Men's rights groups phone me a lot, and I tell them my general position on these matters: The last thing we need in America is yet another victim group, this one made up seriously aggrieved males. But these groups do have an unmissable point about double standards. On the "Today" show last November, Katie Couric suddenly deviated from perkiness and asked a jilted bride, "Have you considered castration as an option?" Nobody seemed to object. Fred Hayward, a men's rights organizer, says: "Imagine the reaction if Matt Lauer had asked a jilted groom, 'Wouldn't you just like to rip her uterus out?'"
The double standard is rooted in identity politics and fashionable theories about victimization: Men as a group are oppressors; jokes that oppressors use to degrade the oppressed must be taken seriously and suppressed. Jokes by the oppressed against oppressors, however, are liberating and progressive. So while sexual harassment doctrine cracks down on the most harmless jokes about women, very hostile humor about men keeps expanding with almost no objections.
Until recently, for example, the 3M company put out post-it notes with the printed message: "Men have only two faults: everything they say and everything they do." Anti-male greeting cards are increasingly graphic, with some of the most hostile coming from Hallmark Cards' Shoebox Division. (Sample: "Men are scum ... Excuse me. For a second there I was feeling generous.") Detroit News columnist Cathy Young sees a rising tide of male-bashing, including "All Men Are Bastards" and "Men We Love to Hate" calendars, and a resentful "It's-always-his-fault" attitude pervading women's magazines.
Commercial attempts to increase the amount of sexual antagonism in America are never a good idea. And if you keep attacking men as a group, they will eventually start acting as a group, something we should fervently avoid. But the worst impact of all the male-bashing is on the young.
Barbara Wilder-Smith, a teacher and researcher in the Boston area, was recently quoted in several newspapers on how deeply anti-male attitudes have affected the schools. When she made "Boys Are Good" T-shirts for boys in her class, all 10 of the female student teachers under her supervision objected to the message. (One, she said, was wearing a button saying "So many men, so little intelligence.")
"My son can't even wear the shirt out in his back yard," she said. "People see it and object strongly and shout things." On the other hand, she says, nobody objects when the girls wear shirts that say "Girls Rule" or when they taunt the boys with a chant that goes, "Boys go to Jupiter to get more stupider; girls go to college to get more knowledge." Worse, she says, many adolescent boys object to the "Boys Are Good" shirts too, because they have come to accept the cultural message that something is seriously wrong with being a male.
"The time is ripe for people to think about the unspoken anti-male 'ism' in our colleges and schools," she says. And in the rest of the popular culture as well.