Several specimens of the zeitgeist flop into my mailbox on any given day, and I wish I had time to put all of them under the microscope. Here is one that embodies the interesting orthodoxy that it is a discredit to white males whether they are over-represented or under-represented in any praiseworthy endeavor.
“Despite the fact that female students are in the majority in post-secondary education, only 30% of appointed college presidents are women. An even more staggering finding is that merely 5% of college presidents are women of color. Fighting this damaging, systemic imbalance must be a comprehensive effort. It’s time for higher education professionals to commit to becoming change agents for the benefit of everyone involved.”*
Females hogging the seats in college classrooms is an achievement for which females must be admired, but males hogging the mahogany desks in the administration building is an injustice for which males must be shamed. Female enrollment is presently fifty-six percent of the undergraduate total, but I have yet to read any thumb-suckers about toxic femininity or the hostile campus climate for young males.
What I do read are scornful denunciations of the video-game-playing slacker man-child, mostly penned by women who I suspect are “staggered” when “systemic imbalance” runs the other way.
A misogynist was once a man who believed that the correct number of female college presidents is zero. A racist was once a man who placed the same figure beside a question as to the correct number of female college presidents of color. But these are outdated notions from a galaxy long ago and far away. The misogynist and racist of today is any man who is laggardly in “fighting this systemic imbalance,” or who decline to act as a “change agent for the benefit of everyone involved.”
* * * * *
Here is a strikingly different specimen, from a galaxy even longer ago and farther away. It was written by the American historian Henry Adams and expresses a very different understanding of what is for “the benefit of everyone involved.” Adams would be astonished to learn that his opinions would one day be taken as pungently offensive misogyny, for he understood himself as a great admirer of women (and not in a prurient or carnal sense); and I suspect he would defend himself with the simple truth that there will be no college presidents of any description if there are no families making babies that grow into undergraduates.
“I insist that society, as an organism, has little or no interest in woman’s reason . . . . Intellectually, woman’s reason has been a matter of indifference to men. As an intellectual competitor she has never been formidable; but maternity is a monopoly . . . . which enables women to serve their great purpose as the cement of society.”**
Although Adams gives due weight to the inestimable social benefit of maternity, he does not reduce women to barefoot and pregnant baby-making machines. He calls them the “cement” of society because they also provide the inestimable social benefit of organizing mankind for purposes other than work and war. Women are, as a rule, the cement that holds families and communities together, and despite a certain amount of male grumbling, this is, or rather was, “to the benefit of everyone involved.”
Adams ends his observation with a remark that will sting the modern sensibility, but that repays a certain about of calm rumination. In his view, the feminist woman that was just then coming onto the scene was an inferior and redundant male. He calls her “a degraded boy.”
“As an intellectual being, as the modern feminist would make her, she has only the importance of a degraded boy, though she is far more dangerous to society than such a boy would be . . .”
So I ask you, what is the greatest threat to society? Is it a “damaging, systemic imbalance” in the presidents’ offices at colleges and universities? Or is it a surfeit of “degraded boys,” many of whom are not really boys and are thus “far more dangerous to society than such a boy would be”?
*) The paragraph is drawn from an unsolicited mass email from and outfit that calls itself Academic Impressions.
**) Henry Adams, The Degradation of the Democratic Dogma (1919)