Alma mater sponsors men’s conference with no women’s counterpart

I’m a recent alumnus and so I continue to get e-mails from my undergraduate university. Usually I just discard them, but I got one today that caught my attention. Here is the body of the e-mail, for your consideration:

Campus & Community Involvement (CCI) is excited about a new initiative and invites all male students at [my undergrad] to participate in the first annual men’s conference. The mission of the conference is to engage in conversation about issues related to college men and identify strategies to aid your development. Conference participation is open to all male students at [my alma mater] to ensure maximum interaction and sharing of perspectives. The goals of the conference are to:

  • Identify significant strategies to develop a positive self image
  • Identify potential hazardous behaviors that can lead to physical and emotional distress
  • Promote healthy lifestyles choices
  • Encourage participation in meaningful experiences on campus
  • Prepare college men for post graduate success

The conference will consist of workshops with topics related to healthy relationships, career planning, academic achievement, campus involvement, bystander intervention, health and wellness, and male identity development. Lunch will be provided at no cost to participants followed by a panel discussion with three distinguished alumni moderated by Professor William Burke. Panelists include Walter Huntley (Chairman of [my undergrad] University Board of Trustees), Mark Larson (Founder of the KIPP Aspire Academy in [the University's home city]), and Dirk Elmendorf (Co-founder of Rackspace Technology). The conference will conclude with a keynote speaker, and closing reception cosponsored by Athletics held at the home of [the University president].

This flier accompanied the e-mail.

The Dean and I have a friendly relationship (as I was fairly active on campus) and so I responded to this e-mail with the knowledge he’d reply. “Hey Dean,” I said, “this looks great! When will the Women’s Conference take place?… There will be one, right?”

His response: “The women are so far ahead of the men, they don’t need a conference!”

Hahaha!

I know that universities are desperately trying to hang on to men right now; for example, three women will receive a B.A. this year for every two men who do the same, and this conference could be an effort reflecting that. But it still doesn’t sit right with me. Like all events, it will cost money, and to me this suggests that ‘stuff for guys’ is in the budget while ‘stuff for girls’ is not (since they’re not having a conference for women). It tells the female students that they aren’t as important; that they can do without “proactive methods and strategies to assist with their academic, physical, mental, and social growth” because we’re “so far ahead of the men.” It also reveals  a Dean of Students who is woefully out of touch.

Am I being too sensitive here? I want to write a letter to the editor of our newspaper, given your responses; however, I’m not a student anymore– am I irrelevant? Is this even an issue? What should be other points made or questions asked?

It’s not about whether or not the event will be well-attended, or if the University has discriminatory motivations for running this conference (which I highly doubt). I just think that if the University– not a student group– is sponsoring an event to one gender, an equivalent event should be offered to other gender identities as well.

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10 Comments

  1. Posted February 3, 2011 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

    I think we basically can’t answer this without knowing what the situation is on campus for the two groups.

    At my school, the student body was 60% male, so the female students had a certain set of challenges and experiences that the male students didn’t. Therefore, when there was a Women’s Center but no Men’s Center, and female-only events but no male-only events, that was a reasonable thing to do in order to target the specific needs of the female students that had no equivalent among the male students.

    If there are needs among the male students at your school (e.g., are they as outnumbered at your school as the female students were at mine? are they experiencing worse outcomes – are a disproportionate number of failing students, or students unable to get jobs post-graduation, male?) that have no equivalent among the female students, then presumably it makes just as much sense to have a men’s conference and no women’s conference as the opposite made sense at my school.

  2. Posted February 3, 2011 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

    There are all manner of events, leadership conferences, training courses, and even entire programs at top tier co-ed universities open exclusively to women. My public schools had virtually every imaginable extracurricular course open exclusively to women with no male counterpart programs. This is despite the fact that girls averaged full grade point higher than the guys.

    Almost all of the programs were funded by feminist initiatives.

    So I find the whole situation highly ironic, but ultimately demonstrative of the fact that feminism does not stand for equality bar none, but one which supports equality only in so far as it benefits women, and special privileges in all other cases.

    • Posted February 3, 2011 at 11:07 pm | Permalink

      So I find the whole situation highly ironic, but ultimately demonstrative of the fact that feminism does not stand for equality bar none, but one which supports equality only in so far as it benefits women, and special privileges in all other cases.

      Oh sweet! I’m thrilled that you’ve finally identified the singular “voice of feminism;” it was Lisa all along! That’s a splendidly useful thing to know!

      Or… could it be that you are selectively cherry picking certain easily refutable arguments and letting them serve as a stand-in for all of feminist ideology? That couldn’t be it, could it? Because if so, that would seem just a little bit disingenuous, and you really seem like rigorous intellectual honesty is important to you.

      Also, shame, shame on Sam Lindsay-Levine in the post above yours. Sam disagrees with Lisa as well, and so is obviously and emphatically not a feminist. What are you even doing here Sam Lindsay-Levine?

      • Posted February 3, 2011 at 11:59 pm | Permalink

        Or… could it be that you are selectively cherry picking certain easily refutable arguments and letting them serve as a stand-in for all of feminist ideology?

        Or it could be that all of feminist ideology is circumscribed by the cult of domesticity with the removal of any aspect which might be viewed as limiting towards women and reframed with slightly different language. The diversity in feminist discourse is the argument about which parts to remove.

