles and books about why there aren’t more women in STEM or more female CEOs are a dime a dozen. Yet no one looks at the growing number of female boards in USY and asks, “What’s driving boys away from religion?” It’s not as though this is solely a USY problem. My CTeen chapter has a female majority and two of its three leaders are girls. When discussing this phenomenon with a friend of mine she said that at her synagogue the Sisterhood group is more active than the Brotherhood group. Why is it that at a synagogue where men come three times a day to pray there isn’t an active Brotherhood?
It’s simple: toxic masculinity drives men away from community. Toxic masculinity forces men to be strong and unemotional, leading to negative effects for the men. For example, men and women tend to react differently to the loss of a spouse because married men get most of their emotional support from their wives, while married women get most of their emotional support from community. Across the board, this lack of emotional support translates into different issues for men, the most apparent being suicide rates four times those of women.
Toxic masculinity effects aren’t limited to driving men away from community. A magazine at my previous high school said, “Feminism is the number of female Americans enrolled in college being significantly higher than the number of males (11.3 million versus 8.6 million) in 2012, according to US Newsweek.” That’s not feminism, that’s an education system that routinely fails boys. Across the board, boys are being alienated in the classroom. Where are the campaigns to get men to go to college like we try to get women into STEM? Where are the toys to make reading more manly like the ones that make science more girly?
As soon as anyone tries to say that feminism is about women’s rights alone, someone pops up and points out that it’s a movement about equality. But if that person then turns around and says that men are inherently sexist or that men cannot be victims of sexism, they contradict themselves. Sexism towards men is real. It’s a parent telling their son, “big boys don’t cry.” It’s a boy feeling unable to ask for help because he’s afraid of being perceived as weak. It’s widowers with no support networks, because they “shouldn’t need anybody.” We can’t keep acting like the patriarchy doesn’t affect men. It does, and it’s called toxic masculinity. Toxic masculinity forces men to be unemotional and unattached, to be “strong.” Books like Lean In encourage women to embrace the aggressive tactics of their male peers, but there’s no Lean Back: no one’s encouraging men to embrace their female counterparts’ more compassionate tactics.
For all that we do to try and free women and girls from the restrictions placed upon them, we frequently ignore the limitations placed on men and boys by their assigned gender roles. We don’t ask why boys aren’t participating in USY; we celebrate the female leadership that has arisen in their absence. It’s great that there are women getting involved in community leadership roles, but there shouldn’t be no men. The fact that there are no boys, not even one, willing to put in the time to be on Marcus’ USY chapter board should be deeply troubling to us. We should not be celebrationg toxic masculinity.
This piece was written as part of JWA’s Rising Voices Fellowship.
How to cite this page
Eigerman, Elisabeth. "Where Have All the Boys Gone?." 22 February 2016. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on April 20, 2021) <https://jwa.org/blog/risingvoices/where-have-all-boys-gone>.