Of Boys and Men – by Richard Reeves

Having finished my read through of Of Boys and Men by Richard Reeves – sadly, I found myself disappointed. Bitterly so.

But perhaps, not entirely surprised. And I should add, not disappointed by every little bit in totality. There were things about the book I really enjoyed and agreed with. But it was a bumpy ride. One paragraph would hit the nail on the head, the next would leave me face palming with frustration.

By the end I was left feeling that sadly, whilst Reeves is somewhat elevating the level of discussion about the issues faced by men and boys in today’s world, he was doing this through a potentially deeply destructive lens, kowtowing to other ideologies and perhaps even trojan horsing more suffering upon us.

Whilst there were lots of bits I liked, overall, unfortunately, I believe Reeves to be, sadly, yet another in a long line of “concerned feminists” who want to try and “help” men by using an ideology (and supporting theories) which hates them.

This isn’t, I would argue, what we need.

Solutions FOR men must come FROM us, by US, throwing off the oppression of our traditional gender roles. We have to do this for ourselves with a mixture of the best of old ideas and some new/innovative ones. Not through existing ideologies that hate us and certainly not through what women choose for us.

This all sounds very dramatic, I know. If you have five minutes though, please let me explain why I feel this way and tell you what I agree with and what I don’t about Of Boys and Men.

I first saw Reeves on a YouTube clip for “The Big Think” and I was intrigued. British, articulate and well spoken, Reeves had the aura about him of many of the senior managers I’d worked with in the corporate world over the years. The supportive, fatherly type, who wants you to do well and will happily listen to your gripes and your dreams in equal measure.

I’ll hold my hands up in honesty, I’m drawn to men like this. They’ve played important roles through my career and my life.

I liked his “patter” too about gender. He seemed reasonable. Thoughtful. Clever. He clearly wasn’t from the depths of red pill, black pill or pick up artistry communities. He was much more interested in the how and why, rather than lashing out in anger. He hit some nails on the head too in that clip – around how gender roles had changed for men, which I felt lined up with writing I had made previously- https://tragictruthblog.com/?p=70

After that clip, I wondered if this was the man we needed? Clever, articulate, a moderate voice of reason, with the fatherly, managerial persona that would draw a lot of younger men in?

For a time in the past, I wondered if Jordan Petersen may play this role. But sadly, he turned out to not offer much more than tradcon, “put on a clean shirt, go to church and get married” when it came down to it.

Reeves wasn’t a tradcon though. He was different. I liked his style.

I later came to reason, it’s actually this which may make him most dangerous. But I’ll come back to that thought.

If he’d be prepared to also tackle the thorny, difficult subjects of gender roles for men and tell it straight, without pulling punches (or worrying about the views of the far left), he could be of great help. I was initially then, very hopeful.

And so, I got my copy of Of Boys and Men in August 2023. I noted it had proven a bit of hit on the popular gender studies scene since it’s release in 2022 – rating a solid 4.5 out of 5 on Amazon and 4.1 out of 5 on Good Reads.

At my usual, glacially slow reading pace however, I managed to finish it in March 2024. And here I am publishing my review in June 2024.

Ok so, first the good. What did I like?

The book itself is well written in my opinion. Neat, well divided/chaptered and generally easy to digest. Reeves is a policy wonk and clearly, deeply into his figures and statistics. That’s fair enough. I’d rather that than off the cuff, pure opinion. Data is important (as long as it isn’t cherry picked).

Throughout the book, it is fair to say, he makes some absolutely brilliant points. There’s a lot of great stuff here. He outlines in chapters 1-6 how problems have come about for men in the modern world. He explains somewhat how this has come to pass – correctly (in my view) talking about how traditional gender roles for women have become optional in most places and how men have been somewhat left behind by this.

The core idea that men have been somewhat left behind as women have changed their gender roles is well supported and one I agree with (and have written about in this blog previously).

In fact he consistently supports and uphold the point that escaping traditional gender roles is a good way forward. For example on page 41 – he writes “men need to escape the confines of the breadwinner model of fatherhood.” – yes, absolutely they do. I think this is where Reeves is strongest.

On page Page 61 again, when talking about wage gaps where he points out that a lot of people only focus on gender being a problem. However, what many forget is that actually economics and class play a vast part in it too (side note, Reeves on the whole is evidently a buyer of sexism in “gender wage gap” point and is already off into “closing” the “$82 to $100” wage gap before he’s even out of page 1 of the preface).

I’d also note, on page 93 he makes a plea for the support of sex workers and suggests decriminalization of prostitution may be a way forward – something I think is worth consideration as well.

