Is ‘toxic masculinity’ dangerous in the academy?

The following is a video recording and transcript of an East Midlands Salon talk delivered by Elizabeth Hobson, which was responded to by Dr Nicholas Joseph, a lecturer at the University of Derby. Chairing was Dr Vanessa Pupavac (University of Nottingham).



As a non-feminist, liberal woman and an individual who values the search for truth as a primary function of universities… I have grave concerns over “toxic masculinity” in the academy. That is, I have grave concerns over the toxic feminist concept that is “toxic masculinity” enabling the further entrenchment of feminist aggression that is perverting a key sector of our society.

Historically, men have dominated in the public sphere – and they’ve created the greatest civilisation ever known, to the point where we women have been liberated from the private sphere and enabled to contribute to further progress.

Men have dedicated their lives to providing technological solutions to women’s problems. From sanitary products to labour saving devices to instruments and procedures to make birth safer and pharmaceuticals to prevent conception entirely.

Men have fought for women’s rights and mentored and supported women fighting for the same.

Men have broken their backs in support of their families.

Men have given their lives for our freedoms.

And now, men are under attack from gynonormative sycophants who either can’t or won’t pursue equal opportunities, treatment or rights for men and boys and illiberal feminist, sociopaths who remain a minority of the population (at just 9% in the U.K. according to Fawcett) yet enjoy a disproportionate power to influence the great and powerful.

Men are now a declining minority on campus (at just over 40% of students nationally) – and yet all of the special attention and programmes are aimed at women. I study at The Open University where 59% students are women. The Open U has a stated belief that:

“Discrimination arising from individual characteristics and circumstances is not only unlawful, but a waste of talent and a denial of opportunity, preventing individuals, organisations and societies from achieving their growth potential.” [1]

Eliminating discrimination includes, according to them:

“Ensuring there is no less favourable treatment for people”.

Promoting equality includes:

“Encouraging people to participate in public life or in other activities where their participation is disproportionately low”.

They have committed to increase the proportion of women in senior professorial roles from 27.6% to 40% by 2020 and a Women @OU Staff Network exists to support them. Women@OU is all-inclusive group that works to “promote gender equality” and raise the profile of women at The Open University.

The Open University, like many universities, is signed up to the Athena SWAN scheme. Athena SWAN runs an awards scheme that recognises evidence of increasing numbers of women in senior positions and has been a stipulation for accessing funding, for example at The Biomedical Research Centre and Biomedical Research Unit in 2011 – and feminist academics (such as Janet Beer – vice-chancellor of the University of Liverpool and Professor Louise Morley of the University of Sussex) have called for all research funding to be made conditional on Athena SWAN accreditation [2].

The Open University also have a Women@OU committee to support and connect women and signal boost opportunities such as the AURORA women’s leadership development programme. No such commitments, groups or committees exist for men – which leads me to the conclusion that they are failing in their goals of “Ensuring there is no less favourable treatment for people” and “Encouraging people to participate…in…activities where their participation is disproportionately low.” – and possibly even discriminating against men.

Women, nationally, have outnumbered men as undergraduates since 1993 – and 70% of students are studying subjects in which women dominate. It’s not even true to claim that men dominate in STEMM subjects. Firstly, there is a slight of hand wherein medicine is omitted from this list – it should occupy the space of a second M, following science, technology, engineering and mathematics. With the addition of medicine, women have outnumbered men in STEMM since 2015. But actually, women also dominate in the science category (with their dominance in biology outweighing men’s in physics).

So, women dominate in universities, across most subject areas, even in STEMM – and there is virtually zero interest in even exploring this matter. I’m not saying that this is evidence of systemic barriers for men, yet alone discrimination but I do wonder why it’s a non-issue. Whereas men’s dominance in TEM subjects is seen as an abhorrent example of toxic masculinity in action that needs to be addressed…

Mary Curnock Cook, former chief executive of the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, pointed out the “very worrying gap” between male and female performance at school and university which she said is leading to “fundamental shifts” in society [3]. She said that when attempts are made to address men’s issues, they are ridiculed and met with the “wrath” of feminist and gender equality groups [4]. I entirely fail to see the impact of “toxic masculinity” in all of this, it looks a lot more to me like an excess of toxic feminism.

