Rehabilitating the 'Disposable Sex'

One professor's effort to undo the damage of feminist man-hatred.

You may not be aware of it, but March 8 is International Women’s Day (IWD). Though it’s a bigger deal in much of the rest of the world than in the United States, it’s actually an American invention, concocted in 1909 by the Socialist Party of America and, during its early years, commemorated on the last Sunday in February. In 1910, the Second International Socialist Women’s Conference, held in Copenhagen, gave its thumbs-up to IWD, which the next year was celebrated in several European countries on March 19. After the Russian Revolution, Lenin made IWD (the date of which had been shifted, by then, to March 8) an official Soviet holiday; other Communist countries followed suit. The UN began sponsoring IWD in 1977, and in 2011, President Obama, in an apparent attempt to raise its profile in the U.S., called on Americans to mark IWD.

Miles Groth, a psychology professor at Wagner College on Staten Island, recalls that when, at age five or six, he asked his mother, “Why is there a special day for mothers and not one for children?” she replied: “Every day is Children’s Day.” (As it happens, I had the exact same exchange with my own mother; I guess millions have.) And now, Groth notes, “we have a vocal minority that claims that every day has been Man’s Day for thousands of years, an idea that would have surprised most women, who were being supported and otherwise looked after by men from birth (their fathers and husbands and the troops of farmers, soldiers and the rest who made the society function) in return for bearing children. Every day was Woman’s Day (and Children’s Day). The disposable sex have never had a day off. ”

Who is Groth? In an academy rife with lockstep ideologues who pride themselves on their alleged radicalism, he’s a true radical. For what he’s doing – and encouraging – is scholarship and education about a phenomenon that, in the modern academy, has been the object of utter neglect in some quarters and an occasion for reflexive hostility in others: namely, the experience of being male. No, he’s not aligned with the already well-established field of Men’s Studies – which obediently and mindlessly echoes every last bit of the shrill Women’s Studies rhetoric about the evils of the patriarchy. Nor is he out to institutionalize, in reaction to these discipline-free disciplines, a male-boosting course of “identity studies” that’s every bit as strident and intellectually insubstantial as they are. No political activist he, what Groth is engaged in is precisely the kind of serious, solid, interdisciplinary humanistic study that Women’s Studies, Black Studies, Queer Studies, and their ilk supplanted.

Groth is pursuing his project on many fronts. He edits the journal New Male Studies. He’s just started writing a thoughtful blog, “Boys to Men: The Science of Masculinity and Manhood,” at Psychology Today. He’s been instrumental in setting up study groups at colleges in the U.S., Canada, Britain, Australia, and New Zealand in which students can read and discuss books that examine male identity from a perspective free of male-hatred. He’s involved in curriculum development for an online, degree-granting postgraduate program that will start up next year, focusing on analysis of “the many common and culturally embedded assumptions that negatively influence male experience and well-being.” And for the last decade he’s been teaching a course at Wagner on male psychology from infancy to old age, covering such subjects as “the myths of male violence and power,” marriage, male friendship, “the place of the father in males’ experience,” male spirituality and sociology, and – not least – the reflexive hostility toward everything having to do with maleness that, over the last generation or so, has become an all but obligatory element of “enlightened” Western sensibilities.

It’s no secret that, thanks to the ideological feminism that is the beating heart of Women’s Studies and that has had an immeasurable impact on society at large, more and more young men are being fed the lie – if not by their parents, then by their teachers and the media – that simply by virtue of their gender identity they enjoy unfair privileges and advantages that women do not; that they are the heirs to a system of brutal and violent sexual oppression for which they are expected to do penance and make reparations; that pretty much all bad things about homo sapiens are the fault of the male of the species, while virtually everything positive about human civilization is attributable to women; and that if humankind wishes to undergo any kind of meaningful progress toward true equality, peace, and social justice, then men need to become more like women, women have to be given more power, and men must voluntarily take a back seat to their sisters.

Groth is rightly concerned about the effect that this indoctrination has had on the shaping of men’s characters, their views of themselves, and their relationships with others. Young men, he notes, are attending college in smaller and smaller numbers, and young women now represent a majority of undergraduates. This is generally spun as a victory for women’s rights – but to what extent is it the consequence of an awareness by young men of the sometimes subtle, sometimes not-so-subtle anti-male atmosphere that pervades educational institutions nowadays? Also, why is the male suicide rate three times higher than that among women, and why has the suicide rate among boys soared in the last fifteen years, so that it’s now four to six times greater than among girls? Groth’s own thoughts: “Males have always been the disposable sex but now they are told told they are not only disposable but superfluous, unnecessary and unwelcome. This begins in the schools, where boys are identified as defective girls….In secondary school, they are exposed to an environment that continues to favor girls, unless a boy is an athlete….In college or in the post-high school world of work, apart from the really tough jobs that only males can do, they are discriminated against” by quotas. Result: a powerful sense of “being rejected and not feeling welcome” that, in the severest cases, can eventuate in self-slaughter.

Groth isn’t out to bash women. “Most women do like men, you know,” he points out. Yet he also observes that – owing to the preoccupations our feminism-drenched society have forced upon us – conversations about “the well-being of boys and men” almost invariably, and immediately, turn into conversations about women, and that if you try to discuss with many women “what is good about boys and men,” you will often hear “only of ‘problems’ when talking about boys and only of ‘shortcomings’ when the talk turns to men.”

Still, there are hopeful signs. A college recently invited Groth for advice on how to “make classrooms and campus life more male-positive.” He’ll be giving a talk on this subject at Tufts University on March 22. “There is nothing obvious about the psychology of being male,” Groth emphasizes. “This is unexplored territory.” His work represents a small but important step into that terra incognita.

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