He makes multiple claims that we shouldn’t hold back women in order to help men and vice versa and that it isn’t a zero sum game of one vs the other. I agree with this also.

And lastly in chapter 11, the call to push more men into traditionally female dominated field of work (he refers to as “HEAL” fields) I think is a good one. His statistic that, in the USA, there are there are twice as many women flying U.S. military planes as there are men teaching kindergarten was staggering.

And so the book is not a total disaster. It’s actually, in some places, excellent.

However, it’s the way we should think about it and what we should do to change it that I take issue with Reeves on.

A self confessed feminist :-

…Reeves, is completely tied to narrative, both from feminism but also, by the sounds of things, left wing ideology in general, seemingly critical social theories. Whilst he decries “the left” as getting the messaging wrong in chapter 8 “progressive blindness” (which includes a great dismissal of the term “Toxic masculinity”) he uses many of the same talking points, ideologies and positions still.

What this means is that over and over again in the book he is :-

– reiterating narrative and feminist talking points, as much as or above the topics he’s tackling (this is why we get the gender pay gap point at the bottom of page 1. He sets the tone early on being only two paragraphs in and already having to raise this.)

– quoting feminist writers and authors, usually where it’s totally unnecessary and out of place

– not deviating too far from any allowed or prescribed ideas by feminism or associated critical social theories.

– flashing his “progressive” credentials constantly. For example, the entirety of chapter 4 where he is oddly VERY eager to tell us “I have a black godson” and talk about the plight of black men in the USA. It’s not that he’s wrong (he’s right in my opinion on many of the things he says), it’s just the entire chapter could have been simply summarized by saying “black guys have all the problems of men listed but also with more racism on top.” The exploration in detail of some of those things somewhat deviate slightly away from the main topic of the book I felt. It felt like a token gesture. Like he had to tick a box?

I should state, I’m left leaning myself, so I’m not making a binary political attack on him here. But his need to constantly nod to, bow to and include other ideologies really didn’t help. In fact, it is the major stumbling block of the book in my view.

On page 53 for example, he directly uses implicit bias studies by Ismail White and Corrine McConnaughy in reference to race but doesn’t make mention of how controversial and widely debunked these studies have been – especially training processes stemming from them? It’s not that I’m arguing there isn’t racism and that people aren’t sometimes biased against others. I’m arguing that implicit bias tests have been shown to be flawed and have been abandoned in many cases in the work place/real world as mechanisms to actually help with discrimination. See the links at the end of this article for evidence. We ideally shouldn’t be relying on them to support arguments in books like this.

The only people still clinging to implicit bias tests tend to be, the far left and those with a critical social ideological bent. It’s very telling Reeves felt it necessary to “shout them out.”

In chapter 3 and 4 he follows up by making calls to intersectionality. These calls are, in many ways, correct in a practical sense (being a man means you have challenges, being a black man means you have extra challenges and being a poor black man means you have extra extra challenges) – but he doesn’t go on to talk about intersectionality as an ideology and the problems with it as a way for addressing and viewing the world?

It is, of course, intersectionality that led to the creation of the “oppression hierarchy” idea that dominates discourse amongst people on the left (and often mainstream discussion too for that matter).

This is all, postmodernist left thinking. And it isn’t helpful. In fact, I believe it’s part of our troubles as men?

What I really wish Reeves would have done is call out how the adoption and main streaming of this ideology has also led to men being “the enemy” at the bottom of the oppression league table? In other words, the same mechanism and ideology he uses to (not incorrectly) highlight how people struggle is also the one that vilifies men as a whole group?

He misses an absolute open goal on this also later in the book where he ponders why certain policies have not been applied fairly and evenly between genders at a government level. He is continually at a loss to suggest why.

Its deeply frustrating he never makes the connection between 20 years of intersectionality (and radical feminism) telling us men are evil oppressors whos troubles are their own fault (“narrative” in other words).

Instead, he lauds intersectionality theory as having “power” on page 46.

It was an infuriating miss. It seemed so obvious.

In my 29+ pages of notes I took whilst reading the book, I wrote this for page 79 about why initiatives in university education for men seem to fail so regularly:-

Its all “researchers are stumped” but Reeves makes no guesses at why. He misses the glaringly obvious “no one gives a shit about men” piece? From a modern young mans perspective, whats the point in trying at university? We are hated anyway, especially in academic environments? When you know theres a radfem class just down the hall, preaching hatred about you, whats the point? Men sense this – we are labelled in such environments with original sin – whats the fucking point?

This theme then is constant and the book is entirely shot through with feminist, intersectional and postmodernist/critical social ways of looking at the world.

