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Lit Review - "The War Against Boys"

This book is a scholarly work by an academic who wants to get things back on track and although USA-researched, the underlying principles are broadly applicable. Actually, the cultural time-lag makes them very recognisable in Ireland today.

Christina Hoff Sommers is probably best known for “Who Stole Feminism” in 1994, and she has been working hard for twenty years at winning it back. This is where an overlay criticism of her work is to be found, which some might say is unfair, but here we go anyway.

The first part of the criticism is that she seems to believe that it is possible to put the toothpaste cleanly back in the tube, and in that, she clings to her own flavour of humanist feminism (which, by the way, is to be admired) which, if returned to, would get things back on track.

Therein lays the second part of the criticism: the assumption that the original toothpaste was perfect. If recent history has shown us anything, it is that we should be very wary of any idea offering a complete solution. The “if we could only get back to” idea is always dubious as it seeks a narrative of past utopian ideal, a past which is always difficult to pinpoint accurately and so is beyond criticism and hence problematic. In fact, the title of the book was changed for the reprint to "The War Against Boys: How misguided policies are harming our young men".

What Hoff Sommers and other similar writers seem to forget is that the problems highlighted in the book had their origins in the very ideology which it seeks to defend. The hypothesis is that this same, hugely successful ideology which is generally accepted across the board from government policy to social media is not the "real" one.  It would seem counter-productive to criticise the damaging effects of an ideology while at the same time giving it an acceptable face. It requires a double-think which many find difficult to maintain.

So, in short, the paste probably won’t go back in the tube and, if it did, it’s questionable whether its good for teeth in the first place.

Having said that, the book is definitely an eye opener. Yes, it’s from 2000, but are things really so different now? You may be surprised at the resonance with current policies in Ireland. The book identifies some very serious problems which are particularly insidious because they have a slow-burn with future consequences. Of course, there are a great many people who deny that these are problems at all, but once one has read the book, that stance is difficult to support.

A number of things read like satire, and would be funny if they were. One which comes to mind is the description of the “Son Day”, proposed by the Ms. Foundation to align with their “Take our daughters to work day” in the late 90s. The girls were taken to the office and the boys were to be given a day of re-education. This reader laughed out loud before realising it wasn't a joke. Thankfully Son Day was aborted and after a few years, the initiative was renamed as “Take our Children to work day” because of mounting pressure and protests from parents and teachers alike. It’s legitimate to ask how much damage was done during these few years, the tender years, and how many children across the USA were affected or influenced by it at such an impressionable age.

What is important is to try to understand how these problems came about and where they originated. Ultimately, keep in mind that children are the subject of the book.

If, in response to these problems, you find yourself thinking things like “…well, you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs”, then you should take a really, really hard look in the mirror, and ask yourself what sacrifice is too great for this perfect omelette you so desire.

Then, if, even for a split second, you actually consider that as a real question, realise that this is a sure indicator of an ideological belief and you need to start deprogramming yourself.

There are more detailed reviews of the book on amazon along with other book reviews from the O’Palmer and some recommended books if you want something for the weekend.

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