Rigid campus feminism: Is it forever?

September 2013

Some 200 Canadian and American men's activists will gather this Friday at the University of Toronto, where they will be met by angry feminists dedicated to tearing down their posters, heaping abuse on speakers, blockading events and denouncing police as "f---ing scum" if they try to restore order. At least that's what happened last November when I spoke before the same group--the Canadian Association for Equality (CAFE)--on the same campus. A documentarycaught the spirit of the protest:

Angry feminism is still in vogue at the U of T, where the student union regards men's rights organizations as hate groups that shouldn't be heard. They are charging CAFE $964 for security Friday, thus predicting feminist violence and requiring the men to pay for it.

Personally, I have trouble seeing myself as a hate-soaked advocate of rape (as a few of the more unhinged protesters kept saying). In the 1970s, I was a three-time Board member of the National Organization for Women in New York. Nothing in my Toronto speech was remotely anti-woman. It dealt entirely with the growing crisis of boys.

A Small Hello for Men's Concerns

The problem is that the feminist anger of the 1960s and 1970s s been institutionalized on our campus, where it seems impervious to change. Consider what your son faces if he enters a college in North America, Australia, or most of Europe. In the first week or two, he is required to attend a program on date rape, but nothing on date communication. By October, he will encounter Breast Cancer Awareness Month, but nothing about a "prostate cancer awareness month," though the incidence and deaths from the two diseases are similar. If your son becomes involved in student activities, he has access to significant student funds for women's centers and speakers on women's issues, but not for men's centers or speakers on men's issues.

If your son is heterosexual, he may express interest in a woman who is taking a women's studies course or degree, and see her researching papers on how the patriarchy consists of men who made laws to benefit men at the expense of women. He may learn she is on a scholarship to encourage women in engineering, math or the other STEM professions; if he's observant, he'll note that despite few men majoring in the social sciences, he hasn't run across even a single man with a scholarship designed to encourage men to enter the social sciences. The low percentage of women in STEM fields is depicted as very troubling, but the fact that males account for only 43% of all college students is not.

Is Misandry the Problem?

Your son will soon meet many women working on papers and theses on women's special interests, such as domestic violence against women, but virtually none on men's interests (the boy crisis; fathering; custody rights, false accusations by women, the high rate of male suicide and imprisonment and domestic violence against men).

Cumulatively, this creates an atmosphere of prejudice against men, misandry, that has turned many campuses decisively anti-male. Look at the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), the largest student organization in Canada, and the national coordinating body that oversees most of the Canadian student unions. (There is no U.S. equivalent.) This year, the CFS passed a resolution that prohibited either men's issues or men's rights groups or clubs on their affiliated Canadian campuses. Colleges are supposed to be places where all ideas can be considered. But apparently not pro-male ideas, at least in Canada.

Your son or daughter is unlikely to even discover the option of creating or joining these clubs because he or she will not be able to attract students by setting up a recruiting table on campus. (Such clubs exist in only one major U.S. university--Montana State at Bozeman.) If he or she does find one, it is likely to be ineffective because it cannot receive student activities fees to help fund activities. The cumulative effect? Men's issues are branded as illegitimate, a devastating status on campus.

Suppose, though, you have a daughter who is a maverick and she wishes to start a club that incorporates a compassion for men. At Ryerson University in Toronto, two women applied to start a student group sensitive to men's as well as women's issues.

The Ryerson Student Union's Board of Directors immediately passed a pre-emptive resolution that any group examining gender that was inclusive of "the concept of misandry" would be considered as "negating the need to center women's voices in the struggle for gender equity"...and therefore prohibited from the campus. As is often case at colleges these days, there was no discussion, no debate and no input by the people trying to launch the club. The primary advocate of the ban was Marwa Hamad, a faculty member at Ryerson, and (ironically) Vice-President of Equity at the school.

Obstruction, Not Discussion

In 1972, many feminists, including male feminists like myself, sought a gender equality that would benefit both sexes. But from day one women's studies' departments at leading universities skipped right past that--and into Marxist feminism with its paradigm of males-as-oppressor/females-as-oppressed. Over the past thirty years that model expanded from the politically correct gender framework at the leading universities, whose professors are typically more radical, into more vocationally oriented universities such as Ryerson, who in the past were barely affected by Marxist-type feminism.

Remaining tolerance for men's issues is slight. In the Spring of 2013, the Canadian Association for Equality invited a women's studies professor who favored a more male-positive approach to women's studies. The feminist groups interrupted her presentation by setting off a fire alarm. Take a listen.