In 1994, feminists, Daphne Patai and Noretta Koertge wrote (in ‘Professing Feminsim’) that:

“Women’s Studies programs have enjoyed the substantive protections afforded by the principle, and indeed the reality, of academic freedom. It is, in our view, the existence of the essentially liberal value of academic freedom that has allowed Women’s Studies programs to develop in the diverse ways in which we observe them today. But our own experiences and those of many colleagues with whom we spoke have led us to conclude that some programs now deny the very values that allowed them to come into being. If Women’s Studies does not promote, indeed does not stand for, open inquiry, critical exploration of multiple perspectives (even threatening ones), and scholarship not tethered to the political passions of the moment, what is there to be said for its presence in the academy?”

What is there to be said, indeed?  What is to be said is that twenty six years later, we cannot be said to see some Women’s Studies programs denying academic freedom to the faculty and students on those courses – what we see is a wholesale infiltration of the feminist denial of academic freedom throughout the academy, in its entirety.

Look at the case of Tim Hunt. A Nobel prize winner with a history of nurturing his students, women and men alike, in 2015 he was forced to resign from his position as an honourary researcher at University College London and stand down from the science committee of the European Research Council after he joked with delegates at a conference in Korea:

“Let me tell you about my trouble with girls. Three things happen when they are in the lab. You fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticise them, they cry.”[5]

Richard Ned Lebow professor of international political theory at Kings College London was suspended from the Interntional Studies Association (who had previously voted him a “distinguished scholar of the year”) in 2018 for another joke – when asked, in a crowded lift, which floor he wanted he responded: “Ladies lingerie.”, then proceeded to refuse to make a formal apology, one sought in a manner that ran against complaints protocol, by the way. [6]

In the same year, Professor Mark Silinsky of The United States Army War College, a 32-year veteran of the defence intelligence community who has served as a senior counterinsurgency advisor and counterintelligence analyst in the United States and in Afghanistan, was also reprimanded by the International Studies Association on two counts of misconduct: 1) Addressing an email to the women on a forthcoming panel as women and 2) asking them challenging questions (in his role as ‘the discussant’) at the event itself[7].

Then there’s Alessandro Strumia. This year, the theoretical particle physicist, was banned from CERN after giving a well-researched presentation at a workshop about gender equality that showed that far from being discriminated against, women are actually significantly advantaged in physics hiring, promotion, fellowships and financial assistance. He found that since 1995 women have been being hired, promoted and offered fellowships and funding with less than half the number of citations of their work than men have when they are hired, promoted or offered fellowships or funding. He disputed the claim that men avoid citing papers with women’s names attached as first authors by showing that both men and women cite papers with male first authors more – and suggested that this could possibly be because their findings were more significant. Strumia hypothesised that the reason that men out-perform women in this way in physics is not due to bias against women but because more men than women have the desire and the skills to excel in the field, and that this is because there are more men at the highest end of IQ distribution than there are women. A sensible conclusion based on the evidence, as opposed to the wholly unsupported idea of bias that is generally accepted.

When Professor Eric Anderson at Winchester University thought his students would benefit from the insights of Mike Buchanan (leader of Justice for Men & Boys (and the women who love them)) and William Collins (author of ‘The Empathy Gap’, an indispensable and authoritative tome on male disadvantage), feminist protests became so intense that the speakers cancelled the event.

