In the 1970s, Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson playfully warned mothers about the downsides of the cowboy business: “Mammas don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys / Don't let ‘em pick guitars and drive them old trucks / Make ‘em be doctors and lawyers and such.” That song was written before today's full-blooded assault on masculinity in American culture. It was a time when you could poke a little fun at traditional male identity while still honoring it.
I have been a professor at Bucknell University for twenty years, and alas, I find myself singing that tune with new lyrics: “Mammas don’t let your (male) babies grow up to attend a woke liberal arts college.” It is my considered view that a parent with the best interests of a male child at heart should be intensely concerned about what he is likely to experience at a school like the one in which I work.
Young men in institutions like mine are mercilessly stereotyped. They are compelled to unquestioningly acquiesce to fundamentally anti-male social justice doctrines that are in the process of becoming the raison d’être of such institutions. They are told throughout their four years at college that a male who unapologetically embraces his nature commits an eternal offense. Unless he agrees to fundamentally change himself to suit the desires of his moral betters, he is to be despised by the righteous and becomes a legitimate target for repression.
I have heard people in important positions in my university talk unguardedly (they believe that everyone shares their perspective) with disdain for white male students who are universally assumed to benefit from “privilege” and harbor racist sentiments. Those male students come from all over the country, from different ethnic backgrounds, from different social classes. They adhere to different religious faiths, and they have different political beliefs and make different intellectual and career plans. When they arrive on campus, they are told endlessly that difference and diversity are to be celebrated, recognized, praised in all their forms—except insofar as they might apply to them.
The increasingly dominant view at woke liberal arts schools is that all white heterosexual males are the same. They are faceless representatives of the supposed top spot in a hierarchical structure that illegitimately dominates others. They are regarded as potential rapists. A group of Bucknell faculty and administrators have for years perpetuated a disputed narrative that women on campus labor under a regime of constant male sexual violence and terror. White heterosexual males are racists simply by virtue of their whiteness. They are homophobes if they do not instantly and effusively agree with every radical claim about sexuality and gender identity made by advocates masquerading as scholars.
As at many other schools, at Bucknell some whole departments and large segments of others are dedicated to denouncing white heterosexual males as agents of oppression. Many professors here tirelessly advocate against “toxic masculinity” and “the patriarchy.” According to one of these educators, the following offer evidence of this malign dominance: that men raise their hands in class differently than women do, that the men’s national soccer team is paid more than the women’s national team, and that men tend to prefer hamburgers to salads while women more frequently have the inverse preference. The theology of systemic racism, a ghostly form of violence produced largely by white males and directed at non-whites, is a dogma on campuses like mine. Indeed, some professors here have stated that questioning it is itself an example of systemic racism. And as for white heterosexual male conservative students, some members of the faculty happily and publicly cheer the death of conservative men and admit their inability to “fathom” their “humanity.”
In my classes over the past few years, I have watched a particular scene play out again and again. During class discussion, the topic of sex difference comes up. (I teach on it routinely in a number of courses.) Some students evince unhappiness with my discussion of the biological facts that show that sex differences exist. They invoke “the patriarchy” to buttress their belief that women are an oppressed class at Bucknell and that men are their oppressors. One of them then argues that men dominate public space, including the classroom, talking aggressively and crowding out female voices. I indicate to the speaker that in the entirety of our discussion of this and nearly every other topic in the course, men have been largely silent in class, and that it is in fact women, and almost exclusively feminist women, such as the speaker, who talk constantly. This observation is never substantively challenged because everyone in the class knows it to be true. But it is always received with frustration by students who have invoked “the patriarchy.” Sometimes they lodge reports with my department chair or dean regarding how insensitive and probably misogynist I am to point out such inconvenient facts.
The men in the class sit quietly and look around the room uncomfortably, hoping no one will ask what they think about the matter. I often hear from them via email or in office hours, during which they are careful to ask me to close my door so their candid thoughts will not reach the ears of my colleagues in the hall.
I wonder, as I talk with these young men, how any loving parent can imagine that this kind of environment is best for their sons.
Alexander Riley is the author of Angel Patriots: The Crash of United Flight 93 and the Myth of America.
First Things depends on its subscribers and supporters. Join the conversation and make a contribution today.
Click here to make a donation.
Click here to subscribe to First Things.