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Editorial: Men, boys could use a little help to be better men

The work of fathers could be aided by a state commission focused on the issues of boys and men.

By The Herald Editorial Board

It’s not acknowledged often, but being a father isn’t an easy job. (Being a mother is no breezy task either, but tomorrow being Father’s Day, we’ll stick to that subject).

And that level of difficulty seems only to be increasing as pressures and expectations on men and boys are growing in complexity and consequence, and a range of advice and influence — some of it helpful, much of it counterproductive at best — pulls those with XY chromosomes in different directions.

Being a good father — and growing into and living as a good man — requires more thought, preparation and effort than manning the grill on weekends. More men and boys are struggling to make those efforts and find success in school, careers and their personal lives, even as girls and women for the most part appear to be coping better and finding success with modern life’s complexities and demands.

That growing gap between genders isn’t just perception. For boys in Washington state, their high school graduation rate lags 5 percentage points behind that of girls; only 35 percent achieve a high school GPA of 3.0 or higher, compared to 51 percent for girls; and young men are 19 percent less likely than young women to earn a bachelor’s or more advanced degree.

Men account for 70 percent of the state’s unsheltered population, 68 percent of fatal overdoses, 91 percent of juvenile detentions, 94 percent of the incarcerated population — and are serving longer sentences — and suffer 79 percent of the total number of suicides, in a state where the rate of suicide deaths exceeds the national average, according to statistics for the state from the American Institute for Boys and Men.

The problem in addressing those struggles — even in pointing them out — is the assumption that ultimately any efforts directed at improving the lot of boys and men will necessarily result in a smaller slice of the pie for women; just as women are making hard-and-long-fought-for gains in their academic, professional and political lives.

That’s the struggle that Richard Reeves, a former Brookings Institution fellow, addressed in his 2022 book, “Of Boys and Men: Why the Modern Male is Struggling, Why it Matters and What to Do About It.”

“So many people were afraid that merely drawing attention to the problems of boys and men was implying somehow less effort being paid to girls and women; that it’s framed as zero-sum,” Reeves, president of the AIBM, says in a YouTube video on its website. “And it’s sort of a ‘Who’s side are you on?’ question, and you have to be on one side or the other, rather than just being on the side of human flourishing.”

Among the initiatives that Reeves and the organization’s state chapter have advocated for is more attention paid by national, state and local governments, including the establishment of statewide commissions that can better study the challenges and advocate for policies and investments that address them.

Lawmakers in Washington state have been among the first in the nation to draft legislation to create such a commission. State Rep. Mary Dye, R-Pomeroy, first introduced legislation to create a commission for boys and men in 2023, and was joined this year with companion legislation sponsored by state Sen. John Lovick, D-Mill Creek. But for the last two sessions, both bills — House Bill 1270 and Senate Bill 5830 — have failed to be granted a committee or floor vote, or so much as a public hearing to allow advocates to speak to the concerns and a commission’s potential.

Lovick, after the end of the most recent session, has continued his advocacy. Most recently he urged support for the legislation next session by the Seattle Firefighters union, writing its executive board that the state “has the opportunity to take a serious and responsible approach to uplifting boys and men in areas where they’re struggling.”

Modeled on the state Women’s Commission, which was created by the Legislature in 2018, the commission on boys and men would look into the risk factors experienced by boys, male youths and men and use that information to inform policy and other solutions to improve outcomes in five areas: education; fatherhood and family; mental and physical health; careers, jobs and financial health; and criminal justice and the courts.

Many of the efforts — no surprise because of the potential — could be focused on boys and young men, including in terms of education and behavioral health, including the recruitment of more male teachers, counselors and mental health professionals. Currently in the state, men hold only 25 percent of the jobs in mental health counseling, 18 percent of elementary teaching positions and 16 percent of social work positions.

Dye, in an earlier interview with the editorial board suggested that better pay for those jobs — provided equally to men and women — would make those careers a more attractive option for men.

Reeves, Dye and others have also suggested recognition of the different ways in which boys and girls learn, and adjusting the elementary school day to offer more recess, and even holding boys back for a later start to elementary school than girls.

There’s urgency in this work with a growing risk in not providing positive male role models and mentors to boys and young men. That lack of positive influence from men creates a vacuum that is — with the ubiquitous prevalence of social media — easily and eagerly being filled by divisive and toxic influencers, among them people like Andrew Tate, a former professional kickboxer, who has used his social media skills to expose boys and young men to anti-feminist and misogynistic ideals as worthy life skills. Those ideals, by the way, have Tate now facing charges in Romania for rape and human trafficking and sexual aggression in the United Kingdom.

“Problems that are not addressed by responsible people become grievances that are then weaponized by irresponsible people,” Reeves told the editorial board in December.

This all might seem a heavy sermon to lay on dads on Father’s Day. But the work of a father, while fulfilling, is a demanding responsibility. Offering fathers — and all boys and men — some help in being better men would beat giving dad another coffee mug.

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