In the current political climate, the topic of “women’s issues” makes daily headlines and is regularly featured as a priority on television and radio. But what about men?
In the face of some alarming statistics with respect to male enrollments in college and male suicide rates, I was left wondering: why is this happening and what’s being done about it?
I sought out the expert opinion of Dr. Miles Groth, a Professor in the Department of Psychology at Wagner College. In addition to being a practicing psychoanalyst in New York for thirty-five years, Dr. Groth is founding editor of New Male Studies: An International Journal, a consultant for publications and international policy-making organizations on boys’ and men’s health, and was the editor of two journals, International Journal of Men’s Health and Thymos: Journal of Boyhood Studies.
I spoke with Dr. Groth not only about the aforementioned alarming statistics, but also about the role of modern feminism in it all, what’s really going on in some Gender Studies classes and the response by female students, the formation of men’s centers and subsequent reaction by some female faculty, the distortion of the word “sexist,” and more.
And now, for the interview some won’t want you to read…
JB: Your research focuses on declining enrollments of males in college—currently at 40%—and how that relates to the way men are experiencing campus life and the college classroom. Can you tell us about what you have discovered?
MG: At this point, I wish it were 40%, but the latest data show a nationwide rate of 37%. It is an all-time low for male enrollments in tertiary education. Parity was reached in 1980, when there were for the first time as many women as men attending college or university in the Unites States. Many schools had gone co-ed in the 1970s to accommodate the increased women applicants and this was great news for all. A longtime imbalance had been redressed. However, during the last ten years, the 50% male enrollments have declined to the current rate. Projections (if this trend were to continue) indicate that the last male to be awarded an undergraduate degree would be given it in the year 2037. That is certainly not going happen, but that is the projection based on the rate of decline over time as plotted statistically.
The major reason young males are not matriculating is a campus atmosphere that is unwelcoming. Some rather cynically have suggested that the economy is to blame and that males have decided that it is futile to pursue higher education since there will not be any jobs waiting for them after graduation. That argument does not hold water, since the economy affects women and men without discrimination. Women, too, are faced with challenges finding employment suitable to their investment in higher education when they graduate.
The reason is very clear. It is voiced by young men who enroll but may leave after several semesters: We do not feel welcomed. The environment is anti-male in many classrooms. Administrators, who are now for the most part women, are not interested in how active young men are in college life, with the exception of athletics. Lack of engagement of men in on-campus activities and organizations was one of the first signs of young men being turned off by college life.
JB: I have long taken issue with aspects of modern “feminism” that have distorted feminism’s initial intent and purpose, and have in turn had a negative effect on both women and men. In your paper Meeting Men: Male Intimacy and College Men Centers, you write “… a young male scholar who witnesses a malignant image of him painted in a gender studies class will say nothing. He will put up with it. He has learned that if he does speak out, he will likely be charged with wielding the overbearing assertiveness that comes with being an embodiment of willful male ‘attitude’. And so he sits, silent, in disbelief that the professor could be talking down to him and about him. Of course, in doing so, he loses credibility in his own eyes.”
Can you expand upon that a little for me in terms of the cause and effect with respect to the “young male scholar,” as well as such an event’s rippling effect on campus life at large?
MG: I teach a Gender Studies class at Wagner College. I am one of two male faculty who teach courses for the minor. The other is in Religious Studies. My classes average thirty students. Of those, roughly five will be guys. As I have learned through the years, they have taken a Gender Studies course with some wariness, assuming that what they have heard from other students in other Gender Studies classes—that they will likely not be taken seriously in the classes, which while supposed to be about gender (male and female) are almost always only about women’s lives—will be true. Men (and boys) are portrayed in stereotyped ways—sexual predators, dead-beat dads, dumb jocks. The presence of misandry in classrooms has been documented by two Canadian scholars, Paul Nathanson and Katherine Young, in a series of books published by Queens-McGill University Press.
