Acton Institute Powerblog

The Hegemonic Misandry Continues: ADHD

Share this article:
Join the Discussion:

adhdCultural progressives often talk about something called “hegemonic masculinity.” By this progressives and feminists mean the standards we use to determine what an ideal man is in a particular culture. Michael Kimmel and Amy Aronson, in The Gendered Society Reader, describe American hegemonic masculinity this way:

In an important sense there is only one complete unblushing male in America: a young, married, white, urban, northern, heterosexual, Protestant, father, of college education, fully employed, of good complexion, weight, and height, and a recent record in sports . . . Any male who fails to qualify in any one of these ways is likely to view himself–during moments at least–as unworthy, incomplete and inferior.

With this definition, progressives and feminists are on what seems to be a campaign to “dismantle” any sense of “American” masculinity. Additionally, part of the mission is to redefine all of America’s problems in terms of what males, especially white males, have done to ruin society. As many have argued before, the first step in solving social ills is to pathologize boyhood and numb it into oblivion.

Esquire Magazine recently ran a story titled “The Drugging Of The American Boy” which highlights the seemingly settled disposition that developing masculinity is something to be diagnosed as ADHD and, therefore, a problem to be solved. The article cites this data:

The number of children who have been diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder—overwhelmingly boys—in the United States has climbed at an astonishing rate over a relatively short period of time. The Centers for Disease Control first attempted to tally ADHD cases in 1997 and found that about 3 percent of American schoolchildren had received the diagnosis, a number that seemed roughly in line with past estimates. But after that year, the number of diagnosed cases began to increase by at least 3 percent every year. Then, between 2003 and 2007, cases increased at a rate of 5.5 percent each year. In 2013, the CDC released data revealing that 11 percent of American schoolchildren had been diagnosed with ADHD, which amounts to 6.4 million children between the ages of four and seventeen—a 16 percent increase since 2007 and a 42 percent increase since 2003. Boys are more than twice as likely to be diagnosed as girls—15.1 percent to 6.7 percent. By high school, even more boys are diagnosed—nearly one in five.

Once we concluded that boyhood is abnormal, and in need of medication, it followed that “there are high-energy kids—normal boys, most likely—who had the misfortune of seeing a doctor who had scant (if any) training in psychiatric disorders during his long-ago residency but had heard about all these new cases and determined that a hyper kid whose teacher said he has trouble sitting still in class must have ADHD,” the article notes. As a result, “among the 6.4 million are a significant percentage of boys who are swallowing pills every day for a disorder they don’t have.”

What are we doing to young boys? The side effects of the drugs used to address the pathology known as “boyhood” include heart problems, bipolar disorder, increased aggressive behavior, manic symptoms, sleeping problems, weight loss, suicidal ideation, and more. Is is worth it? Are we better off as a society with the massive use of these drugs?

Granted, this is not to say that there are no cases of legitimate ADHD but there is now a major incentive by the pharmaceutical companies that manufacture these boyhood numbing drugs to encourage more and more doctors to prescribe them. The dramatic increase in the prescribing of these drugs raises all sorts of questions. For example, what has changed in American culture that, all of a sudden, we have the dramatic increase in ADHD? Is there something unique to American culture that produces this masculine “abnormality”?

Why is that, for example, American boys are diagnosed with ADHD but boys who exhibit the same behaviors in other countries, like France, are not? There are more questions to be asked for sure but we do know that medicating boyhood does not develop the moral virtues needed for men to be skilled in the art of living well. Instead it feeds into the false narrative that masculinity is something that needs to be fixed instead of directed toward the common good.