When Mike Buchanan and I announced that we would be giving talks at Cambridge University, a protest was staged to disrupt a graduation ceremony, an open letter calling on the university to cancel was signed by over 300 students, staff and alumni; since the university only partially complied with this demand by moving the location, there was an angry protest outside the event and attendees and speakers were harassed and assaulted. Feminists are guilty of most heinous attacks perpetrated against academics personally and vandalism against the academy generally – and either they will be stopped or Janice Fiamengo will be proven right, with her 2016 declaration at The International Conference on Men’s Issues, that “The universities are lost to us” (close quote). They, as it stands, are all but lost to any reasonable liberal who wants to see them reinstated as truth-seeking institutions.

We can discuss bad behaviour, sure. But we should tell the truth and: acknowledge the fact that men and women love each other and work fantastically well together the vast majority of the time and acknowledge the fact that bad behaviour is not gendered. Last February, Lance Welton wrote a provocative piece for V in which he argued that:

“the “masculine” dimension to academia – rigorously, unemotionally and coldly examining facts and arguments [has been] “wrecked by the increasing presence of emotional and over-empathetic girls” [8].

If we don’t “rein in [our] crazy sisters” (as Jordan Peterson has called on women to do), it’s gonna look for all the world like the man has a point! Not to let men off the hook – as the majority of  senior staff, they’re consistently prioritising the needs and wants of women over those of men – and over the search for the truth. We need a balance – but what we have now is the discounting or even condemnation of very useful masculine features and the emboldening of the least useful feminine features.

And there are not only damaging attitudes to masculinity at universities (where men can and often do choose to ‘opt-out’), boys at primary and secondary schools are also struggling. This is a fact increasingly recognised but there remains an inadequate political will to tackle the problem. In recent years, teachers assessments have shown girls outperforming boys across reading, writing, science and mathematics. Based on SATs test results, the attainment gap narrows but persists. This may be because “girls underperform in tests’… Or there may be another reason.

In 2013, Harley and Sutton discovered that boys over seven or eight and girls of all ages rate girls as cleverer and more successful (they also found that the children believed that adults shared this idea). In a separate experiment 140 of the children were divided into two groups – one told that boys do not perform as well as girls, the second not. The children were then tested in maths, reading and writing and the boys in the first group did significantly worse than those in the second. Ouzad and Page found in 2012 that women teachers grade boy’s work more harshly than that done by girls – and that boys intuited this. They also found greater investment and effort from both boys and girls when they knew that their work would be marked by a male teacher – suggesting that more male teachers would be beneficial to both sexes.

In 2013, Cornwell et al found again that teachers mark boys down – and attributed this to a bias against behavioural characteristics more commonly found in boys than girls. The literature on secondary schools shows the same patterns – of girls being advantaged in teacher-marked assignments; and the gender gap in attainment worsens – then worsens again at A-Level.

I don’t attribute all of the underperformance of boys to an incrementally exacerbated lack of confidence by any means, though I do believe it to be significant. Other factors will of course include natural aptitude – with boys and girls, like men and women, tending to excel and to struggle in different areas. The way we test also, comes into play though. At age 16, the gender gap in attainment rose suddenly when O Levels were replaced by GCSE’s and with the Programme for International Student Assessment, which provides a standard by which different nations can compare the effectiveness of their education systems, boys outperform girls [9]! This surely suggests that there are a range of approaches that we could take to supporting boys to achieve in their education – and raises the question: why aren’t we?

The problem is not “toxic masculinity”. The problem is that feminists have weaponised our instinctive hyper-criticism of men to popularise narratives of male malevolence and to exclude the actual prevalence of male virtue which aggravates the empathy gap so that male underachievement is accepted as a non-issue, so that men who do achieve academically exist in a precarious position of privilege that can be taken from them for any perceived slight to the sisterhood, so that the search for truth, rigorous empiricism and excellence are becoming secondary goals to achieving a myopic form of “social justice” – purely for girls and women, in the academy.



[2] Collins, W., 2019, The Empathy Gap, p. 58







[9] Collins, W., 2019, The Empathy Gap, p. 38 – 67

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