Patience W. Crozier*

THE WAR AGAINST BOYS: HOW MISGUIDED FEMINISM IS HARMING OUR YOUNG MEN. By Christina Hoff Sommers. New York: Simon & Schuster. 2000. Pp. 251.

Abstract:  Christina Hoff Sommers’ book, The War Against Boys: How Misguided Feminism is Harming Our Young Men, complains of an educational system bent on feminizing boys and reconceptualizing gender by erasing differences between boys and girls. In doing so, Sommers assumes that gender is exclusively binary. The experiences of gender non-conforming youth in schools and the legal system highlight a reality Sommers ignores. This Book Review explores the experience of youth who do not conform to the stereotypical male model and, in turn, suffer severe harassment and discrimination. The stories of four gender non-conforming youth elucidate how schools remain primary enforcers of a binary gender system that fails to address the needs of many. This Book Review concludes that the strides being made in the legal system to expand notions of gender-appropriate behavior and to recognize individual identity contrast starkly with the lack of progress in schools. While the legal system offers hope for gender non-conforming youth, schools must soberly begin to address their adherence to a gender model that has punitive effects on those labelled “different.”

[O]ne of the more agreeable facts of life is that boys will be boys.1

In her new book, The War Against Boys: How Misguided Feminism is Harming Our Young Men, Christina Hoff Sommers fears for American boys.2 She fears that by trying to foster gender equality, U.S. schools, [*PG124]the Department of Education, education scholars and society in general have flipped a “gender switch” and initiated a broad-based campaign to feminize boys.3 In concluding “[i]t’s a bad time to be a boy in America,”4 Sommers relies on two assumptions that are clearly unwarranted when one considers the experiences of gender non-conforming youth.5 First, she assumes that there exists an exclusively binary system of gender—that boys and girls form two sharply distinguishable groups and that all youth fall into one of those two categories.6 Second, she assumes that U.S. schools are destroying this binary gender system.7

The experiences of gender non-conforming youth disprove Sommers’ two assumptions.8 This Book Review challenges both the idea that there exists an exclusively binary gender system and that schools have eroded it.9 To the contrary, U.S. schools still impose and strictly enforce on youth Sommers’ rigidly divided conception of gender.10 This strict adherence to maintaining clearly defined gender categories fosters intolerance that has proven to have a deleterious effect on biological boys who do not conform to American society’s conception of gender norms.11

[*PG125] This Book Review’s exploration into the gender non-conforming youth experience will prove how invested our society remains in forcing boys to fit into a stereotypical male model.12 Part I discusses how Sommers’ presumed two-gender system does not reflect reality and ignores many people who do not conform to this rigid binary model.13 Part II explores the school experience of gender non-conforming youth to elucidate how entrenched boy/girl gender roles remain in the school system and how the boys who transgress the boundaries of these roles, rather than the “normal” boys for whom Sommers fears, are the ones in true danger.14 Part III discusses how the state reinforces gender borders through the legal system by punishing gender transgressions and supporting parental and medical efforts to pathologize gender non-conforming children.15 Part IV highlights three youth cases that underscore the painful reality facing gender non-conforming youth in school and the importance of moving away from a rigid two-gender system. Two of these cases serve as signals of hope that the legal system can expand American society’s vision of gender beyond a binary model and, in doing so, protect our youth by allowing self-identification and self-expression to prevail over Sommers’ promotion of stereotypical norms and fear of difference.16

I.  Background: What Is a Boy?

A.  Gender Reality

American society assumes that there are two sexes, male and female, and flowing from those two sexes are two genders, masculine and feminine, and that all people fall into one of those two closely linked categories.17 Sex refers to whether a person is male or female [*PG126]based largely on anatomical factors such as external genitalia.18 Gender refers to the characteristics associated with masculinity and femininity.19 Gender is commonly understood to flow from biological sex.20 Gender can therefore be understood as the performance of one’s sex, and as such, society links gender to, and often sees gender as interchangeable with, sex.21 Sexual orientation can be seen as one manifestation of gender, as one manifestation of the performance of one’s sex.22 In a system that presumes the binary nature of sex and gender, the two genders complement each other in a manner that compels heterosexuality.23 Men properly perform their gender role by having sex with women and vice versa.24 This vision of sex, gender and sexual orientation presumed by American society establishes a rigid binary model.25

