On Tuesday, a Yale student argued that men cannot be left alone because male-only groups foster “toxic masculinity” while female-only groups allow women to fight back against the patriarchy. She argued that female-only “spaces” provide important relief from masculinity.
“Women have been creating places to be free of this pressure for centuries. Spaces that exclude men allow us to use our energy in creative, innovative and exciting ways rather than constantly working be heard,” Avigayil Halpern, a junior at Silliman College, wrote in a column for the Yale Daily News. “This is a creative potential that is sometimes stymied on our coed campus, and it can thrive in spaces without men.”
So women should be able to meet in sex-segregated groups. But men should not have the same freedom, Halpern argued.
“Men’s spaces also allow men relief — without women around, the pressure to treat us as people lessens. Men’s spaces often foster a toxic masculinity in which men assess and compete for women, and it is far easier to make a rape joke in a room of only dudes,” the student wrote.
Women should be able to meet alone, but men’s gatherings should be suspect, Halpern claimed. “Male-only groups on campus deserve scrutiny and criticism. More often than not, they prop up rather than challenge existing sexist structures.”
Men cannot be allowed to gather with other men, because they would not face the “pressure to treat [women] as people.” Halpern so distrusts men she thinks them utterly incapable of treating women with respect unless there is a social apparatus to force them to do so.
She defended this distrust by mentioning the #MeToo movement against sexual assault. “Men have social power in ways that others don’t. Recent discourse around sexual assault and harassment illustrates this perfectly: Women are often forced to choose between pleasing men — sexually or otherwise — and losing their jobs,” Halpern wrote.
Indeed, men like Harvey Weinstein and Larry Nassar horrifically abused their positions of power and authority to force women and young girls into sex acts. These men and others like them are monsters, rightly excoriated by society. But they do not represent all men, and women are not uniquely the victims of these abusers. Indeed, some — like Kevin Spacey — abused other men.
Even so, Halpern seemed to suggest all men would be like Harvey Weinstein or Larry Nassar if given the chance, and that their sexist power structures place women at a permanent disadvantage. “The constant pressure of being around men extends beyond sexual coercion and even into the most mundane moments,” she wrote.
“At Yale, I regularly watch men speak over women in class and at parties — on the day that I wrote this, I was interrupted twice by a man in just one seminar. It’s common for extracurricular groups to be formally led by men, although women often do most of the unseen and unappreciated logistical work,” Halpern wrote. “Women expend an incalculable amount of energy navigating these sexist dynamics, deciding if it’s worth asserting ourselves or if it’s easier to let a sentence trail off or just book the meeting room ourselves.”
Nuance seems lost on people like Halpern. She reads about Weinstein and Nassar and connects their crimes to the male student interrupting her in class. Sexual abusers prove to her that the structure of society is sexist, and that therefore when more men interrupt or hold campus positions, that is the result of bias.
In reality, many different factors are at play. Sexual predators are the minority, and they don’t just abuse women. Men tend to be more aggressive, and they assert themselves into good (and very many bad) situations with more ease than women.
There is no cabal of men secretly pulling the strings behind the world, elevating men and pushing women down. If there were, perhaps men wouldn’t die on average five years younger than women. The much-touted gender pay gap is arguably more a result of individual choices than a hidden sexist agenda.
Halpern’s fear of men will brook no argument, however, and she seems dead-set against men meeting together in private. The Yale student does make one exception however: men can meet in groups if they meet only to discuss their own evil toxic masculinity.
“A notable exception to this is spaces devoted to men’s discussion of their own masculinity. Too often, women are the ones who must have discussions with men about the impact of their actions, and we must deal with men’s work on their sexism in addition to the sexism itself,” she wrote. “A positive model of male-only space would be one in which men grapple with their own power together.”
Men can meet together only to repent of their abuse, to discuss how to surrender their assumed power.
Lest this caveat lead people to misunderstand her double standard, Halpern reassured her audience, “Taking down exclusive, toxic male structures should not require that spaces that provide respite from such forces also be dismantled.”
“We can object to groups that consolidate and reify sexism while also insisting that organizations for women and genderqueer people are vital and powerful,” Halpern concluded.
Men interrupting her in class and Harvey Weinstein are symptoms of the same evil sexism, and it must be dismantled at all costs. It seems Halpern would take the drastic step of removing the right to assemble from half the population, on the basis of sex.
That a Yale student would actually suggest this, and a Yale student paper publish it, should serve as a wake-up call. Thankfully, the kind of discrimination Halpern suggests remains illegal — for now.