Canada has been at the forefront of imposing the sexual revolution on its citizens as a kind of state religion. The country has also produced some fine critical analysis and warnings about the results.
Canada passed some of the earliest laws that redefined marriage. In so doing, it separated it from the natural family and the meaning and purpose of sex as understood in every prior definition of the institution. The result was a vast expansion of the powers of the state over civil society.
As theology professor Douglas Farrow warned in 2007, the country was headed in a totalitarian direction in which the family, parenthood, civil society, and free speech were sacrificed to the new state religion.
Another Canadian, clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson, has been at the forefront of this statist development. He has stood up to the enforcers of politically correct orthodoxy, rejecting the state’s right to coerce him into denying reality. He has given heart to millions, especially, but not only, young men who are struggling, neglected, and reviled simply for being male. He sticks up for young men but also emphasizes to them the need for personal responsibility, purpose, and goals.
College campuses, in Canada as in the United States, are centers of bureaucratic power and growing control over the lives of faculty and students. This expansion of bureaucracy has coincided with, but not diminished, alarming rates of sexual violence on campus.
Two less well-known Canadian academics have proposed alternatives to the kind of bureaucratic approach that seeks to reduce sexual violence by reforming men to make them less masculine and so less of a threat to women.
One of these, James Vanderwoerd, argues for a shift of emphasis away from targeting the “toxic masculinity” of individual men. He criticizes the kind of approach that promotes a campus culture that combines casual sex and experimentation—limited only by the principle of consent—and stigmatization of masculinity—with bureaucratic efforts to make men less manly.
Vanderwoerd’s research on sexual violence at Canadian colleges and universities suggests a different approach. Christian colleges, he found, especially Protestant evangelical ones, do better than public, secular, or even Catholic ones. (He did not look at the small “seriously Catholic” colleges that may resemble the evangelical more closely in their moral climate and outcomes.)
The difference, Vanderwoerd suggests, comes not from targeting men as a key risk factor, but from cultivating a “moral community” on campus. Such a community of faculty, administrators, and students shares common values and a commitment to religious beliefs and practices that apply to sexuality as well as the rest of life. In cultivating such moral communities, colleges sustain norms, rules, and practices that make it easier (though not easy) for all involved to live virtuously.
The approach emphasizes fostering a system, a virtuous community, in which traditional norms of sexual morality are, if not always adhered to in practice, universally recognized and accepted.
A second approach, by McGill anthropologist and cognitive scientist Samuel Veissière, also focuses on fostering a moral community that makes it easier for men as well as women to practice the virtues. It’s not bureaucratic or punitive with hearings and expulsions in the manner of the officially favored approach for keeping men in line. Nor does it depend on a specific and shared religious faith.
Instead, Veissière argues that traditional masculinity is good for academia and that both men and women will benefit from a policy of prioritizing the male sex and manliness, in particular, as important criteria for admissions and hiring committees.
Manliness as a Good Virtue
The aim should not be to make males less manly—campuses abound with “sensitive” men and what he calls “soy boys.” (A soy boy, he explains, citing the “Urban Dictionary,” is a man devoid of all masculine qualities: a man who is “a feminist, nonathletic, has never been in a fight … and likely reduces all his arguments to labeling the opposition as Nazis.”) That approach, Veissière says, is worse than useless.
“Academia may thus be facing another ‘silent epidemic’: a plague of weak, impulsive, impressionable, virtue-signalers, who are ill-prepared and ill-disposed to deal with the advances (overt, covert, or entirely fantasized) of their female students, and may act too quickly and foolishly in initiating sexual and romantic contact,” he writes in Areo Magazine.
Manliness, on the other hand—a set of character virtues that socializes men to protect women and keep them safe—has all but disappeared on campus. In its absence, reinforced by the ascendant stigmatizing view of males, women are taught to turn, not to good men for protection when needed, but to the authorities. All men are predators, the message is, and only the bureaucracy with its rules and pseudo-judicial hearings and penalties, can be counted on.
An adequate supply of manly men, in Veissière’s contrary approach, is needed to serve as role models for junior faculty and students, to promote a mature and responsible approach to the fraught issues and anxieties about sex, gender, and power relationships involving faculty and students.
The challenges of building a moral community that respects and reinforces sexual restraint and traditional masculinity are formidable. The idea of recruiting faculty on the basis of such a character trait as manliness may seem to violate more objective and “gender-free” criteria as academic excellence. But Veissière points out that virtues already play an important role in faculty recruitment and hiring decisions:
“Detecting character virtues is the main justification of the effort and expense of in-person interviews, which typically include effortful performances and silent evaluations at informal events, such as dinners, cocktails, and long walks through campus. Manliness should be deemed as important as integrity, humility, and academic merit in considering male candidates—of which a high enough number needs to be guaranteed.”
An unorthodox approach, certainly, but one that invites us to rethink our whole approach to sex, power relations, traditional masculinity, and violence on campus.
Paul Adams is a professor emeritus of social work at the University of Hawai‘i and was a professor and associate dean of academic affairs at Case Western Reserve University. He is the co-author of “Social Justice Isn’t What You Think It Is” and has written extensively on social welfare policy and professional and virtue ethics.
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Author: Paul Adams