By Charles McGrath
The New York Times, January 7, 2011
Since Lionel Tiger is on the side of Male Studies, you know you don't want to be there. Young men are having problems, however. How to square this...?
According to Professor Tiger, the trouble with men’s studies is that it’s “a wholly owned branch of women’s studies.” ...The people in men’s studies, like those in women’s studies, take a mostly sociological perspective and believe that masculinity is essentially a cultural construct and that gender differences in general are fluid and variable... The male studies people, on the other had, are what their critics call “essentialists” and believe that male behavior is in large part biologically determined... Professor Tiger...worries that the changes that have allowed women to control their own reproductive process have unnaturally and disastrously altered the balance of power between the sexes... the male studies movement is less an expansion of that debate than a response to a specific crisis, the nature of which both sides agree on: academically at least, young men are in trouble.
Starting in grammar school, they lag behind girls by most observable measures, and the gap widens through high school and college. If males go to college at all, that is. College enrollment tilts at almost 60-40 in favor of women, and once enrolled, women are more likely than men to do well and to graduate.There are a lot of explanations for why this is so. A popular theory, set forth in books like “The Trouble With Boys,” by Peg Tyre, and “The War Against Boys: How Misguided Feminism Is Hurting Our Young Men,” by Christina Hoff Sommers, is that grammar school classrooms have become excessively feminized, impatient with boys’ naturally boisterous behavior and short attention spans and inattentive to the way in which boys learn differently from girls...
Professor Tiger believes that by the time girls get to college, there is a Darwinian component to the achievement gap: women are aware of the divorce rate and the likelihood that they may raise children without ever marrying in the first place. “They’re studying for two,” he explained. “Guys just don’t have that sense, that inwit. That’s biology at its most essential.”
And then there are the various cultural arguments: that at least by some standards of masculinity, learning — reading and writing especially — is “uncool,” and that college campuses have become inhospitable to men, who now suffer from fragile self-regard. People associated with the male studies movement frequently bring up the date rape seminar now obligatory on most campuses. On their very first day at college, awkward young men are gathered into a room with their female counterparts and, the argument goes, made to feel like sexual predators...
Miles Groth, who teaches psychology at Wagner College and was host of the conference there last spring, says that what he hears all the time from male undergraduates on his campus is “I just don’t feel welcome here”...he has himself established a men’s center at Wagner, a small, private liberal arts school where only 36 percent of the students are men and a quarter of them are recruited athletes on scholarship.
Professor Groth’s courses examine what it means to be a man from the points of view of psychology, anthropology, literature and even movies. “Why the silence?” he said between classes one day. “Why hasn’t our generation been more vocal about what’s happening to our young men?” And then he partly answered his own question: “It’s the continuing myth of male power. If I as a man raise these issues I’m just raising that old specter of male power because I want to keep women under control.”