Philip Zimbardo on the Lives of Boys

August 23rd, 2011 by Pelle Billing

Philip Zimbardo, professor emeritus at Stanford University, gives his take on why boys are struggling:

I think he brings an interesting and valid perspective, but obviously there are more factors as to why boys are struggling in school and in finding a job.

Some of them may be:

  • Schools aren’t adapted to the learning style of boys.
  • Society has a negative view on men.
  • Boys living without their father (and there are many of them) have a hard time finding male role models, especially in school.
  • We lack a vision of what positive masculinity could be in a postmodern world. And when there’s no vision – you may as well play computer games and watch porn.

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25 Responses to “Philip Zimbardo on the Lives of Boys”

  1. Vladimir Says:

    I think that constant (either real or perceived) no-win scenarios presented in the life of boys leads to reclusion accompanied with academic, professional and emotional failures in later life and fall back to the virtual world.

    I have been living in Sweden for a year now, and there are very few vikings left there due to the effects of the feminist movement.

    If a boy cannot win over a school bully, and his parents and society in general tells them not to fight back as violence is not the answer(and yet he gets his a** kicked on a regular basis and no one is doing anything about it), if they get ridiculed by girls at early age and be taught that they should still be gentlemen…

    … to put it short: If they keep getting the rotten end of a deal but they are obliged not to rock the boat about it, they will just go their own way.

    It’s a very subtle method of emasculation. Tie someone’s hands behind their back, throw them into the water and tell them to swim. They are not ignorant of the fact that they are being coned, they just can’t do anything about it. Hence, that is why they refuse to participate in society, both its detriment and their own.

  2. Pelle Billing Says:

    Vladimir,

    I wish I could say you were wrong. But I can’t.

    Not everything is as dark as this, but what you refer to certainly exists.

  3. Vladimir Says:

    The examples might have been the more extreme ones, but the principle stands.

    For anyone to achieve their potential, they must find some purpose in their work, success and life. When purpose, fairplay, potential for success and happiness are denied, everyone will get trapped in a downwards spiral.

    Any attempt to fight this and call foul will attract accusation of sexism, or of not being a “man”.

    It happened to women, now it’s happening to men.

    Some radical feminists call it “due compensation”. I call it plain sadistic. It’s evil to enjoy in other persons misery, regardless of gender.

  4. Allan Says:

    I agree. There’s no “psychological space” for boys to work out their problems. There’s so much hostility to males on top of the traditional silencing of boys and then all the things you say Pelle. I’m ignorant of boys environment today but it seems there’s nothing for them in the “real world”.

    The message says more about the sender than the message: it seems entirely superficial and rushed. An afterthought to the 10 hour presentation about how girls and women need help to succeed.

    As I said before, the old patterns just re-emerge with new clothes. A new form of sexism and violence (broadly defined).

  5. Eagle33 Says:

    Close but no cigar.

    That’s what I have to say on Philip’s take on it.

    While he does come close to flagging the other reason behind Boys and Men failing in the education system and the social markets, he again, like others, resorts to linking videogames as a factor.

    As a gamer, though not as much as in the early days, I can’t help but be a little offended. I’ve played video games a lot. I do it mostly for the story nowadays because video games are a viable storytelling format on par with movies and books.

    Yet listening to him, it’s like he patholgicallizes videogames. Yes they are addictive but there’s more to them.

    If a man or boy is playing more videogames what’s wrong with that? As long as its not detremental to their development, why make such a big deal about the length of time a boy or man spends playing videogames?

    Besides, it’s like you said Pelle. Boys and Men just can’t win in today’s climate. So they’re going to turn to their hobbies more as a response.

    But they never bother to examine that issue. Just continue blaming these hobbies rather than looking at it as a valid coping mechanism.

  6. David Marshall Says:

    Pelle, I like your comments and ideas, but isn’t Zimbardo defining men by how well they are doing according to the feminine value sphere?

    For example he says, “What’s the evidence of wiping out? First, it’s a new fear of intimacy. Intimacy means physical, emotional connection with somebody else.”

    Is fear of intimacy a “new fear” among men? It seems to me that “intimacy” refers to the feminine, communal value sphere and that Zimbardo is saying that men are “wiping out” because they don’t excel in that value sphere.