Anthony Bradley Anthony Bradley, Ph.D. is Associate Professor of Theology and Ethics in the Public Service Program at The King's College in New York City and serves as a Research Fellow at the Acton Institute. Dr. Bradley lectures at colleges, universities, business organizations, conferences, and churches throughout the U.S. and abroad. His books include: Liberating Black Theology: The Bible and the Black Experience in America (2010),  Black and Tired: Essays on Race, Politics, Culture, and International Development (2011),  The Political Economy of Liberation: Thomas Sowell and James Cone of the Black Experience (2012), Keep Your Head Up: America's New Black Christian Leaders, Social Consciousness, and the Cosby Conversation (2012), Aliens in the Promised Land:  Why Minority Leadership Is Overlooked in White Christian Churches and Institutions (forthcoming, 2013). Dr. Bradley's writings on religious and cultural issues have been published in a variety of journals, including: the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Detroit News, and World Magazine. Dr. Bradley is called upon by members of the broadcast media for comment on current issues and has appeared C-SPAN, NPR, CNN/Headline News, and Fox News, among others. He studies and writes on issues of race in America, hip hop, youth culture, issues among African Americans, the American family, welfare, education, and modern slavery. From 2005-2009, Dr. Bradley was Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology and Ethics at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, MO where he also directed the Francis A. Schaeffer Institute.   Dr. Bradley holds Bachelor of Science in biological sciences from Clemson University, a Master of Divinity from Covenant Theological Seminary, and a Doctor of Philosophy degree from Westminster Theological Seminary.  Dr. Bradley also holds an M.A. in Ethics and Society at Fordham University.


  • Elizabeth

    As a teacher, I have witnessed a horrific amount of non-normal development in children in our society which is increasing exponentially. I particularly see many children who are unable to regulate their own behavior and boys who are violent in their behavior and language – and not in a rough housing sense. Attempting to solve this with drugs does not get at the root, obviously. I believe that the majority of these issues stem from societal factors.

    • David Sharples

      In these cases, did you observe the parents as being there for the boy, especially the father?

      • Elizabeth

        That’s a good question that I can’t discuss here.

    • paternovem

      One big part of the problem has been a complete breakdown of discipline and standards in schools. Want to save your kids? Turn off the TV, get them out of school, and don’t pump them full of psychotropic drugs at the recommendation of some public school shrink.

    • Chuck Pelto

      RE: Teacher?

      You’re one of the problems with America. The vaunted American public education system can’t even teach young people how to read, write and do math.

      And here you are claiming to be an expert in human psychology? You can’t even do your own job right!

      Education makes a people easy to lead, but difficult to drive. Easy to govern, but impossible to enslave.

      You’ve made a generation ready to be enslaved. And you use drugs to keep them docile.

      • Elizabeth

        I chose to not teach in a public school (or even traditional) because I, too, am frustrated with our public education system. I don’t believe in treating children with drugs instead of getting at the root of the matter. I didn’t comment to be attacked or have people assume things about me. I teach in a school where we give ample amount of time to play outdoors and children are free to move around the classroom rather than needing to sit at a desk all day. In fact, our classrooms don’t even have desks. What I was trying to say is that I see a lot of non-normal development in children and that I believe it stems from our society’s disservice to children.

    • doubting_rich

      One of which is itself the restrictions placed on children, not allowing them freedom to play.

      • Elizabeth

        Exactly. Playing on an iPad or other device is not the same as playing outdoors and interacting with nature.

    • Donna

      Good points.

      I recently read an article about the development of our children in relation to iPads, iPods, video games, play stations, and more. It suggested that the minds of these youngsters who are frequently exposed to these mediums are being wired for immediate gratification. Amusement is available at a click. If it is not immediate enough or instantly gratifying, then–click!–on to the next choice. At the same time there is huge visual stimulation in all the choices–so how could any classroom teacher ever hope to compete? Many students find little or no exciting visual stimulation in the classroom (and I am not blaming the teacher). Since the student’s attention span has become stilted due to exposure to gaming, he/she is easily bored, inattentive, and often disruptive in the unconscious need for stimulation; in effect, they are “stimulation addicts.”

      Those of us who have iPads/tablets/computers might even notice this behaviour in ourselves: constantly clicking to a new topic, new game, email, story, online search–browsing, browsing, browsing.

      The good news is that it is likely reversible in our youngsters–remove the controller/tablet from their hands and send them outside with a ball, bat, glove, hockey stick, skipping rope …

  • tomrkba

    It is almost as if raising and educating boys is unknown. Maybe the government should fund some studies to determine the best way to go about doing so.

