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Why I'm founding the American Institute for Boys and Men
This is a newsletter I've been really looking forward to writing: I have a big announcement to make. I hope you will be as excited about the news as I am to share it with you (almost as excited, anyway).
Starting tomorrow, July 1st, I will officially begin a new chapter of my professional life as President of the American Institute for Boys and Men. I’m creating a new organization to fill what I have come to believe is a damaging gap in the institutional landscape.
Until now, there hasn’t been a credible, research-based, non-ideological organization in the United States dedicated to understanding and improving the lives of boys and men. This creates a huge gap in our knowledge and policymaking, and a dangerous vacuum in our culture and politics.
So I am setting out to build one.
The Brookings Institution has been a wonderful professional home for the last decade, but I've become increasingly convinced that the work I envision for the Institute is urgently and desperately needed.
Wait, boys and men are struggling?
If you’ve been following my recent work, you will know that boys and men are experiencing some real problems, including in education, mental health, employment, and family life. To put some data to just one symptom, the suicide rates for boys and men have been rising at disturbing rates in recent years:
The suicide rate among women has risen too, especially in the 15-24 age range, but the rate among men remains four times higher at all ages. There is too little awareness of the fact that being male is the biggest risk factor for suicide, and consequently too little action being taken to tackle the problem. This is just one example of the need for the American Institute for Boys and Men.
I’ve been banging the drum for boys and men for a while now, not least in my book Of Boys and Men: Why the Modern Male Is Struggling, Why It Matters, and What to Do about It. If you’d like to learn more about the problems we’ll be addressing without reading a whole book, I’d recommend my conversations with Ezra Klein, Scott Galloway and/or Derek Thompson.
If you prefer video, I’d recommend either my Big Think video on The Fall of Men or, just out last week week, my TED talk on How to solve the education crisis for boys and men:
Towards the end of my TED talk, I emphasized what is one of the key themes of my work in this area, and what will be one of the guiding values of the new institute:
Doing more for boys and men doesn't mean doing any less for women and girls. That’s like saying to the parent of a son and daughter: ‘You're only allowed to care about one of them.’ And it's the kind of zero-sum thinking that is doing so much damage to our politics and to our culture. We can think two thoughts at once. We can do two things at once.
Bottom line: the problems of boys and men are real and must be addressed responsibly, without diluting the ongoing necessary efforts on behalf of women and girls.
Policy wonks not culture warriors
As I’ve been out and about discussing and promoting my book, I’ve been struck by the appetite for a good-faith, fact-based conversation about the problems of boys and men.
I also came to see what a large institutional gap there is here. This is not to say that there aren’t people out there doing various kinds of good work on this front (see for example the Global Initiative for Boys and Men, My Brother’s Keeper Alliance, Movember, Equimundo, the Mankind Project, 100 Black Men of America and others). But what has been missing is a dedicated research organization—a think-tank—devoted to this issue. That is where the new American Institute for Boys and Men comes in.
We need responsible people and institutions doing high quality research and consistently drawing attention to these issues, or else they will continue to be neglected. That is bad news, as I argued in a previous post, “Into the vacuum demons pour”:
Straightforwardly addressing the issues faced by boys and men would take the issue away from the culture warriors and put it in the hands of the policy wonks. I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather that. I’ve said quite a few times that one of my goals is to make the issues of boys and men much more boring, by bringing them into mainstream institutions.
I’m aware that “Let’s Make This More Boring!” sounds like an odd goal, let alone marketing strategy. But we need to treat the challenges of boys and men as real problems that we should straightforwardly acknowledge and address, rather than as material for frothy, culture-war propaganda. We need to lower the temperature.
How we will work
I don’t plan to share with you here our whole prospectus or 1st-year strategic goals. (Though I’d love to hear from you if you have thoughts). But to give you a sense of our working style, we will pursue our mission through fiercely independent, nonpartisan research, policy evaluation, and advocacy on the major issues facing boys and men. My own theory of change is based on the strong belief that raising awareness is the critical first step; only once problems are acknowledged can they be addressed. And in this case, there is a genuine lack of awareness about many of the challenges facing boys and men.
I hope you agree that the American Institute for Boys and Men will be a useful organization. And if so, I would love your help. Right now, you can support our mission in at least three ways.
First, share this post to help me get the word out about the new institute:
Second, subscribe to this newsletter, if you don’t already, in order to get updates about our progress and work:
Thanks so much for your interest in and support of this work. For all our sakes, we simply can’t afford to get this wrong. Wish me luck!