Reforming ‘Toxic Masculinity’ at University of Texas

Shock Treatment

In May, the University of Texas-Austin hastily pulled back a program on “healthy masculinity” that its counseling staff had devised–amid a flood of ridicule over such aspects of the program as posters depicting young men wearing penciled-in dresses (complete with bustlines) and encouraging UT’s male students to try nail polish and makeup.

The program, titled “MasculinUT” and devised in 2015, had been originally marketed as a means of reducing campus sexual assault and domestic violence. Instead, as even UT administrators ultimately conceded, it mainly consisted of promoting “gender fluidity” and treatment of traditional masculine roles and goals—such as focusing on career “success,” becoming the family “breadwinner,” and being told to “act like a man”—as inherently pathological.

“Traditional ideas of masculinity place men into rigid (or restrictive) boxes [which]… prevent them from developing their emotional maturity,” MasculinUT warned. Chris Brownson, director of UT’s Counseling and Mental Health Center, which administers the program, told Austin’s NPR affiliate that “respect for women” was not among the “traditional aspects” of masculinity.

After the program caught the caustic attention of Rush Limbaugh, who posted, “So if it’s not a good thing for a man to be a man, then what are they going to turn men into?,” UT officials quickly scrubbed the MasculinUT web page and suspended a search for a “healthy masculinities coordinator” whose preferred master’s degree would be in “Women’s and Gender Studies” and who would evidence an “understanding of…toxic masculinities.” The committee that developed the program was supposed to come up with retooling recommendations by August 1.

A Maoist Student Interview

It’s good to know that UT administrators have come to their senses about the notion that there is something “toxic” about being a man. But unfortunately, the MasculinUT ethos, and its caricature of traditional male goals have seeped out of UT’s counseling center and—alarmingly—into its campus disciplinary procedures for dealing with alleged sexual assault. On July 19, even as the university was shutting down the program’s website, Campus Reform published an article based on interviews with a male UT law student who, after being found responsible in 2017 for two incidents of sexual harassment of a fellow student (under the low Obama-era “preponderance of the evidence” standard), was forced to view a movie titled The Mask You Live In that was straight out of the MasculinUT playbook. The 2015 documentary, made by an all-female team, was criticized even by sympathetic liberals (see this review by Collider’s Matt Goldberg) of facilely assuming that incidents of male violence are essentially the fault of American society’s misguided ideas about masculinity.

But viewing a silly movie was only part of the student’s punishment (along with placing him on academic probation and forbidding further contact with his accuser). According to Campus Reform, UT hearing officer Jennifer Zamora also sentenced the student to write a 5-6 page double-spaced “reflection paper” on “your definition of masculinity and how it has been informed.”

He was also told to “identify gender role stereotypes/concepts, and how [these] have impacted your relationship with women,” and to “define your idea of ‘healthy masculinity’ and describe what active steps you can take today to encourage healthy attitudes around masculinity at all levels of society.”

To top off this Maoist self-criticism experience, the student was told to report for consultations at UT’s Counseling and Mental Health Center—the very same entity that had come up with the now deep-sixed MasculinUT program. When the student (who has since graduated from UT’s law school) appealed both Zamora’s finding and his sentence, according to Campus Reform, UT president Gregory Fenves sent him a note saying that “nothing you allege, even if true, would change the ultimate outcome of this matter.” Fenves essentially told the student that whether he was guilty or innocent of the alleged harassment was immaterial; the sentence was supposed to be a learning experience–“an educational process from which you learn.”

Meanwhile, the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights has agreed to investigate the former student’s Title IX claim that UT unlawfully discriminated against him as a male by failing to follow its own internal grievance procedures and by dismissing his own complaint against his female accuser, whom he said had stalked and harassed him.

Lawyer and National Review contributor Mark Pulliam, a UT law graduate and father of another UT graduate, wrote an article for the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal in May contending that Fenves (a career UT dean and provost who assumed the presidency in 2015) and other UT administrators have been turning the university into a “showcase for left-wing academic fads,” of which MasculinUT is only one example. Fenves has been busy removing purportedly “offensive’ historic statues from the UT campus, and his hand-picked vice provost of diversity, Ted Gordon, has argued that UT’s fight song, “The Eyes of Texas,” has racist origins and offends African-American students.

The sad thing is that promoting “healthy masculinity” — such virtues as courage and willingness to protect the weak (including women) — isn’t a bad idea in an age in which many boys grow up without fathers in the home. But the idea that UT promoted — that there is something wrong with manliness itself and that the cure is to put on your sister’s dress–was deservedly laughed off campus.

Charlotte Allen

Charlotte Allen blogs for the Los Angeles Times and writes frequently about cultural trends for the Weekly Standard.

6 thoughts on “Reforming ‘Toxic Masculinity’ at University of Texas

  1. I think there’s a NCAA football rule that states you can’t wear a strapless sun dress with shoulder pads. Just saying ….

  2. I guess the textbook comes in the form of a rather large red book. I wonder what would happen if someone assigned to this “re-education” program called BS on the whole thing in his written essay. Off to the gulag at Oklahoma University where they know how to play football maybe.

  3. There would be no Texas without “toxic” masculinity. Texas was a hostile land for Europeans to settle in itself with the added threat of wild Commanches who would murder your infants, kidnap your children to incorporate into their tribe, rape your women, and kill and eat you. You had to be a man’s man to survive.

    The irony of the effete demasculinazation program of hyper-liberal UT Austin is that it is built on a mountain of hyper-masculinity that built Texas. It is moral rot.

  4. UT … suspended a search for a “healthy masculinities coordinator” whose preferred master’s degree would be in “Women’s and Gender Studies” and who would evidence an “understanding of…toxic masculinities.”

    That’s a lot of words to say “WANTED: mysandrous dyke.”

  5. I thought that we were no longer trying to reprogram people’s sexuality? Isn’t what UT is doing the same as some religious folks trying to “pray the gay away” in an effeminate young man?

    In other words, is UT really advocating it’s OK to to identify certain normal behaviors as “not OK” and then subject that person to reprogramming techniques?

    Where does this end?

  6. “But the idea that UT promoted — that there is something wrong with manliness itself and that the cure is to put on your sister’s dress–was deservedly laughed off campus.”

    Unfortunately, it has not really been laughed off campus — it has been driven slightly underground until it can safely re-emerge. It will take years to drive this stuff from campus, if ever.

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