On this episode of The Bespoke Parenting Podcast, host Julie Gunlock speaks to IWF’s vice president for policy, Hadley Heath Manning, about her article describing the boy crisis in America and the solutions to this difficult issue.


TRANSCRIPT

Julie Gunlock:

Hey, everyone. I’m Julie Gunlock, host of The Bespoke Parenting Hour. For those new to the program, this podcast is focused on how parents should custom-tailor their parenting style to fit what’s best for their families, themselves, and most importantly, their kids. Today, rather, I am joined by my good friend, Hadley Heath Manning. Hey, Hadley.

Hadley Heath Manning:

Hey, Julie.

Julie Gunlock:

Hadley Manning is the Vice President of Policy at the Independent Women’s Forum. She’s also the mother of three kids and she recently wrote an interesting piece in National Review called Boys Need A Pathway to Manhood. We’ve actually talked on this program quite a bit about what is called the boy crisis, toxic masculinity, which I think is a terrible way to call masculine men. We’ve talked about how so many school programs are tailored for girls, girls in STEM, girls in science, and not so much boys. So this is a really important… I am the mother of three boys, so maybe that’s why we focus on this so much. I think this is a really important issue and Hadley’s going to talk about her really important piece or fantastic piece, and also just some other general parenting issues. Hadley, thanks for coming on.

Hadley Heath Manning:

Of course. I don’t think I’ve shared this with you yet, Julie, but you know I’m expecting a fourth baby.

Julie Gunlock:

Yes.

Hadley Heath Manning:

I just found out that it’s a boy, so it’s very timely conversation to be talking about my boys and talking about how really these problems don’t exist in isolation. We know there are problems for girls in our society. I dread when my girls are adolescents and they get on social media. I definitely have particular concerns for my daughters, but then I think there’s been more and more recognition in recent years. There’s been several books. I think back to Christina Hoff Sommers writing The War Against Boys. There have continued to be kind of a drumbeat of researchers and books and information about the so-called boy crisis or the man crisis.

Initially, I wrote an article for National Review Online about how the boy crisis affects girls because we’re the Independent Women’s Forum and we’re interested in women and girls, but the two sexes really need each other.

Julie Gunlock:

They do.

Hadley Heath Manning:

To act like we do life separately, it’s just not accurate for most people. Women have men in their lives, women have men in their lives, and we’re concerned about their wellbeing. We care about their success. Obviously, a lot of people hope to match up and mate with someone of the opposite sex. And so in order for our society to be strong, for marriages to be strong, for families to be strong, for kids to have the best opportunities and the most flourishing in their lives, we need both men and women to be doing well. I wrote about how the boy crisis affects girls, and then that turned into a longer piece about solutions in National Review.

We can talk about what some of the solutions are, but of course, I came to this topic with a lot of humility. I am a mother, but a pretty young mother. My oldest child is turning seven, so I haven’t really navigated a lot of the parenting problems that come with kids yet. I’m pretty good at diapering at this point, but I’m still learning. I talked to a couple experts and I did some research for it and I think I have some thoughts to share. The bigger picture of course, which we can also talk about if you want to, is just about how to think about these problems in general because I think our society has run into some really big foundational questions about sex differences.

Julie Gunlock:

Well, let’s-

Hadley Heath Manning:

To start with.

Julie Gunlock:

I can tell you’ve got a lot to say about this subject. It is critical, but I want to back you up a little bit. I’m just going to read the beginning of your piece. You say, “They say that boys will be boys, but they say it with an eye roll. We don’t want boys to be boys when boyhood is associated with bad behavior, immaturity, messiness, and raucousness. Similarly, society’s message for what we really want for and from grown men is often unclear, and the connotation of that message often negative. We’ve got to change this if we want to address the male crisis.” And then you say this, and I want you to expand on this. You said, “Men are falling behind women and men of previous generations.” So men aren’t only falling behind women, but they’re falling behind what men achieved previously. And you say, “In education, in work and life.” Hadley, set the stage for us. What is the state of men-

Hadley Heath Manning:

Yeah. Well, there are so many indicators that compare or contrast boys and girls. We can look at boys and girls in school. If you look at the top 10% of high school students, two-thirds of those are girls. If you look at the bottom 10%, two-thirds of those are boys. There’s this difference in how boys and girls are achieving in school. There’s 15% more women graduating from college now than men and women are now earning more master’s degrees, MDs, JDs, pretty much you name it. There’s part of me that says, “Okay, well comparing the two genders, there doesn’t have to be gender parity in everything. We’ve always argued at IWF that when it comes to the wage gap, we shouldn’t strive for parity, we should strive for fairness, of course for equal pay, for equal work, and we should give boys equal opportunities in school. If they’re not achieving the same as girls, what’s the red flag there?”