An exclusively binary model does not reflect reality.26 The existence of transgender people for whom sex and gender are not linked proves that a rigid binary system comprises an unhelpful framework.27 Transgender persons have a gender identity that differs from that which is usually understood to result from biological sex.28 For example, a person born biologically male can have a deeply felt internal sense of being female and live in society as a female.29 The transgender experience demonstrates that gender identity is not necessarily connected to biological sex.30 Transgender people thus undermine the idea that there exists one, perfect, binary model of gender.31 In[*PG127]tersex people further challenge the binary presumption.32 One to four percent of people are born intersexed—with biological features that cannot be clearly categorized as male or female.33 By not falling into one discrete category, intersex people undermine the idea that there are only two distinct sexes.34

When one considers the experience of transgender and intersex people, it becomes clear that a binary system of gender ignores the experiences of many people and that sex and gender are better viewed along a continuum.35 There exists a wide range of possibilities for the overlapping and intertwining of sex, gender, gender identity and sexual orientation36 and many ways to transgress the boundaries of a rigid two-gender framework.37 Those who identify as transgender, intersex, or as having a non-heterosexual sexual orientation such as bisexual, gay or lesbian all transgress the boundaries of a two-gender system by not performing some aspect of the role society has deemed appropriate to their gender.38 Regardless of a person’s self-identity, American society views those who fall outside the artificially rigid borders of how men and women are supposed to look and behave as gender non-conforming.39 Because a binary system does not reflect reality, it requires vigorous and destructive policing.40 Core societal institutions, such as schools and the legal system, have been central to enforcing and perpetuating gender borders.41 Only recently has the legal system begun to understand and protect gender non-conforming people.42 U.S. schools, however, are resisting such improvements.43

[*PG128]B.  Espousing Irrelevant Borders

Sommers loses credibility from the outset because she promotes a rigid two-gender model and ignores the existence of gender non-conforming youth.44 Throughout her book, she makes sweeping assumptions of the different needs of boys and girls.45 For example, she asserts that “[b]oys everywhere need structure, phonics, diction, grammar, and a competitive environment.”46 To prove the innate, hardwired differences between boys and girls she references how toy stores have different sections for boys and girls; “[f]or boys, gadgets and action are the things, while girls prefer dolls, glamour, and playhouses. . . . Being differently talented and differently driven, the sexes have characteristically different behavior preferences.”47 Sommers’ vision embodies the assumptions of Western culture that sex, gender and sexual orientation all relate and create two mutually exclusive categories: male and female.48

Sommers’ espousal of a binary gender system is eased by her total disregard for children who do not fit into the binary mold.49 In a book focused on the nature of boys, girls and their differences, it is surprising that Sommers ignores the existence and experience of youths who transgress gender boundaries.50 Nowhere in the text or the notes does Sommers address issues facing gender non-conforming youth.51 By ignoring the existence of gender non-conforming youth, Sommers can ignore the reality they witness: that society, especially as manifested in schools, has not in fact shed its adherence to rigid [*PG129]boy/girl gender roles and that not every boy and girl fits into the “natural” categories Sommers exhorts us to embrace anew.52

Sommers’ binary vision of gender fuels her fear that boys in U.S. schools are being steered away from their “natural” roles.53 She claims that programs promoting gender equity in schools are no more than efforts to reconstruct boyhood.54 These programs, she believes, emphasize activities at which girls excel at the expense of traditional boy activities.55 By pushing boys away from their “natural” roles, U.S. schools are silencing and psychologically harming a generation of boys.56 Sommers therefore begs society to “relearn what previous generations never doubted: that boys and girls are different in ways that go far beyond the obvious biological differences.”57 She urges that we return to recognizing, enforcing, and realizing the glory in keeping boys and girls in their differently defined spheres.58 There is nothing fluid about gender, according to Sommers.59 The U.S. educational system is destroying a generation of boys by disregarding the benefits of masculinity and forcing them to be like girls.60 Sommers urges society to leave boys alone to pursue their “natural” masculine pursuits.61 Sommers is far from being a lone voice fighting against an uncontrollable tide moving towards a world of feminized boys;62 in fact, her view of a two-gender society is the same one enforced by schools and parts of the American legal system.63