    • politicalcynic

      It is unknown. Next year there is a piece coming out which amounts to “we are going to hijack the discussion of masculinity”. It is being prodeuced by a group of feminists and feminist sympathizers.

      Here’s the origin of the problem. if white people hijacked the discussion of what it meant to be colored, or Christians “hijacked” the discussion of what it means to be Jewish-we would call it hateful and bigoted. If men decided to “hijack” the discussion of what it “means” to be a woman we would call that misogyny.

      But in today’s world we call feminists dictating what it “means to be masculine” or talking about “toxic” masculinity” feminism.

      And we can see the impact most clearly today in education. 2/3 of college students in the US are female. Boys are FAR more likely to drop out of school, not go to college, not get degrees-and yet what do we hear? We don’t hear cries of “Oh my-this clearly shows a gender bias, do something”. Instead we hear cries about “All these girls HAVE to be given self-esteem and more focus in our schools”.

      The ENTIRE US educational system is failing boys-at a terrifying rate-and all they seem to be capable of doing is drugging them-for being boys.

  • Bob Marley

    If boys aren’t allowed to develop self control in the safe environment of schools and are instead drugged. When will they learn the necessary skills for being an adult? I think we can see by the delayed adolescence, that they’re not.

    • Elizabeth

      Exactly. Children need to learn life skills and how to be independent thinkers now more than ever. Physical adolescence is happening at younger and younger ages while independent adulthood is now occurring at later ages (partly due to economic reasons but that’s a completely different story…).

  • Chuck Pelto

    RE: Boyhood as a Mental Disorder

    What a crock…..

    • grichens

      Agreed. I know a couple, both of whom are medical professionals (1 doctor and 1 nurse) who have been advised by a teacher to seek diagnosis of ADHD for their two sons. Both parents, myself and my wife (who also an MD) agree that the opinion of that teacher is a “crock”.

  • doubting_rich

    It is also the anti-boy rules that cause the behaviour. I am afraid I cannot remember the area, but child psychologists persuaded (with difficulty) a group of schools to remove all restrictions on play in the school grounds, with the obvious exception of those in accord with common law. Suddenly the play areas appeared to be in chaos, but the number of injuries went down, the bullying all but disappeared and the children were far more attentive in class.

    Let children be children, it is the only solution.

  • JubaDoobai!

    I tutor a 9-year old boy who jiggles, bounces, jumps, twitches, pees, moves around, laughs, teases, tries to get a rise out of me. Not a blessed thing is wrong with him. He’s a boy. In spite of all his constant motion (he rarely sits still in the chair until he gets caught up in the work), the boy works. He’s a perfectionist and hates to be wrong. The constant motion? High energy. He also seldom feels cold. Not a sign of ADD, ADHD, ADDHD or any other string of letters some quack chooses to string together. What he is is a little boy, a rambunctious, idea-filled little boy who likes to run, jump, play, and do boy things.

  • Martin8983

    The classroom is an unnatural, repressive , and stultifying environment especially for boys. Therefore uncooperative violent behavior is entirely appropriate. We should encourage them to tear down the walls. We’ll find a better way to educate ourselves.

  • Anonymous

    I once had a child in my class that informed me that his father,a psychiatrist, had upped his dose of Ritalin. I was surprised as the boy never caused any difficulties in the classroom and I felt clearly did not need a bigger dose of the meds as there had be no acceleration of active or poor behavior. Either something at home was triggering the active behavior or ADD or the father was over diagnosing and had no patience with his children.

  • AndrewX

    Unless you are reading about international relations, rest assured that whenever you encounter the word “hegemonic” you can safely and immediately move on to other reading material that might be of more value and worth. Like say, National Enquirer….. or perhaps the ingredients on your Sweet n’ Low pak.