It is not just a matter of anecdotal reporting at one small liberal arts college. Classes other than those in Gender Studies—most notably in the social sciences but also in some of the humanities, including History—are also environments where young men are not taken seriously. Their views are considered to reflect a by-now mythic notion of male political privilege and so they are bypassed, given short shrift or even dismissed with sarcasm.
After enough of this, males learn to sit quietly rather than face being ridiculed. Of course, it is the goal of a college professor to admit into discussion even the most controversial positions. This is the uniqueness of the college campus environment. Even the most unpopular views must be heard and discussed.
For example, if I want to argue for creationism, I must be permitted to have my day. A class on the origins of the species must entertain all theoretical positions and the professor must at the end of the day say: Now you have heard the best arguments of a variety of contrasting views. It is up to you to think critically about what you have heard and decide for yourself which theory best explains the facts as they are best understood. You will not be graded on which position you support, but only on how well you represent it and contrasting positions, and how cogent your arguments are for the position you support.
Young males are reluctant to argue for pro-male positions because they have learned they will be dismissed as malignant, simply because they are pro-male. They soon learn that only pro-feminist and now often anti-male views are acceptable discourses in college classrooms. Beyond the classroom, the vast majority of gender-specific co-curricular programs and events are inspired by ideological pro-feminism.
This year on our campus, Women’s History Month was observed, but there was no mention of International Men’s Day. There are date rape seminars for incoming freshmen (the 17- or 18-year-old males attending sit in such sessions wondering, “Who are they talking about? The idea has never crossed my mind”) but no seminar, for example, on violence among men.
JB: In your paper, you reveal “For those of us who teach undergraduates, it is well known that putting down men has never been a hobby of young college women. The source of the practice was and is some faculty, albeit a small but powerful group, whose animus against men has been institutionalized, for example, in the compulsory ‘date-rape’ consciousness-raising seminar required of incoming fresh-men in most schools, or in more and more course syllabi.”
Tell us a little more about what you have witnessed in your years of teaching and why it is so potentially destructive.
MG: I mentioned some of this earlier—the compulsory date rape seminars for freshmen and the sense of disbelief they cause to be registered in young male freshmen. Let me add two points. The faculty I have mentioned are a minority, albeit a powerful minority. Most faculty and administrators are not driven by misandry. On the other hand, male colleagues have not been vocal about the presence of misandry on campuses, nor have the women faculty who are moderate in their views about gender. In fact, as it happens, most women still like men. Most female faculty do like their male students and enjoy teaching them as they do their female students.
Pressure on administration and a few decades of ideological feminism have, however, produced a “climate of opinion” that is misandric, and this is difficult to counter. Open discussions of the issue of misandry in society and on campus do not take place. This is about to change, however, as your interest in the research reflects.
Women like men—their fathers, their male partners, their brothers, their sons. Men like men—their fathers, their brothers, their sons, their friends … and, until recently, themselves as men. (This is another issue. Men and boys have come to hate themselves, both as a result of the image portrayed of them and of the roles they are compelled to play, but also given what they hear about themselves and, especially as young boys, come to believe about themselves. As a result of self-hate, the suicide rate of boys and men has increased at an alarming rate over the last twenty years. It is 4-6 times higher in teenage males than in female peers. The life expectancy of males is about seven years less than for females, compared to a two-year difference a century ago.) Courses that are pro-male are now necessary to offset the misandric curriculum.
A second point: Young women in college are not buying into the rhetoric of misandry. This has led to a recent decline in numbers in Women’s Studies programs across the country. Gender Studies programs, too, have seen declines in enrollments and some have closed. This is because of the anti-male tone of many of them.
Here I want to stress that young college women are increasingly ignoring and opposing misandric faculty and courses. But since they have become entrenched in the curriculum, there will be a period of time for adjustment. More Male Studies courses will be offered.
