“Emasculation,” by the way, “is a national blood sport.”
Mr. Garcia’s greatest hit came some time later, an off-the-cuff theory on the scandal of male underemployment. “As we all know,” he said, “when boys are growing up, the way teenage males define themselves is against their mothers. They want to be not-Mom. So what do you think happens when Mom works?”
Gray-haired, gray-mustachioed Tom Mortenson, from the Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education, was the first speaker proper. Capable of striking sanity, he unfolded the very real problems in about 10 minutes of charts, graphs and slow talk. Men have indeed been affected disproportionately by the most recent downturn, as well as longer-term economic trends that have seen jobs in agriculture and manufacturing move to the service sector. Unlike the old lifers in factories and mines, service jobs tend either to require a college diploma or to pay too little to raise a family on. And boys, for whatever reason, have been trailing behind girls in school performance—from kindergarten through bachelor degrees and perhaps beyond.
As you’d imagine, it’s the whatever reason that brings out the cranky and crackpot in Male Studiers.
According to the men of Male Studies, people are constantly saying mean things about men. Which gets to the great paradox about the “discipline,” and “masculinists” in general: As much as it is invested in (these are Mr. Garcia’s words) the “strength, risk-taking and single-mindedness” unique to men and devalued in our “networking” or “collaborative” postindustrial economy, Male Studies imagines the average American male as having a psychological makeup closer to Lindsay Lohan than John Wayne.
For speaker Michael Gilbert, the author of The Disposable Male and a researcher at USC, even the intimation that girls might be equal—or, let’s say, physiologically comparable—so scars young men that they no longer want to be “breadwinners.” In the manner of gay marriage making weddings less awesome for everyone else, he thinks it a scandal that boys can’t be the only ones to play sports now, or get bar mitzvahed.
“In the trendy ’60s” Mr. Gilbert explained, Jewish feminists “begot the bat mitzvah. But girls already go through a whole series of powerful, female-affirming experiences. … Regardless of their religion, boys don’t get to flower or transform in the process of adolescence.
“Their bodies don’t move to lunar rhythms—menstrual cycles. Jewish boys will not get a sweet 16. They won’t be given away in marriage—which is a bride-centered ceremony—behind a mysterious veil. Jewish husbands will not get pregnant, they will not go through the tunnel of birth, they will not suckle infants at their breast. All these powerful, recurring, female-affirming passages aren’t available to males.”
As for gentiles, Mr. Gilbert believes high-school track and field was how the Greeks tested their young men (and how!), and the presence of women cheapens the experience. Likewise, foreign relations-even in Gilgamesh!-has always been a male vocation. His slide show ended with pictures of all the women involved in Middle East policy-from Hillary Clinton to some subconsular broad in Peshawar-and a delightfully open-ended query: Will the Arabs take us seriously?
Note that nowhere is the claim that females can’t do the job. Male Studies-as opposed to plain old manly pride-starts with the dispiriting idea that they appear to do most jobs better than males. But must unequal outcomes always imply “inequality,” or even iniquity, in the moral sense? Yes, they’re down on themselves, but how exactly are men being Jim Crowed or red-lined or denied suffrage?
“Go to any university Web site,” Mr. Finley instructed the room, “and ignore the text and go to all the different pages. Count how many pictures of white males you see. … Most of you will not need more than one hand.” This reporter stopped counting at 64, but his alma mater’s site is admittedly overstuffed.
Mr. Gilbert suggested even darker social control: Facing coed—but really, girl-centric-schools that care about things like “penmanship” and “sitting down and sharing values,” “one in five Caucasian boys will be put on either Adderall or Ritalin during their schooling.”
It’s wondrous how, in certain crowds, “male” inevitably becomes a byword for “white.” (Was the late Geraldine Ferraro-or Shirley Chisholm-right about what’s really unspeakable in polite society?)