Then I started looking at how boys are doing and how men are doing compared to say, their fathers or their grandfathers. We’ve got some other symptoms of a problem here, you can see it in labor force participation. In 1960, 97% of men were participating in the labor force. Today it’s 87%. Most of the men who are not participating in the labor force, Julie, are actually reporting bad health as their reason for not working. About 40% of men, 44% of men who are not working are taking painkillers. We’ve got men who are not physically healthy, men who are not mentally healthy, men’s real wages have declined 14% since 1979. We’re seeing not just that men are falling behind women, which some people, maybe some feminists might say, “What’s wrong with that?” They’re actually falling behind where they have been previously, traditionally. To me, those things are symptoms of a problem that we should all be talking about.

Julie Gunlock:

Are we talking about that? That’s one thing I know that at IWF, we are talking about it. I know since this article has come out, people are talking about it. I know that certain outlets, you wrote about it in National Review. National Review has been great about it. I feel like a lot of Conservatives are talking about the men’s crisis and the state of men in this country. Wider than that, are we seeing it in the mainstream media? Are people taking it seriously? Early on you went, “Well, is this really a problem?” I do think there’s sort of a meh reaction in a lot of circles. I want to talk also, I want you to address that question, but I also want to talk to you about some of the experts that you talked to for this article. Again, before we get into that, is this a widespread talked about issue or is it really just narrowly focused in conservative circles?

Hadley Heath Manning:

I hope that the answer to your question is that increasingly so, people are starting to acknowledge the problem outside of just the conservative movement. I think there’s a reluctance on behalf of some people to talk about the issue because they feel like if they focus on problems that affect men and boys, that somehow means that they’re-

Julie Gunlock:

Takes away.

Hadley Heath Manning:

… that they’re dismissing problems faced by women and girls. What I believe and what so many people believe, I’m sure what everyone at IWF believes is that it can be both and. You can say “Yes, women and girls definitely have challenges to overcome, and we want to help them do that to the fullest extent. But then boys and men also clearly are facing problems.” Some of those things are related. They’re tied, but some of them are different. It comes down to, again, what I mentioned earlier about sex differences.

Before I move on, Julie, I did want to mention that I think we’ve all been concerned, I hope, and this is another thing that I hope is not siloed into conservative circles, but I think there’s more awareness of a mental health crisis in this country, and particularly a youth mental health crisis. This is where we again see pretty stark sex differences. There’s been sharp increases in suicide rates among male adolescents. The CDC reports that a man in the US takes his life every 13.7 seconds, and young men are four times more likely to commit suicide than their female counterparts. This is very serious. This is very concerning because I know that people, again, I worry about the smartphones with my daughters, I worry about their body image issues of course. Maybe the untold story sometimes is that the mental health crisis, and particularly when it comes to suicide, men are, unfortunately, there’s a gap there. Men are way, I don’t want to use the word ahead, but they’re way above and beyond where women are in terms of suicide rates.

That’s something that whether you think that politically there’s a framing problem to this issue, get over that because we should be talking about it. People’s lives are on the line.

Julie Gunlock:

Absolutely. To really examine this issue, you talked to two scholars in this area, Richard Reeves, who’s the author of the recent book, Boys and Men, and Brad Wilcox, he’s over at AEI and he’s the director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia. You say that both Reeves and Wilcox emphasize that there is not one solution to the male crisis. Reeves argues that the problem facing men and the solutions in education, earnings, relationship, and mental health are interlocking. Wilcox also prescribes various reforms.

One thing you talked about is how Reeves sometimes is criticized because he doesn’t talk about the strength of marriage as being primary as much as maybe some Conservatives do that we sort of say, “Look, you need purpose in your life, get married, have a family, it’ll make you work harder.” We know that does, married men tend to work harder because they’ve got a family to take care of. But Reeves makes some good points about how Conservatives might be dismissing men who have children who aren’t necessarily married to the biological mother in the situation. Break that down for me. Where do these guys come together and where do they separate?

