Fatherhood Coalition

Feminists focus on the little pitchers

By Roger Franklin, The Age (Melbourne, Australia)

July 7, 2000 

NEW YORK - Sometimes a minor story turns out to be so much more: Go to a Little League game, for example, and discover that your son is a mass murderer in the making.

That was the way it happened all too early on a recent Sunday morning, when your bleary correspondent arrived with an onion bagel and leaky cup of coffee at a Lower East Side baseball diamond. My son's squad, the Bob's Nineteenth Hole Bar & Grill Padres, were taking on the Mona's Mexican-Thai Takeout Yankees in a clash to decide which team would advance to the grand final. Like any dad, I was hoping for the vicarious thrill of seeing Junior slug one over the fence. Go Padres! Win one for the dripper!

But it also seemed that the big clash might have the makings of a decent column, a feelgood piece for a change. From the Wall Street lawyer whose son arrives in a chauffeured limo, to young John, the star pitcher who plays in sneakers because his family cannot afford the regulation shoes with stops, the contest seemed a window of many panes in which to frame the diverse glories of New York.

And there were the kids themselves: Boys of white of all races - black, yellow and brown - who were imbued with the focused emotions and awesome, all-consuming intensity that only a 12-year-old can bring to the business of whacking a leather ball with a length of aluminum. You could tell it was serious because there was not a Gameboy to be seen in either dugout.

And that is how the story might have been written if one of the parents, a psychologist who now "works policy" for the local teachers' union, had not mentioned the writings of a gender theorist by the name of Katherine Hanson. She should be required reading for teachers, the woman explained with immense approval, adding how Ms Hanson had exposed the baseball field as a training ground for the wife beaters and domestic abusers of tomorrow.

"I hadn't thought about it before," my companion in the outfield seats continued, "but now I'm wondering if I should even let Noah play this game next year. It's a lot of pressure - our sons are more frail than they let us know." Noah frail? He seemed anything but delicate when ploughing head-first into home plate to make the game a 1-1 cliffhanger.

But of course, she didn't really mean fragility at all. Quite the opposite in fact, as became immediately clear from some samples of Hanson's work.

"One of the most overlooked arenas of violence training may be Little League ... where parents and friends sit on the sidelines and encourage aggressive, violent behavior," Hanson wrote in Gendered Violence, which laments pretty much every single tradition that has defined what it means to be a man in the making.

Nor is she alone in her dire view of tomorrow's dads. Go to any major American bookstore and whole shelves are crammed with alarmist books, at least six of them best-sellers in the past year alone, that profess to present the "crisis" afflicting those children unfortunate enough to have been born with testicles. If the same stereotyping was applied to girls, there would be outrage: Boys cannot express their feelings and are afraid to cry, they are also controlling and predatory, goosestepped by their fathers toward a Nuremberg rally of sexual fascism the various authors imagine awaits all boys at puberty. Boys are scared to dress differently, don't write enough poetry, and prefer competition to cooperation. In short, what is wrong with boys is that they aren't girls - although none of the best-selling authors comes right out and says as much.

In the Oprahland of talk-show therapists and modish self-help gurus, it was bound to be the boys' turn sooner or later. A New York weekly once asked its reporter to discover what percentage of the population was dysfunctional and he came back with a figure of 78 per cent. Women, gays, over-eaters, under-eaters, those who love too much or too little, they have all been drafted into pop psychology's limping legions. Now it is boys who are taking their turn on the couch.

Thanks to the likes of Ms Hanson and her sometime colleague, Harvard psychologist William Pollack, it has become all but an article of faith in America's teaching colleges that boys are defective by definition. Pollack, whose book Real Boys sold five million copies after the Columbine massacre, oozes concern for the very "malady" of maleness. In his view, it is not just a few junior psychos, but all boys all the time. "At any moment their rage could spill into violence," he warns.

All boys, indeed. It's a wonder we Little League spectators didn't have a SWAT squad to protect us from contestants on the field.

The contrarian feminist Christina Hoff Sommers, whose new book The War Against Boys swims defiantly against the tide of academic theorising, sees the Save the Males movement as an hysterical and inevitable outgrowth of a feminism that celebrates the superiority of alleged female virtues like consensus building and emotional openness.

"When the Ms Foundation was criticised for promoting Take Your Daughter to Work Day, it responded by drawing up a plan for something they called 'Sons Day'," Sommers said. "Well, what they saw as thrilling, fulfilling, horizon-expanding activities for boys included a day of domestic cleaning, meal planning, cooking, and ironing the clothes of younger siblings.

"A day of drudgery!" she marvelled. "This wasn't a holiday to celebrate boys; it was a punishment for the offence of not being female."

Back at Little League, gender theories couldn't compete with the tragedy. A fumbled catch and misdirected throw had just brought the season to an end for my son Ned and his friends, some of whom were in tears as they trooped toward the aftergame barbecue. No trace of suppressed emotions here.

"They were better than us," conceded Ned, who had revived his spirits and good sportsmanship with handfuls of hot dogs and a flood of sugary sodas.

"They won today," he continued, "but next year, we'll murder 'em." It's a good thing Hanson, Pollack and the rest didn't hear that last remark.

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