Acton Institute Powerblog

The Hegemonic Misandry Continues: ADHD

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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.

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