Hadley Heath Manning:

I was really encouraged in talking to these two experts to see that there were, I thought, a couple areas of big overlap, foundational areas. One of them is that they agreed on the multifactorial nature of the problem. That it’s not just one problem. There’s not just one silver bullet, there’s not just one solution. Dr. Wilcox may emphasize marriage, but he, I don’t think, would say that that’s the silver bullet that will solve all of our problems. And then another area of agreement, and I hope I’m not putting words in anybody’s mouth, but I think to even talk about this problem, you have to have certain assumptions. You have to understand that men and boys are a thing, that that’s a category, that that’s definable.

Dr. Reeves, who is more center-left, actually shared with me that he spoke at a conference where I guess the audience was more left-leaning and someone from the audience criticized him for being heteronormative in some of his comments. He said, “Well, I guess if that’s what I have to take, that kind of name-calling is what I have to take in order to draw attention to these issues for boys and men, then I’m going to have to accept that. I thought, “Well, good for him,” because I do think that that’s a missing piece on the left when it comes to this conversation, is you have to get over the idea that this is heteronormative or dismissive of other problems, dismissive of the LGBTQ community, dismissive of women and girls, which are obviously big constituent bases for the Democrat Party.

To be able to elevate these issues affecting men and boys, I think is good. That gives me hope. I think you have to make an assumption before you even start to talk about this, that there’s something natural, innate, biological, and real about boyhood, manhood to talk about. Maybe there’s different solutions that would have particular or disproportionate advantages or solutions that help boys, that could help girls too, but they might help boys more. Pre-assumed, it assumes that boys and girls are different. I think that that’s a big conversation that our country is having right now.

As a parent, I can say for sure, there’s been tons of messaging to parents, especially with young children, about how you shouldn’t buy the firetruck for the boy and get them a baby doll instead. And you shouldn’t buy the pink stuff for the girls. And I think, “Okay, well there’s a real tension there for parents who don’t want to be oppressive and put their kids in a box.” I think that actually, the outdated, restrictive gender stereotypes are at the root of some of the things we see happening with kids identifying as transgender. That’s another topic. We also, I think, want to foster in our kids what they’re naturally drawn to, what they naturally find interesting, what they’re naturally gifted in. On the whole, speaking with a very broad brush, I think any parent who has raised a boy or girl or both can see there’s something there. There’s something there.

Julie Gunlock:

Hadley, it’s unbelievable because I think that there is this idea of, we can control things, in our children. We can give them the appropriate peace-loving games. I’ll never forget, Hadley, I was at preschool pickup. You know how you all are lined up, waiting for your kid to come out of the door. There was a very, put this nicely, very crunchy mom. I’ll never forget, she said, “Oh, well, we don’t…” This was one of the first days, “Well, our children don’t play with guns, don’t have play guns.” She had this whole thing, “We go in nature, we take walks,” blah, blah, blah.

And then fast-forward several years, and it was my son’s, I think it was his eighth birthday, and we had a party. They came and she brought one of those, I don’t even know how to describe it, but it’s like a GI Joe figure. And then in the same packaging is every possible gun and there’s an ammo belt. It’s like a boy Barbie, but all the dress-up stuff is all guns. I looked at her and I start laughing and she goes, “I tried. I tried.” She said, “The nature walks, pretty soon he was picking up sticks and those were guns.” You remember the viral story a couple years ago how a kid nibbled a pop-tart into the shape of a gun? And he was suspended. He was suspended.

There is something really, and again, I think it’s so true what you say about if you’ve raised girls and boys. Moms of different sexes understand it much more than like me because I’m an all-boy girl or all-boy mom. But you must see this. Again, everyone saying, “Well, this is just a social construct. You’re just introducing pink to your daughter. You’re just introducing violent toys to your son.” It just isn’t that way. I think once we take the politics out and those silly ideas, the reality is biology really comes into this and you do see a difference between boys and girls, which is something increasingly I think we want to reject or people want to reject that there’s any differences.

