Tony Kirkman

Tony Kirkman is the executive director of the Piatt County Mental Health Center.

Fun Fact: Did you know that famed Evangelist Billy Graham’s wife, Ruth, found inspiration for her tombstone after seeing a sign on the side of the road?

Found on her grave marker, the epitaph now simply reads: “End of Construction. Thank you for your patience.” Similar to Ruth’s belief, I feel that I’m constantly in a process of construction and need to continue growing in my understanding and development. One of those areas that needs constant attention is my role as a father to two wonderful young men.

It is out of that pursuit that I recently read a book by Richard Reeves titled “Of Boys and Men: Why the Modern Male is Struggling, Why It Matters, and What To Do About It.”

The book argues that as our culture continues to become aware and proactive in the pursuit of DEIA (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Access) initiatives, we should not feel like we cannot promote the growth and development of young men.

We don’t need an entire demographic to lose out just because we want others to overcome societal obstacles. Actress Tracee Ellis Ross says it best, “I cheer for people. I was raised to believe there’s enough sun for everyone.”

A few examples of this concerning trend affecting young men are in the educational system. Reeves argues that females are much better prepared for the educational system cognitively, socially, and are more mature.

Citing national studies, he shows that girls are 14% more likely than boys to be “school ready” by the age of 5, girls’ reading proficiency continues to outpace boys through primary education, and that girls now account for two-thirds of high schoolers in the top 10% as rated by GPA.

Graduation levels also continue to favor females as 88% of females graduate high school on time compared to only 82% of boys. This disparity continues even in college where 57% of bachelor’s degrees are now awarded to women as well as three out of five master’s degrees.

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In the business sector, while we still see a gender pay gap (women earn $82 for every $100 a man earns), this gap is closing quickly. Recent studies have shown that gap is almost nonexistent when both genders enter the workforce, but it greatly alters at the birth of the first child.

At this point generally, female salaries do not grow as quickly as males, and sadly most are aware that significant salary and promotional jumps happen in the mid-30s. In this vain, women never make up the gap which makes Reeves ask is this a gender pay gap or a parenting pay gap?

One other point that the author makes is that while women are making huge strides in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) fields, men continue to be grossly underrepresented in HEAL (Health, Education, Administration, Literacy) occupations.

As a male who has spent his entire career in social services, I can attest that I’ve always worked in the minority gender in this field, and we are in desperate need of positive male influences on those we serve.

Reeves doesn’t offer many suggestions to these issues other than starting males a year later in school to better prepare them for academic success.

The reality is that the world is constantly changing, and the once male-dominated professions are either not in as much demand, or women are rightfully getting an opportunity to serve in those capacities.

As a society, we need to learn how to nurture, equip, and encourage ALL to succeed as we will then ALL benefit.

While I’m all for Girl Power, don’t forget to keep your eyes out for boys, too!

Tony Kirkman is the executive director of the Piatt County Mental Health Center.