II.  Gender Non-Conforming Youth in Schools: Both
Invisible and Targeted by the Enforcement of a
Binary Gender Model

Gender non-conforming youth would likely find the school environments Sommers describes to be figments of an overactive imagina[*PG130]tion.64 Sommers criticizes schools and gender equity experts for reconstructing gender and feminizing boys.65 Schools, however, remain primary believers in and perpetuators of the two-gender framework.66 School environments are intensely hostile to boys who express feminine characteristics and do not fit into the “normal,” masculine, sports-focused boy stereotype.67 Coming to terms with sexual and gender identity in U.S. schools is a terrifying process for most youth because the school environment is rife with heterosexism, homophobia and transphobia.68 While it is true that girls can be starkly punished for transgressing their prescribed gender role, girls often have more room to explore where they fall along the gender continuum.69 Society has grown relatively accustomed to girls who wear pants, are tomboys or are extremely athletic.70 Society does not allow boys the same degree of latitude in outward appearance and behavior.71

Because of the intense homophobia and transphobia present throughout American society, gender non-conforming youth comprise a minority youth population invisible to family, peers, and schools—the main support systems for youth.72 While coming to terms with sexual identity is challenging and stressful for all adolescents, this period can be especially straining for gender non-conforming youth because of the negative anti-gay messages that pervade in the media, religious settings, the home and school.73 Schools largely ignore the unique challenges facing gender non-conforming students74 and can be reluctant to provide services designed to meet their needs.75 Schools decline to provide adult counselors for sexual [*PG131]minority youth,76 to include discussions in classes of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities,77 and to support student groups designed to provide crucial psychological support.78 Even a progressive school system such as the San Francisco Unified School District fails to provide adequate resources for its gender non-conforming population.79 Despite the increase in national concern over school violence, school administrators often leave rampant violence against gender non-conforming students unchecked.80 A number of needs go dangerously unmet in our nation’s schools.81

If they somehow emerge from invisibility into school consciousness, gender non-conforming youth are often targeted for abusive and prejudicial treatment.82 Negative treatment manifests in homophobic and transphobic remarks, violence, and efforts to undermine support groups.83 A recent Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network Survey found the educational environment to be harsh and intimidating for gender non-conforming students.84 Over ninety percent of gender non-conforming youth reported frequently hearing homophobic slurs in their schools.85 Sixty-nine percent reported personally experiencing some form of harassment or violence in school.86 Two out of five of the youth surveyed did not feel safe at school because they identify as bisexual, lesbian, gay or transgender.87 In addition, many students did not feel comfortable confiding in school administrators.88 Even those who take the courageous step to alert school officials, students like Jamie Nabozny, do not get the crucial protection they deserve.89

Jamie Nabozny, a gay high school student in Wisconsin, faced numerous assaults by his peers, but the school principal he told did [*PG132]nothing to halt the violence.90 In fact, after running to the school principal to report male students who had just committed a mock rape on him, Jamie was told that “boys will be boys” and that he should expect such treatment because he was openly gay.91 The lack of support from those in positions of authority who are supposed to be worthy of trust isolated Jamie and aggravated the pain and humiliation inflicted by his peers.92 The lack of school action contributed to Jamie’s numerous suicide attempts and to his decision to leave school.93

While some schools are guilty of not intervening to stop harassment of gender non-conforming youth, others actively create a hostile environment for these students.94 The actions of the Salt Lake City School District (SLCSD) show how far some districts will go to keep LGBTQQ student organizations unwelcome and unrecognized.95 Rather than allowing a Gay/Straight Alliance (GSA) to form at the school, the SLCSD initially enacted a ban on all non-curricular clubs.96