Hadley Heath Manning:

I think people have to think about, is that a bad thing. I think people, why do you want to reject that? Why do you want so badly to reject that? I think part of it comes down to, well, traditionally those differences were lorded over women as, “Oh, you’re not capable of doing this job or entering this industry, or that’s man’s work. And that’s a women’s sphere.” Some of that obviously outdated, oppressive, not good. I think one of the questions I tried to ponder in my piece, and one of the quotes from Dr. Reeve where he says, “Conservatives want boys to be like their dad, and Liberals want boys to be like their sister.”

Julie Gunlock:

I was just getting to that quote.

Hadley Heath Manning:

It’s like, is there a third way though? Is there a third way to say sex differences are real? You don’t have to put people in a box and we can still celebrate individualism. Obviously, they’re going to be boys who are not into guns or sports, and there’s going to be girls who are. Can we make room for that and celebrate individualism while also not totally dismissing the idea that there are these inherent biological, innate sex-based differences between men and women, boys and girls, that in general will have a big effect on how people live, what they’re interested in, what they want to do for a living, how they form families? I think we can, I hope, forge a third way where we don’t use those things to restrict or oppress anybody, but we also don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.

Julie Gunlock:

You also talk about this third way, and I’m glad you pivoted over to it because I was just about to ask you about that, and you’ve already sort of explained it, but this third-way solution, and this is very topical for today, as you say that, “It will require people on the left to face the reality that mothers and fathers do matter. Mothers and fathers aren’t interchangeable, neither are women and men.” Tell me a little bit about that passage.

Hadley Heath Manning:

I never really responded to your question about Conservatives being more maybe inclusive of family models or families where things haven’t gone to plan. I think we do, as Conservatives do a pretty good job of saying, “Well, the ideal is a mom and a dad and a whole family unit. In an ideal world, no fathers would die, no mothers would die, no one would get divorced, no one would get remarried. There’d be no blended family because everything would just be perfect.” That’s obviously not the world we live in, but I think having the recognition of what the ideal is, to get back to my third-way concept, you can still say, “Well, that ideal is not something we should be dismissive of.” It’s not something we should say, “Well, because sometimes things don’t work out, just forget about it. Anything goes.”

I think there are very smart single parents and people who are raising children without a biological mother and father who are married in the same home with a child who can still say that they understand that having male and female role models in the lives of children is important. That having someone to foster a maternal-type bond with a child and a paternal-type bond with a child, that these things are very important. All you have to do guys, is just follow Dr. Brad Wilcox on Twitter. He’s constantly tweeting about things. For example, he tweeted something recently about how mothers and fathers discipline their children differently and I felt, “Uh-oh, guilty.” I let my husband be the heavy a lot of the time, “Just wait till your father comes home.”

There’s something to that that when a child is hurting and needs someone to provide some kind of empathetic care, that mothers are really good at that in general. Dads are pretty good at saying, “Okay, buck up.” We all need that. We all need those two internal voices in our head. I think a lot of us get it from our mother and father, or we get it from male and female role models, people who affected us when we were young. We learn how to say to ourselves, “I’m going to have a little grace with myself about this, but also buck up.” We need that. We all need that.

Julie Gunlock:

I would also say, I think also men and women, parent girls and boys differently. I am really tough on my kids, on my boys. I was a super nurturer always. Always, always. If they fell, if they hurt, if they were upset about something, I’d really talk to them, but I gave them a timeline because you’re not going to cry for a half an hour. I’m a little tougher. I suspect I’m tougher. If I had girls, I may have been a bit of more of a softie. You’re right. The point is, this is so complicated. Again, ideal world, moms and dads fill roles. For instance, my husband, the big… I know this probably comes as a shock. I’m not the most sporty person and my husband is, and so he fills all of that, the baseball, the driving to games. I go to the games.

The point is that there is… My husband and I work to fill these gaps, whatever they are, and it is beautiful. But again, it’s the ideal and we hope that people view parenting in this way as certainly flexible. That’s the thing that bothers me sometimes in these conversations about right and left is the idea that the right doesn’t want any flexibility or doesn’t recognize these differences per family or changes that one family might have for another. I think Conservatives do recognize that and do understand that, but they just, it’s back to this ideal. They hope that people strive for the thing that is best for the kids.