I would like to add that I am one of four scholars who are the core faculty of the first Male Studies graduate program ever, which will launch in the fall of 2013 at the University of South Australia. The graduate certificate program will expand to a master’s program and then to an undergraduate major in Male Studies. For some who may be wondering at this, recall that history has not been about most men. It has been about a few powerful men who have done tremendous harm to most men, women and children. We have everything to learn about the male experience—most men’s experience—not the behavior of a handful of powerful men who dominate the history books.
JB: You discuss the formation of men’s centers. What does a successful men’s center look like? What is its functionality? What does student participation look like in terms of activities and discussions? And how much resistance is faced by women’s groups and feminist groups to the formation and sustenance of such centers?
MG: Men’s centers on college and university campuses are starting to form—slowly but surely. They follow on pioneering work documented in a book I co-edited that appeared in 2010, Engaging College Men: Discovering What Works and Why. The men’s groups (study groups, as I like to think of them) are quite different, depending on the ethos of the campus. What they have in common is regular meetings to discuss issues such as masculinity, relationships with women, fathering and the family. At some schools, men are notable for their work in service, including Habitat for Humanity and more extensive projects overseas. These groups are open to women on campus. The men who attend come from all disciplines and racial and ethnic groups. There are no dues, by-laws, initiations and the like. Our group meets weekly throughout the semester. Sometimes a film clip or a guest is the focus of discussion.
But … the numbers attending are small. The guys who meet are courageous, inasmuch as they face skepticism among some of their male and female peers. I think more attention will be given to the men’s centers, however, and for one reason in particular. Especially for small liberal arts colleges, the decline in male enrollments will very soon translate into a situation where women will not want to apply since there are so few men on campus. That will put such schools in as precarious a situation as the young men find themselves in.
Moreover, where there is underlying hate—prejudice, irrational contempt—for any constituency on campus, the “weather” for thinking, discussion and learning will be inclement. The climate is already unhealthy. It has to improve.
JB: Let’s talk specifically about The Men’s Center at Wagner College in Staten Island, New York. What is your role there, how many members belong, and what have been your successes/challenges?
MG: The Men’s Center at Wagner College, which for two years has been supported by an alumnus of the college and his wife, is in its fourth year. We were one of the pilot programs reported on in Engaging College Men. We have been able to offer a retreat nearly every semester for 8-10 of the men. The group has averaged about a dozen men each year. This is encouraging, since the meetings are held in the evenings and students are busy after dark.
For the most part, most faculty on campus have ignored the Center and the group. I have been fortunate that our President has supported the initiative from the start and we get excellent coverage by our public relations officer. This year we brought to campus the cast of The Human Experience, a documentary about several young men who discovered their own peace by traveling around the world witnessing the suffering of others and learning what they can do to alleviate it. We also brought back a former member of the group who had gone on to serve in the Peace Corps in Kazakhstan. A fair number of the group have gone on to graduate study—one in Philosophy, another in Clinical Psychology. Another is in Public Service. Interestingly, there is no formally organized women’s group on campus. I understand there have been several informal groups, though.
For the most part, the reaction of most has been to ignore us. My role is as facilitator and mentor. I do not attend meetings, though I advise the group facilitator, who coordinates meetings and arranges retreats. I gained the support of the President at the outset, as I mentioned, but we are not a “club” on campus. This has meant we do not need to strain any budgets and we retain our autonomy. I report on the group on Facebook, where we are called “Sodality.”
Each year I recruit some new members who are my students. My office serves as the space for the Men’s Center. This year’s student facilitator is using his experience to meet a requirement of his Senior Learning Community, a feature of the curriculum that Wagner is well-known for nationally. I like to think I model a certain outlook that aspires to harmonize relations between young men and women of college age.
It is certainly not a good environment that tacitly or overtly excludes or marginalizes a part of its community.
JB: How do you respond to those who argue that any one-sex exclusive club/center—be it for women or men—shouldn’t exist and is sexist in nature? Of course we see this argument much more in opposition to groups exclusive to men than to those exclusive to women, but some individuals are opposed to both. Your response?
