“The Greatest Generation were men,” insisted Gordon E. Finley, a professor of psychology at Florida International University. He was onstage last Wednesday in a second-floor meeting room at the New York Academy of Medicine, where the Male Studies Foundation convened its Second Annual Conference on Male Studies.
“The Greatest Generation was men who fought in World War II. Those who survived, when they came home, they were given adulation—the war to end all wars [sic]—and they were given the G.I. Bill. They took the G.I. Bill, and they ran with it. … And this helped to propel the economic prosperity” of the 1950s.
Indeed, it’s no longer so easy to be male. If you’re a frog, this is literally true—modern environmental toxins can actually turn you into a female. If you’re a human, they’ve merely halved your sperm count since the 1940s and zapped 15 percent of your testosterone since the 1980s. Also, you’ve never been less employable, both absolutely and relative to women, and you now account for just 42 percent of college students, and falling. (Campus gender ratios may be a small boon for undergraduate men, but they’re a giant economic impediment for menkind.)
Wednesday’s program was called “Looking Forward to Solutions,” which brings to mind a semi-repentant World War II collaborationist (a Dane, say) assuring the local Nazi, “but we don’t have a Male Problem.” But you do, you really, really do: such was the takeaway of four hours and six lectures of Male Studies.
“The point of thinking about the Greatest Generation,” said Mr. Finley, is to “weaken all arguments about boys being inferior, about men being inferior, that they can’t handle academic work, and so forth.”
But if boys have been pushed (relatively) down by malevolent forces, might we at least give girls the credit for pulling themselves up? Of course not. “What made girls and women so successful,” Mr. Finley continued, “was basically social engineering. Girls and women claimed they were being discriminated against. … They got a lot of positive feedback, they got tons of resources, they got the educational system readjusted to their learning style.”
One wonders, did the G.I.’s beat back Hitler because of all the positive feedback their soldiering got?
Boys, Mr. Finley affirmed, are being humiliated and tortured daily by the sight of T-shirts that say “Girl Power” or “Girls Rule.” “The message is, you’re not one of them, and you don’t rule, and you don’t have power.”
For the uninitiated, the comical dotage of the conference’s septuagenarian attendees (and speakers)—40 or so in the room, with “hundreds” more said to be watching via webcast—suggested a particularly snoozy Kiwanis Club chapter. Their politics turned out to be more like that of an exceptionally militant Nation of Islam temple.
That is to say, every manifest deficiency of the oppressed group is taken to be an artifact and construct of all-pervasive, willful injustice—socially engineered with conspiratorial intent. At the same time, there is one fully natural condition—so natural, in fact, that attempting to nurture away the difference is as morally repugnant as the aforementioned prejudice. Boys are, like African Americans used to be, set up by society to fail; they’re also endowed by nature with special powers—the will to “breadwinning,” for instance—simply incommensurable with girl-bodies.
The Black Muslims needed a cosmology of UFOs and mad scientists to fashion an internally coherent theology (and render external coherence moot). The Male Studiers have loud, media-savvy and youngish stigmatics like Guy Garcia, a journalist and former AOL executive who wrote The Decline of Men: How the American Male Is Tuning Out, Giving Up, and Flipping Off His Future.
Mr. Garcia perhaps lacked the academic fig leafs to be an actual presenter at the conference, but he was a smashing emcee (or “moderator”). “When I was a staff writer at Time magazine in the ’80s and ’90s,” he dangled, early in the day, “the magazines at Time Inc. that made the most money catered to males; the most respected editors at Time Inc. were men; the president and CEO of Time Inc. was a man. Within the course of five or six years, this completely changed. [Now] they don’t know why men aren’t reading magazines and what’s disturbing is they don’t care.”
Was he saying a cabal of editrixes plotted a coup? (Incidentally, showing solidarity by demanding that more of your people be employed in magazine journalism seems altogether perverse.) Are wives actually hen-pecking husbands into dropping their This Old House subscriptions for Real Simple? Happily, the gentility (and clannishness) of quasi-academia means never having to say you’re saying what you’re saying.
“In the media,” Mr. Garcia threw out a bit later, “men and testosterone are blamed for the failure of institutions and industries that they had built.” Really? The media, as such, have scapegoated men, as such, for the Great Recession? Either he’s a mediocre fabulist or a hard-core masochist: Even with mighty Time Inc. laid low by skirts, one doesn’t have to only read Maureen Dowd.