Hadley Heath Manning:

I think sometimes I, as a Conservative, can be guilty of what Dr. Reeves described to me as the hammer and the nail scenario where you see problems in society and you think, “Well, this all comes back to family formation.” I have a hammer in my hand and everything is a nail. “Well, if they had just had a family that was stronger, whatever.” I think people are starting to realize, you asked earlier, Julie, “Are people recognizing this problem with men and boys?” I’ll tell you one area where I think people are, and that sadly has to do with any time there’s a mass shooting. Who is the shooter?

Julie Gunlock:

It’s a male. Young male.

Hadley Heath Manning:

99.99%, it’s a young male who-

Julie Gunlock:

Who hasn’t had a father in the house.

Hadley Heath Manning:

Had a fatherlessness issue, what some people might call a broken home. This is a problem, big time for people on the left because they’re really worried. We should all be concerned about any time a mass shooting happens, obviously, that’s the problem, something we should address. There’s more to it than the gun. There’s more to it than guns and that pattern and who these shooters are, got to be a piece of the puzzle. There’s that.

Julie Gunlock:

I want to talk a little bit about men’s only spaces. This is something that I thought was so interesting in your piece, and there’s been almost a backlash to, “We want to include women in everything. We don’t want this exclusionary culture anymore. Women deserve to have entry into these places.” Now it seems like it’s hard to find male-only spaces, and men need this. Actually, you mentioned this in your piece, and I wanted to drive down or go down this rabbit hole a little bit on… My dog is going to hit the bells. My dog is going to want to go outside. Hopefully, she won’t do it too many times. Is the idea of Scouts, used to be known as Boy Scouts, now it’s known as just Scouts.

To me, this is a really hard thing for me to, I have been very disappointed and I’ve been very upset that this has occurred. My boys are all Scouts and now my son right now is at a Boy Scout camp and they’re going to be girls there and I’m not really happy about that. Now, they’re kept separate, generally. They don’t intermingle with-

Hadley Heath Manning:

That’s great.

Julie Gunlock:

No, it’s great, but it bothered me.

Hadley Heath Manning:

For how long?

Julie Gunlock:

It bothers me that it’s not a camp just filled with boys. I actually wrote about this, I wrote several op-eds about this, about how I really wish the Girl Scouts had maybe, if a bunch of girls didn’t want to be a Girl Scout because they’re tired of crafts and they wanted to do more camping. I wish the Girl Scouts had changed, but they didn’t and so then of course the Boy Scout needed members. But anyway, talk to me a little bit about this issue as it relates to-

Hadley Heath Manning:

Sure. Just to give you a little bit of my personal background on this topic, I went to college and I really wanted an all-girls dorm because I just felt like I would be more comfortable in that environment and for a variety of reasons, not just because I didn’t want to walk down the hallway in my towel to go to the common bathroom because probably at that time I wouldn’t have mind doing that. It really had more to do with the relationships that I hoped I could form with other women in a women-only space. I can tell you that it really seemed to me, the university that I attended made a real effort to get rid of single-sex dorms and really wanted to integrate people. It’s about the integration. I ended up joining a sorority so I could live in a sorority house because that was one of the few housing options where I could live with a bunch of college women.

I could have gone off campus and gotten an apartment with a few other girls, but I wanted to find a big group of women that I could bond with and be friends with in college. The sorority provided that for me. I never thought I’d be a sorority woman, but then I became one. I’m very pleased because I gained a lot of friendships as a result. My husband was in a fraternity. These are probably, of all these single-sex organizations, Greek life maybe has the worst reputation because people associate it with partying or they associate it with bad behaviors. Truth be told, there’s actually a lot of great friendships that are formed in those organizations. I could get into a defensive of Greek life in general as a service thing, but just to focus on the bonds and the behaviors.

I think you have to be willfully blind if you don’t see how women in a group of women are different from women and men in a co-ed group. The same, I imagine, goes for men. Obviously, I’m never party to a completely male-only group because I’m a woman but I can’t help but think that not only are those groups important in terms of friendship building and to share yet another statistic, there’s been a fivefold increase since 1990 in the percentage of men who say they have zero friends. We have a friendlessness problem, I think this is for men and women both, we’re increasingly atomized, increasingly without friends and without community. Huge problem with big implications for every facet of life but men increasingly because they’re getting married less, because there are a variety of reasons. Men are friendless, and if you want to talk about antisocial behaviors, they’re more likely to manifest in people who don’t have any friends.