MG: The very word sexism (see the Oxford English Dictionary) is problematic. In modern usage, it has always referred to discrimination against women. We forget that there is discrimination against men, for example, in conscription. All societies have relied on sexism to make them work. It is only when the discrimination does harm to one of the sexes that it is not in the interests of society and is prejudicial against individuals in a group. This may sound odd—that sexism is necessary. We must discriminate in favor of one sex or the other in certain matters in order that society will work. As for the standard view of sexism—discrimination against a group, women or men—and homosocial organizations (YMCA, YWCA, fraternities and sororities, fraternal orders, monastic orders and so on), there has always been an inclination on the part of men to enjoy doing certain things with other men only, and so also for women.
There are good reasons for the effectiveness of such organizations, including reduced sexual tension. Our group “Sodality” takes its name from an old word that means brotherhood. In certain settings, brotherhood and sisterhood can be very comforting. If I am man, there are things only another man can appreciate—about my body, for example. So, too, for women in groups. These groups are not primarily about empowerment (which I think has been the view of feminist organizations, however), but rather about a sense of common experience, understanding that does not require a lot of explanation, and acceptance based on shared features.
Males and females have deep-running differences. I know this is not the currently common view of social constructivists, but it is a view that can be defended with success, and it is a view of ourselves that can be taken seriously. So, in the best sense, sexist groups are essential to society. This is especially important at another level for young males and young females who are trying to understand who they are and what is expected of them in society.
For those who say none of the old expectations are valid, I would respond by asking for a reality check on how well we are doing in a time when the family is disintegrating as an institution, fathers are regularly excluded from the lives of their children (the divorce rate is about 50% and divorces are for the most part initiated by the female spouse, who gains “custody” of the children), and most men are seen as disposable and a bad joke.
JB: What is your long-term goal with respect to your research on this matter?
MG: I would like to see the establishment of a men’s study group on every college and university campus in the United States, Canada, the UK, Europe, Australia, New Zealand and South America. You might be surprised to know I have had interest in such groups shown by individuals in Iran, the Republic of Georgia, and Bulgaria. This is a worldwide phenomenon in a global village. For most men it is going to be a challenge to speak out about their experience. It is also going to take the courage of women who like boys and men—mothers, men’s partners, sisters, daughters—to speak out about what is good about males. I know that college and university senior administrators are very aware of the importance of this issue and want to see a stop to the hemorrhaging of young men from the body of the their campus community. This will be good for girls and boys, women and men.
And what a waste of energy on the part of so many on campuses to be invested in hate of any sort. Better than that is mutual support and cooperation among females and males.
*Miles Groth, PhD, is a full professor in the Department of Psychology at Wagner College, Staten Island, New York. He chaired his department for six years and for seven years directed the college’s Honors Program. Dr. Groth studied at Franklin and Marshall College, Duquesne University and Fordham University, where he completed his PhD. He trained as a psychoanalyst in New York and has been in private practice since 1977. Dr. Groth is the author of three books and co-editor of another volume, chapters in nine books, twenty-five articles and forty-eight book reviews in twenty different peer-reviewed journals. He has contributed occasional pieces to newsletters and newspapers, entries in two encyclopedias, and has served as a consultant for publications and international policy-making organizations on boys’ and men’s health. He edited two journals, International Journal of Men’s Health and Thymos: Journal of Boyhood Studies, which he founded. He co-founded the website www.boyhoodstudies.com. Dr. Groth has lectured residents in psychiatry on integrating psychodynamic psychotherapy with traditional inpatient treatment. He has written invited papers for presentation in Australia, Canada, England, Italy, Hungary and Lithuania, as well as at ten colleges and universities in the United States. He is founding editor of New Male Studies: An International Journal. His current areas of scholarly interest are the psychology of boys and men, existential psychotherapy, and continental philosophy. He resides in New York and may be reached at email@example.com.
Editorial note: You can find more about Jedediah at Jedediah Bila.com.