The experiences of gender non-conforming youth such as Jamie Nabozny expose the fallacy of Sommers’ vision of the state of boys in U.S. schools.97 Sommers criticizes schools for policing stereotypical male behavior and denying male biology by forcing boys away from competitive, aggressive, masculine pursuits.98 By trying to defy the natural state of boys, she says, schools are making boys miserable.99 She bemoans an increasing de-emphasis on recess, a time she finds [*PG133]critical for male roughhousing and bonding.100 Jamie Nabozny was mock-raped, urinated upon, and beaten for being gay, for not fitting into the role of heterosexual, sports-playing boy.101 It is hard to believe the boys championed by Sommers are the ones at risk when one considers the frightening dangers facing boys who do not conform to society’s conception of a typical boy.102 To the contrary, gender non-conforming boys risk violence, harassment, and ridicule on a regular basis; they are the ones who warrant concern.103

III.  The State: Gender Border Police

Looking beyond the school environment, the experience of gender non-conforming youth in the legal system further proves that society is still strictly reinforcing, not reconstructing, gender borders.104 Rather than supporting the radical reconstruction and feminization of boys, as Sommers charges, the state is yet another, and perhaps the most powerful, protector of the two-gender framework.105 While municipalities and a few states across the United States are moving towards greater recognition and protection on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, there is still a long way to go toward full acceptance and integration of gender non-conforming people.106

The legal system, through inattentive courts and the overreaction of the juvenile justice system, not only negatively impacts gender non-conforming youth but plays a key role in enforcing gender borders for all of society.107 For example, in 1996, assault was a more common cause of arrest for girls than boys, while more than half the juveniles arrested for prostitution were male.108 A scholar studying female delinquency believes that this trend in punishing boys who commit historically feminine crimes and girls who exhibit aggressive male behavior marks a new trend in the legal system: the punishment of gender transgression.109

[*PG134] Through this type of gender reinforcement in the legal system, the state often compounds the pain of gender non-conforming youth by condoning abusive parental actions based on homophobia and transphobia.110 Sadly, parents are not immune from the homophobia and transphobia rampant in society.111 Negative parental reaction to a child’s coming out is far too common; thus the family environment can become yet another source of rejection and isolation for the LGBTQQ youth.112 In some instances, parents cannot cope and seek outside, psychiatric “help,” including involuntary commitment, to transform their child into one who adheres to the well-established gender system.113 Parents desiring to reshape their child into a heterosexual, gender-appropriate role often find support in the medical and legal establishments.114 While the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from their list of mental disorders in the early 1980s, they swiftly added a new category that left the door wide open to continue to oppress and forcibly mold gender non-conforming youth: Gender Identity Disorder.115

Gender Identity Disorder (GID) first appeared in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Third Edition (DSM-III) in 1980 and supplanted the diagnosis of homosexuality to pathologize gender transgressions.116 A “strong and persistent cross-gender identification” and a “persistent discomfort with his or her sex or sense of inappropriateness in the gender role of that sex” comprise two of the four main criteria for the diagnosis.117 The presence of GID in the current DSM-IV-TR as a mental disorder allows parents and the medical community to stigmatize gender non-conforming youth and to seek “treatment” in the hopes of preventing the onset of transex[*PG135]ualism and homosexuality.118 GID is used more often against boys than girls;119 boys in gender identity clinics outnumber girls five to one.120 The greater number of boys being treated for gender disorders is another example of the stricter enforcement of gender roles for boys.121

When a breakdown occurs in the parent-child relationship, parents often turn to the state.122 Parents unable to accept their children’s homosexuality or transgenderism can seek to place their children in foster care or involuntarily commit them for psychiatric “treatment.”123 Gender non-conforming youth are increasingly subject to involuntary commitment by parents who are turning to school and legal systems just as confused as they are.124 A GID diagnosis is often used by parents and accepted by the legal system as a worthy means to intervene with children in the hopes of preventing the onset of homosexuality or transgenderism.125 Gender non-conforming youth often enter the system through the filing of Persons in Need of Supervision (PINS) petitions.126 PINS petitions allow parents to enter their habitually disobedient children into the foster system.127 Unfortunately, once they are involved in state systems, there is a lack of services designed to help gender non-conforming youth deal with the problems and struggles they face.128

Gender non-conforming youth are particularly vulnerable in the area of civil commitment because of judicial deference to the rights of parents.129 The U.S. Supreme Court, in precedents such as Parham v. J.R and Troxel v. Granville, has recognized a virtually unqualified protection of parental autonomy concerning the upbringing of children.130 The Court recently asserted that the parental interest in “the [*PG136]care, custody, and control of their children is perhaps the oldest of the fundamental liberty interests recognized by this Court.”131 This deference to parental authority and the continuing pathologizing of homosexuality and transgenderism mean that gender non-conforming youth remain at great risk for the damaging effects of involuntary commitment.132