    Later he says, “”They don’t know the language of face contact. The non-verbal and verbal set of rules that enable you to comfortably to talk to somebody else, listen to somebody else.”

    This is the same thing, the relational skills that females tend to excel at. Now, I think these are some of the things that men need to develop to succeed in the information age (LR), so to the extent that is true I think Zimbardo may be right, but still I think it is an example of the culture valuing the feminine value sphere over the masculine value sphere since he doesn’t have anything positive to say about boys or men.

    He quotes Cindy Gallop saying, “Men don’t know the difference between making love and doing porn.” And he attributes this to internet porn. But is this not the natural male attitude toward sex before they learn anything different? Wilber has written in more than one place about “the typical adolescent male fantasies of intense, mechanical, anonymous, frequent, mindless sex.” But I hadn’t taken that to be a recent emergence, a result of the internet. Surely, Zimbardo is pointing toward a valuable skill set that men need to learn, but it seems to me that he is again judging men in terms of the feminine value sphere.

    He goes on to say that men and boys are “totally out of sync in romantic relationships” and that this is at least partly because of the internet. But is that something new, men being “out of sync in romantic relationships” and not relationship oriented? Isn’t he again saying that boys and men are “wiping out” because they tend not to excel as well as women in the feminine value sphere?

    In the end he gives a list of people who should care about this, including “women, who would like a real man who they can talk to, who can dance, who can make love slowly, and contribute to the evolutionary pressures to keep our species above banana slugs.”

    So “real men” are men who excel in the feminine value sphere, who are as good at dancing and talking and making love slowly as women are, again not that those aren’t good things to develop. And then there’s that remark in the end that compares men to “banana slugs,” that men aren’t contributing to a civilization that rises above the banana slug.

    I liked your remarks much, much better, Pelle. :)

    Vladimir, I think you hit on something very important as well.

    I have a few additional factors to add, but I will do that in another post since this one is already probably long enough.

  7. Pelle Billing Says:

    Allan,

    “The message says more about the sender than the message: it seems entirely superficial and rushed. An afterthought to the 10 hour presentation about how girls and women need help to succeed.”

    Yep.
    I don’t want to blame Zimbardo for this. At least he has an interest in how boys are doing. It’s the system itself that needs to wake up.

  8. Pelle Billing Says:

    Eagle33,

    “But they never bother to examine that issue. Just continue blaming these hobbies rather than looking at it as a valid coping mechanism.”

    This seems like an important point to me. Video games can just as well be a coping mechanism as the culprit itself. And for many guys it’s neither –– simply a hobby that they manage without issues.

  9. Pelle Billing Says:

    David,

    You make a very important point. Important indeed. We cannot and should not pathologize boys and men for being different from girls and women.

    Men (on average) have a more direct sex drive than women, one that is activated more quickly. This is not to say that women enjoy sex less, simply that reaching sexual arousment is (on average) done differently. Men seem to have more sexual motivation than women, even though women can enjoy sex just as much as men.

    Similarly men have a stronger drive to succeed outside of the home. A stronger drive to build things or systems. This has been instrumental in creating our civilization.

    So it seems to me that the solutions to men’s motivations is not to pathologize them, but instead respect them and guide them into healthy expressions. And here is where I can see a current problem in our postmodern societies. If we don’t show boys a path to becoming men, a path to interaction with girls, then the (now ubiquitous) internet porn and the immersive nature of computer games, will make boys addicted.

    Watching porn and playing computer games are already kind of addictive, since they are tailored to human (male??) neurophysiology. A boy with a good connection to his father and society is less likely to “get stuck” in these pastimes, but a boy who is left on his own by a less than male friendly society will indeed tend to use them as coping mechanism and an escape route.

  10. TDOM Says:

    Co-occurring with the pathologizing of masculinity and male sexuality has been the destruction of marriage and the excommunication of fathers from the family. single motherhood has replaced the two parent family as the ideal. an entire generatiion of boys has been raised without fathers and positive male role models to instruct and initiate them into manhood. But it goes beyond that. Even boys raised with fathers understand that marriage, fatherhood, and even sexual relationships with women are dangerous propositions. A boy risks his entire future on them if he opts in. When these were more permanant, it was worth the risk. Now that they are temporary benefits with permanat repercussions they are not viewed as worthwhile by a growing percentage of young males. Pushing this even further are the women who delay getting married and starting families until their thirties.