Julie Gunlock:

Also, Hadley, this is why, whether it’s the women increasingly getting into men’s spaces or just the lack of male-only spaces and the loneliness factor and no friends, that’s why men are drawn to these video games. That is another isolating factor. Tell me… Go on.

Hadley Heath Manning:

I was going to say there’s the friendship piece, but then there’s also this piece of self-discovery, I think, that can happen in those environments and single-sex environments because women, I think for women, and this is again, this whole conversation, you have to caveat, caveat, caveat, because I’m speaking with very general terms, but I do think there’s some good research about, say for example, girl only schools, that girls are more likely to say they feel more confident speaking their minds.

I think that the same is probably true in male-only environments, that men are just going to be a little more frank, a little more open, a little more honest about who they are. They’re going to get feedback on that from a group of other guys. That is a part of how we develop and grow as people. Societies throughout history have had some different roles and some different groupings of men and women where they can sharpen these, I think, developmental pieces of who they are. To move beyond that, I do think these spaces unfortunately have been under attack, have been increasingly rare, harder for people to find. That has to do with, I think is at the root of some of these problems.

Julie Gunlock:

You conclude here, you say, “For wonks and policymakers, while there may be some deep left, right disagreements about sex and gender,” because you get into that as well, “it seems that there are areas of common ground such as value of vocational education. For wives and parents like me, there are reasons for hope, least of which is the attention the issue is getting.” Talk to me a little about vocational, you touched on it at the end there, but this is something that I think is so important because in addition to men growing into adulthood and not being married, not having kids, not having friends, increasingly online, depressed, committing suicides, doing drugs, going to jail, this is a trajectory that’s very concerning.

There is a demographic out there who can get out of high school, attend a vocational school, and then be off and potentially making good money on a trade. This is something that became very out of fashion during the Arne Duncan and Obama years of everyone’s got to have a computer and everybody’s got to have a college degree. That pendulum is swinging back a little bit I would say a lot due to Mike Rowe, I think. We love Mike Rowe. He was one of our gentlemen of distinction at IWF, came to our gala. We love Mike Rowe, so I think he deserves some of the credit, but talk to me a little bit about how that might be part of the solution.

Hadley Heath Manning:

You mentioned video games. I think men, interestingly enough, Dr. Wilcox brought this up to me. We think of social media as a female problem, and there’s a lot of problems for women on social media. I think it hurts our happiness. I think there’s conclusive evidence that the more time we spend on social media, the less happy we are.

Julie Gunlock:

I’ll just interrupt for one second and say, we always have a late summer vacation. We always go in August. So May, June, July, and then some part of August, I’m like, “Everybody’s go…” Definitely, my happiness quotient is way low right now because of social media.

Hadley Heath Manning:

They may not put two and two together, but the connections that men share online in video game rooms, they might be worth something, but if they are a replacement for real, in-life, in-person connection, and gosh, COVID should have taught us all the worst lessons about this, that online connection is no replacement for in-person connection. In fact, to get back to the vocational training piece, the more time young men spend on video games and the more time young women spend on social media, or the more time we all spend doing online recreational entertainment things, while there’s a place for that, to a certain degree, it takes away from time that we could be using to better ourselves, to learn new skills, to learn a vocation, to –

Julie Gunlock:

Learn a language.

Hadley Heath Manning:

To spend time with our loved ones in real life, to care for someone, to volunteer, do things that actually add meaning to our lives, and make us feel like, “Wow, I did something meaningful today.” One of the pieces, one of the recommendations in my article is we should all try to limit our screen time, parents, boys, girls, all of us. As an alternative to screen time or as a way to improve our educational system in general, there’s a lot that we could do to provide more and better avenues for boys within the education system and whatever the subject matter is, if it’s vocational, if it’s a traditional reading, writing, arithmetic class, I think there’s pretty broad agreement that more movement is good for boys. Get up out of your seat, do something. People talk about it in terms of recess, sometimes recess is great, but also incorporating movement inside of the classroom, getting them moving around, helping them do things with their bodies to help them remember what they’re learning.