IV.  Hypocrisy in Ohio, Hope in Massachusetts and Minnesota

A.  Gender as the Last Straw in Ohio

Judicial deference to parental autonomy falls away when parents transgress societal norms by resisting attempts to force gender non-conforming children into a rigid two-gender mold.133 One family in Ohio is learning first hand just how invested the state remains in maintaining rigid gender boundaries.134 Six-year-old Aurora Lipscomb, born Zachary, began expressing herself as a girl in behavior and dress at two years of age according to her parents Sherry and Paul.135 The Lipscombs are admittedly far from the stereotypical perfect family.136 Aurora has serious medical and behavioral problems.137 Parents Sherry and Paul face significant challenges of their own; both are bi-polar and have been experiencing marital difficulties.138 Sherry and Paul voluntarily began working with Franklin County Children Services in an effort to confront these challenges.139

Sherry and Paul decided in August 2000 to allow Aurora to present as a girl in all aspects of her life.140 The Lipscombs therefore at[*PG137]tempted to enroll their child in McVay Elementary School as a girl.141 An anonymous “tipster” notified Children Services that Aurora would attend school as a girl despite being a biological boy.142 Children Services immediately removed Aurora from her home and placed her in foster care.143 While working through the earlier Lipscomb family problems, the County never questioned the Lipscomb’s rights to retain custody of their child.144 It was only when the Lipscombs sought to enroll Aurora in school as a girl that the state revoked custody.145 It is troubling that the state trusted Sherry and Paul to handle their child’s problems as long as they conformed to societal norms.146 At the first sign of gender transgression, however, the state stepped in to challenge a long-standing tradition in the United States: the right of parents to raise their children as they wish.147

In the Lipscomb case, the state reversed its usual role of giving parents considerable autonomy in the raising of children; this reversal is telling of the gender paranoia, rigidity and anxiety deeply embedded in our legal system and institutions.148 As seen in Part III, the state usually supports a GID diagnosis as an excuse to force therapy on the child and thereby prevent transexualism and homosexuality.149 The state usually defers to parents, even when they threaten the liberty of their children through involuntary commitment; this deference allows the further enforcement of strict gender borders.150 However, when parents use a GID diagnosis and their parental autonomy to assist their child in transgressing gender borders, the state reaction is strikingly different and appears hypocritical.151 Children Services seems to be avoiding any discussion of gender and asserts Aurora has been wrongly diagnosed with GID.152 Children Services prefers instead to belabor the “severe mental health issues” of the couple.153 The Lipsombs clearly have a troubled family history filled with com[*PG138]plex issues in need of attention.154 It is possible that Aurora’s GID diagnosis is premature or even wrong altogether.155 It is disturbing, however, that the family’s problems were never severe enough to implicate custody until Sherry and Paul tried to enroll their child in school as a girl.156 The actions of Children Services, sanctioned by the court, show how a state will go to great lengths to keep intact the gender borders of boy and girl with no one in between.157

The implications of this state action are profound. Aurora faces the fear and confusion of being taken from her parents and entrusted to a foster family whom she does not know.158 By allowing gender non-conformity to be the last straw to provoke taking custody of Aurora, Ohio communicates a message of intolerance and fear.159 The state action could threaten the ability of families to deal with difficult issues of gender identity on their own and to create a supportive environment for their children.160 Ohio reminds us that we are still living with rigid boy/girl roles; we do not need to return to them as Sommers urges.161

B.  Protecting Identity in Massachusetts

In stark contrast to the case of Aurora Lipscomb, the case of Pat Doe, an eighth-grade student in Brockton, Massachusetts, shows how the legal system can and should step in to stop the enforcement of borders harmful to transgender youth.162 Fifteen-year-old Pat Doe is biologically male but identifies as a female and has been diagnosed with GID.163 Pat began expressing her female gender identity by wearing female attire to school in 1999, but her gender expression was met with disapproval and scorn by school officials.164 School officials repeatedly sent her home to change her clothes and suspended her for [*PG139]using the girls’ bathroom,165 which she used to preserve her safety.166 When school officials told Pat she could not enroll in school in Fall 2000 if she wore women’s clothing, her grandmother sued.167