    Marriage and family are huge motivators for men and by opting out men hare losing their motivation. They no longer have to privide for anyone but themselves. This can easily result in fewer working hours, more time to recreate, living in mom’s basement, etc. society continues to expect its young men to be productive, but has removed the motivation for them to do so. Thus society condemns and rejects the young men who opt out characterizing them as “slackers” when they are really adapting to a hostile environment.

    Feminists wanted women out of the house and into the workplace. The equal and o0pposite reaction from young men has been to leave the workplace and remain in the house. The difference between them and the traditional housewife is that this lifestyle was acceptable for the housewife who was encouraged to marry and raise a family. Since no family is involved, the young male is vilified for this choice. For men, regardless of the choices they make, the chances of winning are slim.

    TDOM

  11. Pelle Billing Says:

    TDOM,

    Very important point. Opting out of marriage, especially in countries where alimony exists, is a rational choice. Abstaining from children can also be a somewhat rational choice, given the fact that you may lose them in a custody battle. However, I feel that opting out of marriage makes more sense, since having children can be a reward in itself, even if you cannot see them very much after a divorce.

    Women made some serious changes to their gender role (sexual liberation, leaving the home). Now that men are adapting to the fact that it’s possible to date women without marrying them and without paying for expensive dinners – men are called irresponsible. But it’s simply an adaption.

    Men are upping the ante, which will become evident in the next 10-20 years. Let’s see how women respond. I think that some conservative lifestyle choices will come back into fashion (fidelity, long term marriage, co-operating to raise children). But the laws will have to change so men don’t have to take insane risks by marrying.

  12. mananon Says:

    On the subject of video games, I doubt very much boys playing video games is the cause of them falling behind. In fact I think it is more of a symptom. Let’s look at the real world from a boy’s perspective. He probably lives with his mom (no dad). All (or most) of his teachers are women. The girls in his school get better grades (and don’t they know it..) yet despite that all the special access programmes are for girls (eg take your daughter to work day). Wanting to play a bit of rough and tumble in the playground at lunchtime might land you in detention. And don’t even think of making a gun out of your fingers and thumbs. At home watching TV means sitting through loads of misandrist TV adverts giving the same messages – girls good boys bad, women smart men dumb and so on. And that is even before the actual TV programmes start.

    So is it any wonder many boys prefer video games to that? It’s probably the only chance they get to be a hero or get the girl, a fantasy world where they make the rules as opposed to the demoralising reality they find themselves in.

    If society tells boys they are bad simply for doing the things that come naturally to them they will react, many by retreating into themselves and a reality they find comforting to them.

  13. Pelle Billing Says:

    mananon.

    “If society tells boys they are bad simply for doing the things that come naturally to them they will react, many by retreating into themselves and a reality they find comforting to them.”

    I wonder when mainstream media will realize this. And leading feminists. And leading politicians.

  14. TDOM Says:

    “I wonder when mainstream media will realize this. And leading feminists. And leading politicians.”

    Feminists already realize this. So do most politicians and the media. A better question is when will they start to care? Ever since the 60′s feminists have harped about the negative messages carried in the media about women and girls. The result was not only an increase in the positive portrayals of women and girls in more diverse roles, but it left boys and men as the only viable targets for the use of negative stereotypes.

  15. Pelle Billing Says:

    TDOM,

    I think the main problem is that they view boys as “slightly defective girls”. So they defend the attacks on boys and men by labeling them as corrective measure and “what’s best for boys”.

    It’s not necessarily ill intentioned, at least not in most cases. It’s just terribly confused and demonstrates an ill understanding.

  16. T. Rose Says:

    On a less controversial note,but still related

    Women and girls actually do make up a good percentage of the video gaming population,so technically speaking blaming video games as if only boys play them also leads to gender problems.

  17. Pelle Billing Says:

    T. Rose,

    Yeah, good point.

  18. David Marshall Says:

    Pelle: “So it seems to me that the solutions to men’s motivations is not to pathologize them, but instead respect them and guide them into healthy expressions. And here is where I can see a current problem in our postmodern societies. If we don’t show boys a path to becoming men, a path to interaction with girls, then the (now ubiquitous) internet porn and the immersive nature of computer games, will make boys addicted.”