The University of Toronto Student Union responded to the cumulative stimuli with a "Townhall on Sexism." First red flag: not a single representative of any group with a male-positive perspective was invited to speak. To the contrary, the only invited speaker, Danielle Sandhu, former president of the University of Toronto Student Union, immediately supported an audience member who said, "we know there are infiltrators..."they should just leave, I could point fingers...."" The search was on to identify and root our dissenters. Audience members shouted, "point them out" and "make them uncomfortable." A representative of the Ontario Public Interest Research Group) suggested a militant approach--"making this campus inhospitable to these people" by finding out "where they live." Intimidated, two representatives from a men's group left, though the event was paid for by student fees and was supposed to be open to all.

What Can Be Done?

Recently, I reached out to activists on both the men's issues side of the aisle, and to Michael Kimmel, the dominant force on the men's issues-as-defined-by-feminists side.

Only the feminist-defined men's issues are receiving funding of any significance from their university or a foundation. Stony Brook University and other foundations will be adding additional funding to a $300,000 start-up grant from the MacArthur Foundation to establish the first Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities. The center will be headed by sociologist Michael Kimmel, a male feminist whose perspective is made clear by the title of his forthcoming book, Angry White Men.

Although Kimmel has some empathy for fathers' issues, the Center's advisory board is thus far is made up of leading establishment feminists such as Gloria Steinem, Jane Fonda and Eve Ensler, whose play, The Vagina Monologues, symbolizes the gender monologue on campus.

How are men's issues as defined by feminists different from men's issues as defined by other men (e.g., suicide, and the other issues mentioned above)? Feminist-defined men's issues require acknowledging patriarchy and encourages men to forfeit their power. Once men are seen as having the power, domestic violence is seen as the expression of male power, hence the Violence Against Women Act, which strongly addresses violence by one sex, but not by the other.

To my knowledge, no person who deviates from the orthodox feminist perspective on these issues has received significant university or foundation funding, or reached Kimmel's level of Distinguished Professor in any social science department at any university in the U.S. or the rest of the world. Neither my contacts nor my emails from readers around the world were able to identify a single men's studies course--and certainly no program or degree--that was not under feminist control.

There are seven scholarly journals in the field of feminist masculinity studies, and one--a recent one--in the field of men's studies that is not feminist-controlled. That one is New Male Studies. Its editor is Miles Groth, a Wagner College professor who built his reputation on the existential philosophy of Martin Heidegger.

If feminism's focus is on "men-as-the-problem" is there a way to make the transition to the problems of men?

Lakeland Community College in Ohio, and Pierce College in Washington State, found that men's problems could get attention if couched as an issue of retention. James Shelley at Lakeland explained that the new Ohio funding formula is based on success rates, including graduation and retention. And since men are more likely to drop out, the issues putting male students at risk might be more widely considered if it meant more money from the state.

Similarly, after Pierce College's Bret Burkholder elicited data from colleges throughout Washington State, and discovered male students about four times as likely to be dismissed as women at all of Washington state's colleges, he got no traction when he presented it as a male problem. It too had to be presented as a retention problem.

Learning from this, Burkholder has framed his work less as about men per se, and more, for example, as about veterans, which clears through the patriotism filter; or work with single dads, since the beneficiaries are children.

This approach, while gaining traction, is still slow. As Shelley puts it, "the premise is still, 'Men are the problem" rather than "Men have problems." And this from the man who directs one of only three university men's centers. (The others are at the U of Oregon, and the Houston area Lone Star College-Kingwood, just approved in 2013). And as far as men's rights organizations with college approval, the only one I'm able to identify is the new affiliate of the National Coalition of Free Men at Montana State University in Bozeman.

When I played tennis with the man who was at the time the president of Northwestern University, I told him, "You could make Northwestern the first university in the world to pioneer a program defining men's issues." He said if he did that, he would be "annihilated" by the feminists, so I asked. "Is there any way you could create such a program without being annihilated?" His answer was interesting: " Actually yes. If the University were sued as being in violation of Title IX by not balancing women's studies with men's studies... then I'd be able to support something in the name of saving the university. I'd be more a hero than a villain."

Empowering women, whether in the workplace, sports, or internally, is a virtue. But demonizing men and undervaluing the family undermines that virtue. Male-female relationships are not about oppressor and oppressed. Men and women have worked together and died together in the family boat that navigated the waters of survival. When either sex unilaterally wins, both sexes lose. The family boat sinks.

We don't need a women's movement demonizing men, nor a men's movement demonizing women. We need a movement to transition from the rigid roles of the past to more flexible roles for our future.