I think, and to get back to, you mentioned the line where I say I have some reason for hope. One of my reasons for hope is that I do think that there’s starting to be more recognition of these things. I think COVID was a huge, huge setback because obviously, it hurt boys and girls, everyone in the education system, just COVID was a disaster, right?

Julie Gunlock:

Yeah.

Hadley Heath Manning:

I think our response to COVID and some of the things that we see affecting boys right now are all rooted ultimately in safetyism. There have been some schools that have banned the game of tag, for example, because someone might tag someone else too hard. I even heard about a school where they limited outside time to, they limited recess for seven minutes at a time because that’s about how long it takes for conflict to develop on the playground. I’m like, “Kids need conflict. Kids need to learn how to work through conflict.”

Julie Gunlock:

They do.

Hadley Heath Manning:

[inaudible 00:35:00] Safetyism is all bad news.

Julie Gunlock:

Too often the instant there’s any kind of disagreement between kids, there’s some swooping-in maneuver of a teacher in authority. It’s so interesting, in Loudoun County, you’ve heard, I’m sure about Loudoun County, it’s been the place where a lot of the pro-parent movement has started or is ongoing. In Loudoun County, it was revealed just a couple of months ago that there was a fight club for little kids, and it was hosted by parents.

Now, there were probably some ground rules. There were mats put out probably in someone’s garage, and then there was some sort of a list of kids that were participating and there were these fights. Everybody in the area was, I can see from your face, appalled. Oh, my gosh. And then when I would tell people, I’m like, “Well, actually, the parents knew.” Because there was this, at first, people thought, “Oh, well, it’s just kids fighting, and that’s weird.” Which I’m like, “I don’t know if that’s that weird.” Then people were like, “Well, the parents were involved,” which, okay, I’ll give you, that’s a little odd.

I think to myself, boys can’t fight anymore. If boys, if you, my son… There have been a couple incidents of a kid not being nice to him. If he sucker punched him, if that kid insulted him over and over and over again, the requirement is my kid should just take it. And then maybe have, “This is why this hurts my feelings,” or whatever. If my kid took a swing at him, he’d be out of the school. He might be suspended or something. Look, this is not a podcast to say, “Kids should really be taking swings at each other at school.” No, but it is an interesting cultural thing where boys are not allowed to… If I were to talk to my dad, I bet if you talked to your dad, it’s like there were scuffles, there were fights and then it was over. There wasn’t this prolonged thing.

Hadley Heath Manning:

Not to recommend another podcast while I’m on your podcast, Julie, but I did listen to Jordan. Jordan Peterson had a guy named Rafe Kelley on his podcast not too long ago. It was actually after my National Review boys article published. Honestly, if I had heard this podcast before the publication of my article, I would’ve gone back and asked to add a whole section about play. Because play is so important to both boys and girls, but particularly physical play where you’re taking risks and roughhousing. It’s so important to boys. I encourage everybody to go listen to that podcast. If you want to hear an hour-and-a-half-long conversation about play.

Julie Gunlock:

Beep, beep, beep. I’m just kidding.

Hadley Heath Manning:

Boy, it’s interesting because these are things that you know innately to be true. When husband comes home from work, immediately, my boy is climbing on him like he’s a set of monkey bars. They play physically, and it’s rough. My husband likes to throw my kids way up high in the air, and it’s thrilling, and it’s like-

Julie Gunlock:

Nervous. Yep, yep, yep.

Hadley Heath Manning:

You learn where the limit is and if you never play, you don’t learn where those limits are.

Julie Gunlock:

This is the other thing, again, it opens up another issue of this free-range parenting movement, which you know that I have been a part of for a long time and have really devoted, my parenting style is very much free-range within… I’m not quite Lenore Skenazy. Okay? I strive to be. Kids, when you let them go a little bit off a path and they might climb over something or try to climb a tree or do something like that, they will learn their limits. They’ll fall down, they’ll hurt themselves maybe a little bit, and then they’ll get back up, and then they’ll start off again. This is how kids test themselves and learn their limits and learn what they’re comfortable doing, or they practice and they get better at it. All of these things-

Hadley Heath Manning:

Or they have a healthy outlet for the aggression or desire for risk-taking. I think it’s probably God-given in a higher degree in boys. I think the aggression and the desire to take risks, you can’t suppress it. If you try to suppress it at school, it’s going to come up at the fight club. If you try to suppress it at play, it’s going to come out in video games. If you try to suppress it everywhere, it’s going to come out in violence and that’s not where we want it to come out.