A Massachusetts Superior Court recently found that the school’s actions constituted a violation of freedom of expression and sex discrimination.168 The court rejected the argument that the school was simply trying to control behavior that creates discomfort for other students and thus disrupts the learning environment of the school.169 The court found that wearing women’s clothing was crucial to Pat’s identity and that the school may not punish her for expressing herself as a female.170 The court in this case refused to enforce adherence to rigid gender roles urged by the school by recognizing Pat’s right to carve out an identity free from interference.171 The court recognized the importance of embracing diversity in schools and respecting each individual child.172 Thankfully, the court’s expansive view of gender and individuality won out over the calls of the school and angry parents seeking to force Pat to dress as a boy.173 Upon hearing the court’s decision, one mother commented, “[i]n my opinion I don’t think it’s right. . . . If [Doe] wants to be treated fairly he should wear men’s clothes to school.”174 She even gave her son permission to beat up Pat if Pat touched him.175 One wonders how Sommers can fear for a society intent on feminizing boys considering the venom of such parents openly espousing violence to enforce gender borders.176

C.  Recognizing Gender Role Stereotyping in Minnesota

The case of Jesse Montgomery provides another example of a court recognizing and stepping in to halt discrimination against a [*PG140]youth persecuted for gender non-conformity.177 After enduring eleven years of verbal and physical abuse in the schools of one Minnesota district, Jesse brought suit under Title IX, the Minnesota Human Rights Act and the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the United States and Minnesota Constitutions alleging the district failed to protect him from students who had harassed him on the basis of his gender and perceived sexual orientation.178

The student harassment Jesse endured escalated over the years.179 His peers inflicted verbal abuse from the time Jesse began kindergarten.180 Jesse heard taunts of, “‘faggott[sic],’ ‘fag,’ ‘gay,’ ‘Jessica,’ ‘girl,’ ‘princess,’ ‘fairy,’ ‘homo,’ ‘freak,’ ‘lesbian,’ ‘femme boy,’ ‘gay boy,’ ‘bitch,’ ‘queer,’ ‘pansy,’ and ‘queen’” on a daily basis.181 Physical violence began in the sixth grade and worsened in high school.182 His peers punched and kicked him, tripped him in the halls, super-glued him to his seat, and threw objects at him.183 The physical harassment was also sexual in nature.184 Students frequently grabbed Jesse’s inner thighs and buttocks.185 One student in particular targeted Jesse with sexually harassing physical conduct:

[O]ne of the students grabbed his own genitals while squeezing plaintiff’s buttocks, and on other occasions would stand behind plaintiff and grind his penis into plaintiff’s backside. The same student once threw him to the ground and pretended to rape him anally, and on another occasion sat on plaintiff’s lap and bounced while pretending to have intercourse with him.186

The students who physically harassed him were all male.187 Jesse responded to the constant tormenting by often staying home from school and by avoiding the cafeteria, the bathroom, the school bus and intramural sports.188 Because the district failed to respond to his [*PG141]complaints regarding the unflagging abuse, Jesse transferred school districts in the tenth grade.189

The U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota denied the district’s motion for judgment on the pleadings and denied in part their motion for summary judgment.190 In its opinion, the court recognized the role of gender stereotyping and gender policing as discriminatory and wrong by allowing Jesse to proceed with his Title IX claim.191 While the court found the district correct in asserting that Title IX does not cover sexual orientation discrimination,192 the court found that the conduct described by Jesse was discrimination on the basis of sex that does in fact fall under the statute’s rubric.193 The court recognized that his peers harassed Jesse for not conforming to their idea of masculinity; “the students began tormenting him based on feminine personality traits that he exhibited and the perception that he did not engage in behaviors befitting a boy.”194 The court applied reasoning from Title VII precedents to find that “discrimination based on a failure to meet stereotyped gender expectations” constitutes discrimination because of sex and therefore is actionable under Title IX.195 By refusing to accept the district’s arguments that only sexual orientation discrimination was implicated by the student’s conduct, the court rightly saw the nature of the conduct and interpreted Title IX more expansively to protect Jesse against harassment for gender non-conformity.196 Jesse can now proceed with his Title IX claim and thus hold the district accountable for not stepping in to prevent the harsh enforcement of the gender roles Sommers fears have vanished.197