I understand this might be Reeves personal political perspective and hes entitled to it of course. But not taking a more neutral approach in his writing means he misses excellent follow up points and opportunities over and over again. It also causes him to make quite negative and sometimes just badly judged statements.

Page 28 for example, where he writes “for most women having a child is the economic equivalent of being hit by a meteorite but for men it barely makes a dent.” He means from an earnings perspective (women who have children, often tend to take time off work and then find it hard to catch up in their career, thus hurting their future earnings).

The claim for women, I think is true. I get that and agree.

But his claim about men here is simply not true. Men who become responsible fathers may maintain their earning power if they continue to work, but take massive hits to their discretionary spending power and to their savings usually. And what good is earning power if your spending power is so low?

Part of becoming a father is giving up economic freedom too on a long term basis. I’m not sure its a meteorite – but it’s definitely more than a golfball to the head?

Why does he even need to make this comparison and competitive statement between the sexes? He’s looking at it through a feminist lens.

One page later (page 29) in “working man blues” rather than painting a picture of the historical world with old gender roles in a balanced light, it’s painted as simply awful. And on page 64 he makes the bold claim that it was only women joining the workforce in the US that “have kept American families financially afloat in the last few decades.”

Again, a feminist lens. Again, narrative.

And again, he misses the chance here to directly tackle tradcon claims as a result.

How did adding millions more workers to the market place (in the form of women) affect the labour market of society?

Why was it that in the 50’s and 60’s (even up to the 80’s in the UK) it used to be possible to run an entire household of two adults and two children on the salary of just one working adult? And reasonably comfortably at that?

Was it really millions of women going to work that kept American families afloat? Or was it millions of women going to work that depressed wages via supply/demand such that it became harder and harder to keep families financially afloat? A vicious cycle in other words.

I’m not a tradcon myself. I actually think women having the choice to go and get a career is fair and the right thing. And I know there are other factors at play in depression of wages. However, these are key talking points that he totally skips over. They are questions I wanted answered and tackled.

Instead, all we got was feminist narrative?

There are dozens of other examples of this I noted. He misses open goal after open goal and opportunity after opportunity to make more interesting points and tackle bigger points.

Page 90, 91, 92 he basically outlines gynocentrism in society without calling it that. “There is usually a penile surplus” he states instead. A disappointing way of swerving gynocentrism and male disposability.

He does touch on the latter in relation to wars on page 92 but does nothing with it. Getting men away from feeling responsible and wanted to be involved in war, violence and being disposable in general is KEY in freeing and helping us – but it’s almost mentioned, accepted and just moved over immediately?

Page 97 is another painful exposure of his ideological underpinnings. At the end of page he positions men as basically animals and it reiterates the need for men to be “civilised” – directly pushing us back into our traditional gendered position of being “uncivilised” by our default nature and only achieving this through others, particularly by interaction with women.

“Culture has played an important role in channeling the energy of men toward positive social ends, especially by teaching them to care for others” …he writes.

Of course Richard, we aren’t capable of caring for others unless our energy is “channeled”? Women do this naturally though of course?

This is borderline misandry. It is at least, pushing us right back into our traditional expected gendered behavior. It then gets a step worse when he backs the point up with a randomly (mis)placed quote from second wave feminist Margaret Mead –

“this behavior, being learned, is fragile” warned Margaret Mead “and can disappear rather easily under social conditions that no longer teach it effectively”

Reeves believes we are unable to care for others unless we are taught and educated into it. Our default state is not this. To hear this from feminists is par from the course. But theres something particularly ugly about hearing it from another man, especially one who is claiming to want to help his brothers?

I won’t go on with further examples for brevity, but all of these I hope help to highlight the point, the book is written from a very strongly feminist and critical social stand point.

In the “what shall we do about it” section of the book, part 5, Reeves then explains some policy changes which could help men. Of the suggestions he makes, as mentioned earlier, I agree with many. Needing to increase men in traditionally female dominated careers and his section on improving the way fatherhood is dealt with was also good I felt. He even got into the unfairness of court systems in America a little bit and how child support hurts low income men quite badly sometimes.

Where I passionately disagreed with him however (and sensed a feminist trojan horse) was with his push for starting boys in schools a year later than girls. Or “red shirting” as he termed it.

His premise for this idea, was that boys prefrontal cortex develop later than girls and therefore, boys are not as ready to start traditional classroom based education as early as girls.

I’m not in a position to argue with the science here. It sounds reasonable to me. I’ve heard the brain development point elsewhere and was once a boy myself – so I’ll accept that.

But holding back boys a year is, in my view, an astonishingly bad idea. So bad, its hard to not add it to the feminist narrative and make you question what Reeves is trying to actually achieve?

