The Magazine

Ms. TAKES OUT AFTER BOYS

Apr 22, 1996, Vol. 1, No. 31 • By CHRISTINA HOFF SOMMERS
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TAKE OUR DAUGHTERS TO WORK DAY, the girls-only school holiday, will be commemorated for the fourth year in a row this April 25. According to the Ms. Foundation for Women, which originated and organizes the holiday, more than 30 million adults and "millions of girls" participated in the last one. But as the holiday grows, so do the protests. More and more parents are asking: Why persist in excluding the boys? Why can't the name and character of the holiday be changed to Take Our Children to Work?


Because that heretical question threatens the event's feminist purity, the Ms. Foundation has been working frantically with several cooperative men's groups to launch a separate holiday for boys. As foundation president Marie Wilson put it in a March 29 memo: "My experience on the firing line with the media tells me that unless the day for boys is as upbeat, and as well planned . . . as Take Our Daughters, we will be vulnerable to a great deal of criticism." To safeguard the boy-free character of its Daughters' Day, and to make a future merger unlikely, the new holiday will be called Sons' Day and will take place on a weekend.


The first Sons' Day is planned for Sunday, October 20, a date Ms. considers ideal since, the memo says, "October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, so there will be lots of activities scheduled."


Here are some of the ways the Ms. Foundation proposes Sons' Day be celebrated:


Take your son -- or 'son for a day' -- to an event that focuses on . . . ending men's violence against women. Call the Family Violence Prevention fund at 800-END-ABUSE for information.


Plan a game or sport in which the contest specifically does not keep score or declare a winner. Invite the community to watch and celebrate boys playing on teams for the sheer fun of playing.


Since Sons' Day is on SUNDAY, make sure your son is involved in preparing the family for the work and school week ahead. This means: helping lay out clothes for siblings [and] making lunches.


For boys not exhausted by all the fun and excitement of the day's activities, Ms. has a suggestion for the evening: "Take your son grocery shopping, then help him plan and prepare family evening meals on Sons' Day."


Thus, Ms. seems to have devised a holiday that is the functional equivalent of a punishment for boys as recompense for a day in which girls are taken out of school and made a big fuss over in offces and factories across the country. Ms. had already developed a similar set of atoning exercises to fill the boys' time at school while the girls visit their parents' workplaces. In an " especially for boys" worksheet, the boys are asked to "brainstorm" and to question the "male stereotypes" that "box them in," such as, "a 'real man' doesn't do laundry." Ms. talks glibly about "the coalition of men's groups" behind Sons' Day. The coalition turns out to be a handful of organizations doing the bidding of Marie Wilson. One is a Boston-based group called "Real Men" whose founder, Jackson Katz, is the first male to take a degree in women's studies at the University of Massachusetts. Another participating group is the Oakland Men's Project, a nonprofit community training program that works to end violence against women. In charge of coordinating Sons' Day is the Northeastern Community Development Corporation. It mans the 800 number one may call for information on Sons' Day.


I called and spoke to its director, Clarke Martin, who told me the October 20 date was still firm. I asked whether the Boy Scouts had signed on, and he told me that "conservative organizations" like the Boy Scouts and the YMCA had so far declined to sponsor the event. I then asked why the men's groups had not requested the Ms. Foundation include boys in a Take Our Kids to Work Day. He explained that boys do not need a career day: "Young men know they can succeed, but girls don't. Boys need to learn how not to fight, and how to establish nurturing long-term relationships." Ms. had initially planned to announce Sons' Day on March 27. But since only a very small number of men's groups had come on board, Wilson sent them an apologetic memo canceling the press conference and pointing out that the coalition might not be "perceived as credible and capable of pulling off such an event." She went on to say that the advent of Sons' Day would still be used to ward off the charge that the Ms. Foundation is unfairly excluding boys, which she expected would be made by "hundreds of reporters."