Do American colleges demonize men?
On the political right in recent years, most institutions of higher learning have come to be widely seen as militant proponents of “political correctness” that flies in the face of truth and morality. Rick Santorum, for example, told conspiracist Glenn Beck during the 2012 presidential campaign that U.S. colleges are “indoctrination mills” where students are taught to discard their religions.
Now, that accusation is spreading to encompass colleges’ increasing efforts to protect women from sexual assault and harassment. Last summer Harold Pease, a political scientist and Tea Party supporter, said as much at his Liberty Under Fire blog. The indoctrination begins with freshman orientation, he wrote, when students are taught about the evils of the “rape culture,” among other things.
“At Hamilton College in New York, fall 2010,” Pease continued, citing an article in the conspiracy-minded John Birch Society publication The New American, “male students were required to attend a ‘She Fears You’ presentation to make them aware of the ‘rape culture’ of which they were allegedly a part and of the need to change their ‘rape supportive’ beliefs and attitudes.”
The alleged spread of this anti-male “rape culture” on college campuses is getting new attention from the political right. The most dramatic example of that may be the website A Voice for Male Students, founded by “men’s rights activist” (MRA) Jonathan Taylor. To Taylor, American colleges are key battlegrounds in the all-out war that feminism has allegedly been waging against boys and men since the mid-1970s — a war that Taylor says they appear to be winning.
After all, according to Department of Education statistics, women earned some 60% of associate’s degrees and more than 57% of bachelors’ degrees conferred in the U.S. between 1999 and 2010. Women’s shares of master’s and doctoral degrees rose from 58% to 60% percent and 45% to 52%, respectively, during the same decade.
Taylor attributes some of this achievement gap to what he sees as a pervasive culture of “misandry” (the preferred MRA term for the hatred and oppression of men) on college campuses. “Many professors and some administrators hold staggeringly anti-male worldviews,” he claims. In addition, “there is an epidemic of rape hysteria in higher education that demonizes male students by tarring them with a broad brush, portrays those accused of rape as guilty until proven innocent, regards false accusations of rape as either insignificant or justified, and provides the misandric cultural basis in academia for the erosion of the due process rights of those wrongly accused of sexual misconduct.”
Taylor has at least some small bit of support among academics. Miles Groth — a professor of psychology at New York’s Wagner College, founding editor of Thymos: Journal of Boyhood Studies, editor of New Male Studies: An International Journal, and author of Engaging College Men: Discovering What Works — has written extensively on the crisis for men in higher education.
“The generally given 43% current enrollment rate of males (the lowest at any time in the history of higher education in the States) is generous,” he wrote me in an E-mail. “In reality, it is about 37% and reaching toward 33%. Projections of the last male to receive a college degree in 35-40 years time are statistical only, but that we have seriously made the estimates should alert everyone to the seriousness of the trend, a trend we do not fully understand. I am convinced that one of the central reasons for the decline is the absence of male-positive attitudes among many, perhaps most of all in student services.”
“We are at the same historical moment now,” he continued, “as we were with regard to women in 1970. I went out of my way to pay special attention to the many more women on campus then in order to make them feel they were welcome. We must do this for our young men now.”
When I asked Groth if institutional sexism is responsible for the trend or whether broader socio-cultural and economic issues are to blame, Groth’s reply was unambiguous. “There is now a second sexism and it is anti-male. See David Benatar's book on this [The Second Sexism: Discrimination against Men and Boys] published last year. It extends to boys and can be seen to have been in place in various forms at least since the period around WW1! It is about male-only conscription, more severe punishments of males, different standards of acceptance of what boys and men say as true, and a culture of gender double standards. Men have died of unnatural causes to a far greater extent than women have, taking into consideration the wonderful improvements in medical care for pregnant women in the last half-century.”
Far be it from me to deny that males are faring poorly on educational and other metrics in what has been called this age of “the end of men,” or that innocent male college students have sometimes been harmed by biased policies on sexual harassment (though their numbers are certainly small compared to the universe of women who have been sexually coerced). As MRAs argue, men are also the victims of rape, and some men have been falsely accused of rape.
But that does not mean that the online world of MRAs, often called the “manosphere,” is not often an ugly one. In my previous posts about the manosphere, my criticism was not about the notion of men’s and fathers’ rights per se, but the often heavily misogynistic tone of many MRAs — a tone that went “well beyond criticism of the family court system, domestic violence laws, and false rape accusations,” and that in some cases verged on violence.
A Voice for Male Students’ Taylor doesn’t do his cause any favors with his strident, relentlessly accusatory rhetoric, his over-reliance on cherry-picked anecdotes and out-of-context quotations, or his monomania about hegemonic feminism. But despite all that, A Voice for Male Students, which appears to take its name from the much more virulent MRA site known as A Voice for Men, does not qualify as a so-called “hate site.” Taylor has too balanced a tone for that. “Gender equality is not a zero-sum game,” he writes at one point, for example. “[T]he mere existence of issues or needs for one sex does not automatically invalidate the issues and needs of the other. But unfortunately this is not what many in academia believe.”
Unfortunately, it’s not what many in the manosphere believe either. But it’s important to remember that the most ideological heat is generated at the margins. The bottom line is that college students today are generally less sexist, racist and homophobic than they were a generation ago.
And that’s an ethos worth celebrating.