Julie Gunlock:

I think moms of boys have to be brave in a unique way on their own, in addition to a child learning and learning the limits. Every time my boys would pick up a stick because it was a lightsaber, and they were going to go kill a Sith. They would attack another little boy, and there’d be kind of, at some point, someone would get hit in the head, you know it and someone would be crying. This feeling of, “I don’t want that to happen. Just don’t play, don’t play that way. Just don’t. Put the stick down.” You constantly have to steel yourself against saying that because they should pick up the stick and have this imagination and imagine themselves in the Star Wars and doing all this stuff.

So it’s very hard. Believe me, mothers of girls have a whole different, that’s a whole nother Oprah show. It’s a whole nother podcast. I do think it is, you have to be brave to allow your boys to do some of these things, which are not, and especially, and look, I live in a super left-wing area, and it’s even harder, I think, in this area because there’s a lot of, I mentioned that crunchy mom, “Oh, we don’t play with guns.” There’s a lot of that. They might come around eventually, but you’re met with that, and you want to navigate this. You don’t want to be a pariah or socially an outcast, so it does become really difficult.

Hadley, we’re coming up here on a ending. Your piece is so wonderful. Tell people where they can follow you on Twitter, where they can read the article and all that good stuff.

Hadley Heath Manning:

Sure. I have one closing thought if I might-

Julie Gunlock:

Sure.

Hadley Heath Manning:

I just wanted to say in what you were saying, Julie, the thing that’s sometimes lost in this conversation is that when the little boys are picking up sticks and pretending like they’re guns, maybe some people’s first thought is, “Oh my gosh, they’re going to pretend to be a shooter, and that’s something bad. I don’t want my kid to become a violent mass shooter.” There are a lot of people who picked up guns for our country, for good reason, in the defense of others, in the defense of our principles, the things that we believe in, and most of them are men. Some of them are women too, and God bless every single one of them, but there is something really beautiful and worth celebrating about when we can direct the inherent strengths of men and women to their highest virtue. That’s a really beautiful thing.

I think this conversation is not just about stopping the worst ills that can happen when you do have a boy and man crisis, which I think we do have, but we can also think, Dr. Wilcox told me that pretty much every physical rescue that he had heard of was a man going in, a man going into the fire, going into the dangerous situation and saving somebody. That’s often the case when someone pulls a gun, [inaudible 00:42:12]. There’s a good guy with a gun, and often it’s a man, sometimes it’s a woman too. These are great things. I think that there’s a lot to admire about both sexes when they’re really at their best. If you want to read the whole article, it is in this print version of National Review Magazine. You can read it online, you can read it on iwf.org. You can follow me-

Julie Gunlock:

Who’s on the cover of that? Who’s on the cover of that?

Hadley Heath Manning:

That’s my husband actually. No, I think it’s an art. It’s an AI man. No, I’m sure it’s a real artist.

Julie Gunlock:

That’s awesome.

Hadley Heath Manning:

It’s Super Dad. It was the Father’s Day edition.

Julie Gunlock:

Well, congratulations, Hadley. It’s a big deal to get in the print edition, so that’s wonderful. Hadley, what is your handle on Twitter? I know you’re on Twitter.

Hadley Heath Manning:

Oh, it’s Hadley Heath, because maiden names live forever.

Julie Gunlock:

Yes. Hadley Heath.

Hadley Heath Manning:

Hadley Heath. Yes.

Julie Gunlock:

Well, Hadley, thank you for coming on. As the mother of boys, I appreciate you exploring this issue and talking to me today about it. It is so important, and all your work at IWF is important, so hope you’ll come back soon.

Hadley Heath Manning:

Sure. Thanks, Julie.

Julie Gunlock:

Thanks, Hadley. The Bespoke Parenting Podcast with Julie Gunlock is a production of the Independent Women’s Forum. You can send comments and questions to Julie, to me, [email protected]. Please help me by hitting the subscribe button and leaving a comment or review on Apple Podcasts, Acast, Google Play, YouTube or iwf.org. Hang in there, parents, and go bespoke.