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Politics and Feminism


Two days ago a group of academics gathered to plan a new research discipline: Male Studies. I wholeheartedly endorse this effort. Naturally, it’s being met with derision and cries of FOUL! from the feminist community. Personally, I don’t understand how studying anything can be a bad thing. The purpose of academic research is to ask good questions and then attempt to answer them. Here are some good questions:

Clear cause for concern.

  • Why are 60% of college students women?
  • Who do men commit suicide at six times the rate of women? Why are men 3 times more likely to have learning difficulties?
  • Why are men more than 8 times more likely to be incarcerated?

    For more interesting statistics and questions, check out For Every 100 Girls.

    Why shouldn’t all women, including feminists, be interested in the decline of American men?
  • They’re half the population.
  • They’re not getting married as much as they used to.
  • They’re on the receiving end of 2/3 of divorces.
  • They’re not spending enough time with their children, who need them.
  • They’re not getting educated.
  • They’ve lost 80% of the jobs that disappeared in the recession.
  • What is Male Studies?

    After Women’s Studies gained a foothold in academia, a few researchers began to focus on Men’s Studies, which emerged as a complementary discipline. Together the two areas make up Gender Studies at most universities. Both fields of study focus on gender as a social construct, and minimize biological differences between the sexes. Male Studies will specifically focus on the ways in which men and women are fundamentallly different at a genetic level, in an effort to understand and support boys and men.

    The gathering was co-chaired by Lionel Tiger, Professor of Anthropology at Rutgers, and author of the book The Decline of Males. The other chair was Christina Hoff Sommers, a one-time prominent feminist turned critic, and author of the book The War Against Boys: How Misguided Feminism Is Harming Our Young Men.

    I Have a Dog In This Fight

    I care deeply about this issue because I am concerned for the welfare of both men and women in aggregate, particularly as it relates to relationships. However, I have also witnessed alarming “feminization” of the male population in public schools, and have long suspected it is extremely harmful to males. Sommers book is well worth reading for a full exploration of the issue, but I’ll share my own story:

    When my son entered Kindergarten, he was assigned a teacher who was young and extremely popular with parents. We were delighted. During the course of that year, he was sent to the principal’s office, and I was called, for all of the following offenses:
  • “Showing off” his ability to read early (having taught himself via Sesame Street).
  • Saying the word penis on the playground.
  • Having “ants in his pants” (which led to a staff meeting about whether he might have ADD).
  • Hitting another boy over the head with an empty plastic lunchbox during an argument (Discipline for this offense is appropriate, but it was implied that this act revealed real pathology).
  • The system needs to be changed

    Two years later, our daughter was assigned to the same teacher, despite our request to the contrary. During the course of her kindergarten experience, I was informed of the following:
  • During a particularly hard day with a lot of peer conflict, my daughter asked whether the class might take a break from the lesson and spend the afternoon working together on a harmony mural. Her teacher got choked up on the telephone sharing this.
  • During gym class, she asked whether she might stay out of the dodgeball game to play catch with a boy who was confined to a wheelchair. More claims of saintly behavior.
  • She initiated a project in the class called Ornaments for the Homeless. Kids made simple ornaments, and then we got a bunch of the families to sell these in front of a supermarket one Saturday, raising $125 for a local shelter. The teacher arranged for the Boston Globe to write a story about my daughter, and the shelter threw a party in her honor. That project continues at the school to this day, fifteen years later.

    I don’t mean to suggest that my daughter did not deserve credit for these kind and nurturing gestures. But do you see how the deck is stacked against boys? They are penalized for normal boy behavior, and pressured to conform to a standard that is far more natural for girls at that age. My son was a nice kid, too, and I’m sure he did plenty of things to support other kids. On the occasion when he was accused of showing off, he had been found reading aloud to three other kids in a corner, and was stunned to be called out for it. He became ashamed of his ability after that.

    The system needs to be changed, and I support any research that gives voice to very real concerns that many have about boys in the current politically correct climate.
  • The Feminist Response

    Hostility to the idea of Male Studies is not surprising among women’s groups or the media. Today in Salon, Tracy Clark Flory writes:

    …The difference between male studies and men’s studies becomes clear: Men’s studies, like women’s studies, is an offshoot of gender studies. It’s influenced by feminism but is grounded in a critical exploration of the social and biological differences between men and women. Male studies claims to do the same thing, only its proponents have a stated vendetta against feminism.

    Inevitably, men’s studies will be confused with its more confrontational and divisive counterpart, which is awfully sad. I remember wishing my college women’s studies courses would talk more about men, which is to say that I wished for the broader perspective that men’s studies embraces. Now male studies has arrived on the scene to turn this into yet another battle between the sexes. Grab your armor, because this one’s gonna be bloody.

    Jessica Bennet and Jesse Ellison attended the conference for Newsweek, and wrote highlights of their experience on their blog The Equality Myth:
  • They passed up many cabs driven by men until they found one driven by a woman.
  • Said woman, upon learning their reason for traveling, “threw back her head and cackled.”
  • Lionel Tiger is “awesomely named,” but had the nerve to say that the academic lives of men are discriminated against. Yes, boys lag behind in school, but whose fault is that?
  • Christina Hoff Sommers said that feminists “constantly try to knock down doors that are already open and it’s young men who pay the price.” (They find this ridiculous, but even feminists agree that the goals of feminism have been met, i.e. the doors are open. See this article from the Center for American Progress).

    Christina Hoff Sommers addressed what she perceives as the “structural asymmetry” between men and women: There are approximately 112 important centers for the study of women. It is an elaborate empire of . . . activism that produces volumes and volumes of research, some good, but much of it ideological. But since they are the groups addressing issues, Congress listens to them, and journalists call them when they want to write stories. If there’s any social policy practice that has a disparate impact on women, they’re right there to make it known and to correct it.

    If there is an asymmetry, and I think there is, then it needs to be corrected, or we’ll all pay. We can’t have healthy relationships if men are not thriving. Stifling creativity and inquiry while adhering to a preferred political ideology is what got us here in the first place. It’s time to level the playing field.