Sommers’ The War Against Boys misses the story of the real war against boys and instead supports the ongoing war being waged by schools and some courts to retain rigid gender boundaries.198 Boys [*PG142]who play sports and rough house, who must sit through gender equity seminars and forgo recess, are not the ones for whom society need fear.199 Rather, the boys who transgress accepted boundaries of maleness and experience pervasive violence, persecution and reconstruction are the ones in desperate need of society’s attention.200

Sommers’ conclusion that schools and society must allow “boys to be boys” does not provide a useful answer to the profoundly difficult questions of how to create an environment of equality and respect in schools and society as a whole. If allowing “boys to be boys” means embracing a broader definition of boyhood and encouraging youths to explore and determine their own identity, then perhaps this old adage could transform society.201 Allowing “boys to be boys” could be the solution, but not if we remain faithful to Sommers’ vision of a two-gender, homophobic and transphobic world that is currently embodied in our core societal institutions.202

The experiences of youths like Jamie, Aurora, Pat and Jesse prove how invested schools remain in maintaining stereotypical gender roles.203 Schools are not on a unified mission to feminize boys and reconceptualize gender by erasing the differences between boys and girls.204 Gender roles are taught and policed in schools.205 It is unfortunate that schools remain so focused on enforcing a binary system of gender when not everyone fits into that mold.206 The rigid binary system leaves too many children out, unprotected and alienated when they are just as “normal” as the next kid.207

Sommers’ misguided beliefs about the exclusively binary nature of gender and the state of gender in our nation’s schools should not cloud the reality that there are boys in need in U.S. schools. Yet, there remain many questions about how to expand ideas of gender and to protect gender non-conforming boys. Signs of hope that society can embrace a more expansive vision of gender and gender roles emerge [*PG143]from experiences in the family and the legal system. Increasing family awareness and support can do much to change the experiences of gender non-conforming youth.208 The family atmosphere can provide a level of emotional support critical for healthy development.209 In addition, the family can serve as a bulwark against the interest of the state in maintaining rigid and destructive gender boundaries.210 Pat Doe and Jesse Montgomery initiated lawsuits with the support of family behind them.211 Gender non-conforming youth and their families can expand how schools and the legal system view gender by fighting together against discrimination.212

Surprisingly, it is the legal system that has begun to lead the way to expanding society’s vision of gender by finding creative ways to protect gender non-conformity.213 While diagnosing children with GID wrongly pathologizes gender non-conformity,214 the story of Pat demonstrates that a GID diagnosis can help gender non-conforming youth until society embraces a more expansive vision of gender.215 A GID diagnosis has the potential to serve positive ends for gender non-conforming youth when it is used to support their plight to remain true to their self-identity.216 A GID diagnosis can serve as evidence that youth cannot live healthfully in the role assigned according to their biological sex.217 Courts are beginning to recognize the subtleties in questions of gender. The court deciding Jesse’s case understood the difference between persecution for not conforming to his gender role and persecution for his perceived sexual orientation.218 The courts in the cases of Pat Doe and Jesse Montgomery recognized that these youths were being persecuted because they do not conform to society’s vision of what it means to be a boy.219

[*PG144] While it is encouraging that the legal system is beginning to recognize and protect gender non-conformity, schools must join in these efforts.220 Profound and enduring change in how gender should be viewed and how difference should be respected will not occur without major alterations to what society teaches children.221 Law comes in too late, after too much harm has been done, and when destructive lessons have already been learned. Schools must take the lead in allowing youth to define themselves and supporting youth as they proceed through difficult transitions.222 The focus must shift away from fear of divergence from the rigid gender borders Sommers espouses and toward addressing the dangerous problems of persecution, violence and isolation that threaten the very lives of gender non-conforming youth.223 Schools must respect the individual rather than reinforce a role and must stop ignoring the experiences and needs of countless gender non-conforming youths.224

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