    Those are great points, Pelle. Yes, I think this pursuit of excellence in video games is like misdirected agency, isn’t it, purposeless agency, at least if you’re not going to become a drone pilot, or something. The good connection to parents and society that you mention I think is quite central. Somehow kids need to be given opportunities for more purposeful agency, pursuits that build something and lead to other worthwhile pursuits. Good video games that teach something is also a possibility.

    Okay, here’s my list, the second half of my original post:

    1) More male teachers in school. Many boys might be excelling in certain areas, but it just isn’t recognized by female teachers, which isn’t to fault the female teachers, just to say that it would often take a man to recognize whether a boy were excelling in the masculine value sphere and according to male logic. I read a horrifying statistic the other day:

    “”Eight out of ten public school teachers (82%) [U.S.] are female. This is up from 74% in 1996, 71% in 1990 and 69% in 1986.”

    http://www.ncei.com/POT05PRESSREL3.htm

    http://www.menteach.org/resources/data_about_men_teachers

    Wouldn’t feminists go bananas if 82% of teachers were men? I have to believe that this is playing a role, especially in the post-feminist era.

    2) Speech rules. They are notoriously restrictive in some universities, and it has probably filtered down into the earlier grades. If boys can’t speak freely out of fear of being considered offensive, or because of rules that forbid them to speak about certain subjects, I think that could be another contributing factor. There may be a lot of self-censoring going on, which could lead to all sorts of confusion and a loss of touch with their true self.

    3) Alternative ways of dealing with “troubled boys,” many of whom may not really be troubled at all, just troubled in the eyes of female teachers. Pelle, what do you think of all the medication going on? Have you seen this:

    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/medicatedchild/

    4) I’ve been reading about the economic benefits of early education in the U.S. recently (many economists agree it is worthwhile even considering the most hard-boiled cost/benefit analysis), and I wonder if this could be important as well. There is a positive correlation between early education and high school graduation, for example. Maybe for one reason or another a lack of early education or something about current attitudes of early child rearing is particularly affecting boys.

    5) Are girls doing better in school across the board? I think the cultural attitude that holds that women are better than men at many things but men aren’t better than women at anything but lifting weights is a very big issue. Are there any academic activities that boys tend to excel at?

    If so, it would probably be a good idea to collect and present that data. Of course, it might lead to attacks of sexism as in the case of Summers, but it could give boys a better chance in school.

  19. David Marshall Says:

    I was just looking at the charts at the menteach.org link. Those very low levels of male teachers from the child care to middle school levels might be part of the problem, though it would probably also help to have parity at higher levels.

  20. David Marshall Says:

    Since many kids spend most of their waking hours in school or day care, not having men there is like not having a father, not having a male role model.

  21. David Marshall Says:

    Pelle, what’s the male/female teacher ratio in Sweden? It seems to be about as lopsided in the UK as it is in the U.S., judging by an article I just read. I wonder if it could be a factor in the recent riots.

    http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/news/article-23373976-discipline-fears-as-female-teachers-outnumber-male-peers-by-12-to-1.do

  22. Pelle Billing Says:

    David,

    The male/female teacher ratio in Sweden is very lopsided. I don’t have the exact numbers but it’s likely similar to the UK and the US.

  23. AlekNovy Says:

    I think that constant (either real or perceived) no-win scenarios presented in the life of boys leads to reclusion accompanied with academic, professional and emotional failures in later life and fall back to the virtual world.

    This is the best summary I’ve seen of why it’s so tough being a man today. We basically have a society that puts us in triple or quadruple binds everywhere we turn.

    If you turn left you’re an idiot.
    If you turn right you’re an oppressor.
    If you walk back, you’re a wimp.
    If you walk forward this is evidence that you are an inferior.
    If you jump, this means you want to scare women away.
    If you stand in place you’re a wimp.

    Basically, men are put in a spot where nothing they do is right, and whatever they do is wrong. The only thing left for men to do is simply opt out of the system ,and men are doing so in massive droves.

  24. Pelle Billing Says:

    AlekNovy,

    Damned if you do, damned if you don’t…

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