  • Winefred

    I suspect that there is at least a particle of accuracy where analysis yields a diagnosis of extremely short attention span, but before drugging it away, I wonder how many of the teachers and clinicians request a thorough reporting of the kid’s exposure to video games — how many hours per week (or per day, God help us) and what kind of games, with an eye out for frantic speed and thrill-based or hyper-violent material. And then that information should be weighed against how much time the parents spend with the children in family activities, homework advice, family meals, etc. There are a lot of solutions short of medication for settling a kid’s brain constructively. Unfortunately the ones that demand personal adjustments and sacrifices by the parents will probably meet with considerable resistance, due to both ego-sensitivity and selfish interest.

  • j

    Having lived all over the world, it is simple, we have an epidemic of adhd for two reasons: big pharma and an educational system that has become more feminized– these teachers are helpless disciplining their own kids, let alone children in a classroom.

  • Mike55_Mahoney

    An hour of strenuous, structured play, a.k.a. gym class at the start of the day would “cure” a lot of this.

    • 1cjharrispretzer1

      Kids need less “structured” play, and more unstructured play. Let them figure things out for themselves. When I think back to being a kid in the 70’s, I don’t remember adults being around ever. Kids had autonomy and were able to learn independence and consequences in the real world.

      • Kingfish17

        Great point. The extent of the structure that I received, both at home and at school during recess, was, “Go out and play!”.

  • LilTrixter

    A diagnosis of ADD or ADHD can qualify a child to receive SSI disability funds each month. One of the parents is the payee for these funds. This a very common diagnosis of children in Juvenile Dependency cases. It provides money for the household. This is certainly an incentive for the over diagnosis of our sons. I am a licensed mental health professional with specialization in working with learning disabilities. My initial treatment plan is developing a behavior contract for the child’s parents and how the home environment is structured. There certainly are children who require the benefit of medication in assisting them to achieve successful classroom and social experiences. It should not be the 1st, 2nd, 3rd or even 4th choice of intervention. The medications are harmful to the child’s development and any benefits must outweigh these risks.

  • michael savell

    I hope parents are keeping a record of advice and prescription given to children,and in particular,boys,for any future litigation,there must be scores of
    potential lawyers waiting in the wings to sign them up for a personal or even a class action against the education board. or pharmaceutical industry.

  • Gina Pera

    I am sorry to tell you this, but you owe it to your readers not to take Esquire’s pandering piece at face value.

    Do a Google search for “Drugging of the American Boy” and see how many hits you find. Tons. The publisher knows what he’s doing to boost web traffic and, hence ad revenue.

    And he’s doing on the backs of American boys with ADHD.

    It was one of the most egregious hit pieces on the facts of neuroscience that I’ve seen in a long time — and that’s saying something. Studies were cherry-picked and risks of these medications outrageously exaggerated. In short, it was a fearmongering piece designed to hijack the collective prefrontal cortex (the rational brain) and let the fear-loving limbic system go berserk.

    The fact that so many readers, progressives and conservatives, took the bait tells us that science illiteracy is a larger problem than we thought (and we already thought it’s a big problem). And so is the lack of critical thinking.

    Male babies overall suffer from more congenital problems that show up in myriad ways throughout life. To ignore this is to ignore the facts and the knowledge that will save our boys and give them good lives instead of making them so fearfully gullible they glom on to claptrap such as in Esquire.

    • politicalcynic

      What neuroscience would that be, exactly? Source citations? Because inn fact, virtually all diagnoses of ADHD are based on teachers and parents describing behavior like “can’t sit still”, “doesn’t pay attention”….which really just mean “isn’t engaged”. .

      Under the current standards, I would have been diagnosed with ADHD in elementary school. Turned out the REAL problem was I was bored and unchallenged-and when placed in a private school-with HIGHER standards-I excelled. Funny thing was-THAT school did not give “special attention” to “just the girls” but rather expected us ALL to perform-and we were graded BASED on our performance.

      ADHD is NOT neuroscience-it’s pseudoscience.

  • local foreigner

    A society tries to get boys to learn things that are inherently boring and then acts surprised when “the attention span wanders.” The very concept of wandering attention is a fiction. Some kid is just doing what he feels more interested in doing. The school and psychiatry would have us jump off the cliff alongside the ruling majority, or say “yes ma’am, thank you ma’am.” Perhaps becoming masochistic is a brilliant adaptation to a dumb environment.