“When Freud asked, “What do women want?” he didn’t expect a reply. Women were hysterical, depressed, dissatisfied and envied his penis. But women found an answer – fulfilment. Foreget the penis, as Germaine Greer would say. Although men better women at throwing a shot put, hitting balls or speeds for running and swimming, in other areas women are overtaking them.

Men still seem to rule the world. But in intellectual development, social adjustment and happiness, women are outstripping men at a disconcerting rate. But, as they do, a familiar reactive cry is emerging. Girls have taken what boys once had. So, blame the feminists or the girls. No matter that women are also concerned at what is happening to males.

This now common theme reached a climax in August, when a group of NSW educators claimed that excessive numbers of female teachers discriminated against boys. Eighty per cent of teachers in NSW primary schools are women. One prominent headmaster concluded this meant serious learning was for girls only. A paper from Hurstville Boys High stated that female teachers “often treat boys in more negative ways and structure classes in such a way as to alienate some boys”.

The NSW Secondary Principals Council deputy president Chris Bonner added that “the feminisation of the teaching profession sends a clear and unbalanced gender message to boys”.

Literature on problems with men is a growing field. Social scientists and psychologists now debate the “trouble with men” from fatherhood to male suicides outnumbering female by four to one.

That Y chromosome is held responsible for social dysfunction – from violent crime to joining remedial classes at school. Social interaction, at current levels of sophistication, has outcast the macho. The male persona is under stress.

Psychologist Anthony Clare, author of On Men: Masculinity in Crisis (Chatto & Windus), argues: “We say men should let out their emotions more. The problem is that when they do, it can be in very destructive ways. It’s not just that men are fearful of emotion; sometimes they have emotions to be fearful of.”

A ministerial seminar in Britain in 1998 recognised that industrial and social change had left a significant number of boys and young men with real problems. Young women had adjusted better to badly paid, repetitive jobs, family break-up and the increasing interpesonal skills required in the workplace.

Committee chair of the House of Representatives inquiry into boys’ education Dr Brendan Nelson notes that “academically boys’ performance is slipping behind girls as early as Grade 3 and there are big difficulties once they have fallen behind”.

In the European Union, 20 per cent more women than men are graduating. On leaving university, women’s prospects of employment exceed men’s.

In the June issue of Atlantic Monthly, Christina Hoff Sommers attacked feminists promoting notions of girls’ disadvantage arguing that “girls outshine boys. They get better grades. They have higher educational aspirations. They follow more rigorous academic programs and participate in advanced-placement classes at higher rates.”

Advocates for a return to traditional learning such as Janet Daley in City Journal (Winter 1999), blame the trouble with boys on progressive educators. Daley believes “male virtues and values” have been dismantled along with traditional studies of literature and grammar. Education is now a “personal exercise” that favours girls. Boys are falling behind because new learning doesn’t suit them.

Kathleen McDonnell in Kid Culture (Pluto 2000), conducted writing workshops in schools. Little boys, she found, were unable to write stories that included girls, while girls could include both male and female protagonists – “In the boys universe, females essentially did not exist.” McDonnell recognised this as the “buddy” genre so common in Hollywood movies, but the results were not surprising: “Everywhere children look, only one side of the equation is being represented. By and large, only one story is being told – the male quest tale.”

So how is it little girls are doing so well with few of their own role models in popular culture? Well, girls have been forced to adapt to male domains, and found them to their liking. The cause of contemporary masculinity’s doldrums actually lies with men. For in seizing the day, young women are finding they can manage without men. Britain’s Weekly Telegraph reported recently that “single girls simply want to have fun”. A documentary researcher put it plainly – women are less concerned about finding a husband because they are fulfilled in their friendships and careers.

Men can no longer define themselves as what women are not. Rather, they should be asking, what do men want? And, for the sake of little boys, find some answers.”

Article published in The Australian