Simply put, holding boys (but not girls) back one year, means they get to the jobs market place a year later. This, puts them at a disadvantage in the current system. I don’t agree with that system, but he isn’t making a call to change it.

In fairness to Reeves, he does address this concern, but it’s fleeting and he doesn’t seem to take it very seriously? He glosses over it in one paragraph, claiming boys already struggle anyway and that basically one extra year won’t make much difference. He finishes the paragraph saying – “my point is simply that we should not assume that the extra year of learning will mean a lost year of earnings.”

Is this the same man, who back on page 28 was telling us that a woman taking a year away from work to have a child (mid career I should add, with a job role held open by law) was “the economic equivalent of being hit by a meteorite”?

Here he is, a few pages later is telling us a man losing a year of work (at the start of a career, when learning is highest and without a role held open) does not necessarily mean a loss of earnings?

If a year out for a woman midcareer is so affecting economically, why would a year out for a man at a start of a career be nothing to worry about?

Why is it different?

It’s VERY difficult to not see a ploy here to try and deliberately disadvantage men further in the work place. It’s very difficult to not see this as a ploy to try and get women “ahead”?

I don’t have evidence for this – but with his feminist flag waving high and proud in the breeze, it’s tempting to draw such conclusions about why Reeves suggests this and then bats away any criticism with such weak rebuttals.

Whilst all of this feminist rhetoric is being deployed, Reeves misses out on commenting on a large number of classical, mens rights talking points which I had hoped he’d address,(in a logical and thought out manner).

He does mention the lack of men in teaching roles and it’s effects on boys – but doesn’t really talk about how the same old tired structure of sitting behind a desk for hours a day might not suit boys. Neither does he mention reductions in play times and sports etc (although to be fair, his book is about America and perhaps their eduction situation is different to ours in the UK).

There’s no mention of male genital mutilation, the draft/conscription, unfair/unequal court sentencing in criminal prosecution or paternity fraud/laws. All classic talking points in mens struggles conversations – but all practically ignored by Reeves.

In general then, a frustrating book I’d summarise as “so close, yet so far.”

I think what Of Boys And Men really shows us, is just how deep and far feminism and far left ideology has penetrated into the discussion around certain areas of life.

If Reeves had written the book without a feminist lens, without quoting feminist writers and without any calls to intersectionalism (and related left wing ideologies), would it have been so mainstream and widely adopted? Would it have been lauded as ‘One of the most important non-fiction books of the year’ by the Sunday Times?

One wonders whether it would have been published at all.

Or would it have been labelled as automatically misogynistic and cancelled/ignored?

Is Richard Reeves now part of the “manosphere” ? Or has he avoided this and the certain cancellation, because he’s adhered to narrative?

Is this WHY he wrote his book the way he did? To avoid cancel culture?

Or is he cleverly playing some kind of long game?

These are things we can only speculate on.

But whatever his motivations, what Of Boys And Men brings home to me is just how sad the situation is with regards to talking about mens gender roles.

Is the only chance we really have to get a book published and accepted in the mainstream, one which must simply promote feminism and far left ideologies further?

This, I argue is NOT the solution to mens problems.

Back to how I began this article, I believe mens problems can only be helped by us throwing off our old gender roles and moving them to a status of “optional” in the same way women have done.

This however, I passionately believe, we must do for ourselves. It cannot be achieved through the lens of existing ideologies and especially not those which paint us as the enemy, the oppressor or the “bad by nature” monster lurking in the shadows.

Furthermore it must come from men. The solutions cannot come from women/through women or FOR women. In the same way that men are usually dismissed when telling women what their gender roles mean (or “mansplaining” feminism) , so too we must resist women telling us what the solutions are.

This doesn’t mean we cannot study their tactics or take their opinions onboard – but we must not let them having a guiding steer on how we escape our gender roles.

To fail in approaching it this way will mean we do NOT break free to optional gender roles, but merely, land in another trap – and one which may be built for us by those that hate us most.

THIS is my biggest fear with the work of Richard Reeves here (and others). Whilst it may be he is approaching this from a good place of meaning well, using the lens and mechanism he does to suggest solutions, really may not result in another other than a change for us (rather than a solution) – and one which may not result in any progress really being made at all.

But how many of us are really thinking about that?

With his “oh so reasonable” style and approachable middle manager tone, how many bad, potentially feminist inspired ideas (like delaying boys education) could he slip past?

We need to be aware of writers like Reeves who use intersectionalism and feminism as their base camp. And we need to be ready to call them out if we are to have a chance at really breaking through to a better world for ourselves.