Go to a department store–any department store, whether it’s brick and mortar or online–and measure the difference between the clothes that get sold to girls, and the the clothes that get sold to boys. The girls’ section is invariably richer. You’ll see rows and rows of different fabrics and styles, a wide range of price points, interesting possibilities in prints and colors.
It won’t take you so long to sift through the boys’ section. Even during Easter and Christmas, the two dressiest times of the year in the South, it would be hard to find a store that offers more than an extra rack of suits–perhaps just navy blazers, with a seersucker or two sprinkled in–for these special, seasonal occasions. And don’t even talk to me about finding dress shoes for boys older than eight and younger than fifteen. If you can find them, they’re likely to be as ugly as they are uncomfortable.
The differences between these shopping experiences speak volumes about the way we gender boys and girls, and in an anecdotal way, speak to the frustrations that boys feel today. They can see toxic masculinity at work from Washington, D.C., all the way to the most recent school shooting in Florida. They can see the emasculation of boys who aren’t aggressive any time they want to turn on a screen. I’m not sure that they can find a workable middle path in between.
I am proud of the work that has been done to uplift women in education and the workplace for the last quarter of a century. That work is not complete; I would never want to take away advances that women have been able to enjoy since Title IX came into being. However, as a recent columnist for the New York Times noted, it is time for us to have careful conversations about ways to inspire boys to thrive alongside girls, not just against them.