        When was the last time a feminist organization seriously fought against the privileges which women are accorded in society? Because I have never once witnessed it.

        Consider this sites own cognitive dissonance when it comes to the fact that boys are not doing as well in school as girls, it is dismissed outright as a lie on the basis of arguments that would never be accepted if used in any other case of discrimination.

        • Posted February 4, 2011 at 12:33 am | Permalink

          When was the last time a feminist organization seriously fought against the privileges which women are accorded in society? Because I have never once witnessed it.

          I do not deny for a moment that there are, indeed, numerous privileges which women are accorded in society. However, I very rarely see feminists promoting the acceptance of these privileges. You could as well ask “why aren’t feminists fighting for the development of renewable energy resources? There’s a real problem!”

          The point of the matter is that, as a whole, women’s privileges are far outweighed by men’s privileges. Expecting feminists to expend the same amount of effort fighting against those vanishingly rare instances where men are underprivileged is, again, disingenuous.

          This would be a different matter if the majority of feminists were actively objecting to rectifying instances of male underprivilege (as I think Lisa may be doing above). But the fact is, most feminists aren’t objecting to fighting for male equality; they just aren’t particularly interested, which makes perfect sense given the state of matters at the moment.

          Consider this sites own cognitive dissonance when it comes to the fact that boys are not doing as well in school as girls, it is dismissed outright as a lie on the basis of arguments that would never be accepted if used in any other case of discrimination.

          Ah, yes. I’ve heard that a time or two before. I don’t suppose you have any sauce for that delicious copypasta? I’d be interested to see some specific examples of this site’s cognitive dissonance regarding that particular fact.

          • Posted February 7, 2011 at 7:45 pm | Permalink

            Expecting feminists to expend the same amount of effort fighting against those vanishingly rare instances where men are underprivileged is, again, disingenuous.

            Yeah, minor things like grossly disproportionate conviction/sentencing rates between men and women for criminal matters. The exclusion of male children from tax payer funded family shelters for domestic violence. Or in this case, rapidly growing inequality in the classroom.

            This would be a different matter if the majority of feminists were actively objecting to rectifying instances of male underprivilege

            Beyond them actively objecting, I’ve seen them fight to further increase the situation. For example a campaign to get rid of prison for women.

            In all honesty every single time something has come up the other way it is met with outright hostility.

            I’d be interested to see some specific examples of this site’s cognitive dissonance regarding that particular fact.

            The general acceptance (and celebration) of the AAUW’s dismissal of the difference in academic success. The AAUW relied on two elements to make their case

            1.) The difference is greater in minority children
            2.) In absolute terms boys are performing better then they did

            Both arguments are also true when it comes to the wage gap, but have you ever seen someone reject the concept of the wage gap because women are earning more today then they earned in the 1930s? Of course not, because the argument is on its face absurd. Absolute gains do not negate the relative disparity which is being used as evidence of discrimination.

      • Posted February 4, 2011 at 11:04 am | Permalink

        Man I’m dense, it took me a minute to try to puzzle through your last paragraph and try to figure out how I had inadvertently offended!

        Just wanted to add I’m not necessarily disagreeing with Lisa since I don’t have information about what life is like at her alma mater either. I just think we need more data before reaching a conclusion.

  3. Posted February 4, 2011 at 12:15 am | Permalink

    I’ve been lurking this site for a long time, but finally got around to making an account!

    Hmm… From where I sit, I do not really see a problem with your college’s Men’s Conference as you have it outlined. From the original post, it seems like the topics are targeted towards specific, pertinent, and measurable problems in the male demographic. Women are beginning to outnumber men (on average) in college, the value of a college degree for women is rising faster than it is for a man. Health problems of course exist in both gender’s demographics, but men are much less likely to seek medical attention. All of these are valid things that affect a large portion of a student-body, and as such, are valid concerns for a conference.

    Your gut instinct is by no means misplaced however. This is the sort of thing that has the potential to manifest four or five different types of sexism. But given the outline, given the measurable problems at its core, this particular conference is no more sexist than any similar women’s conference focusing on similarly measurable problems that affect women – such as the lack of women in hard sciences/math, HPV rates, or assault/rape rates.

    … With the above in mind, your Dean’s response to your question makes me sad. In one fell swoop he managed to minimize your concerns and deny your personal narrative leading up to your concerns.

  4. Posted February 9, 2011 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    It depends on what was meant by “The women are so far ahead of the men.” That’s not much of a response. What were the specifics? Do women have other conferences? Or other opportunities to do work on the bulleted list of points?

    • Posted February 9, 2011 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

      Right!

      I can sit here and comment on what the Dean (hopefully) most likely meant using what I know of aggregate statistics and average situations, but what he said was/is so inarticulate and so lacking in context that it only makes (proper) sense if I build the context for him.

      I need more information (gender demographics, the mechanism by which women’s concerns are handled, the efficacy of said mechanism, relative/absolute measure of men’s problems, any current mechanism for which men’s problems are handled, the efficacy of said mechanism etc.) to be SURE that the conference itself is not sexist, but thankfully, we have just enough information to be comfortably sure that the conference itself is not automatically sexist.

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