This week, while you were distractedly waiting for one of the presidential candidates to just go ahead and pick Michael Phelps as his running mate, a Manhattan lawyer sued Columbia University for discriminating against men.
In a news release, Roy Den Hollander, who's best known for suing Manhattan nightclubs because they offered free or discounted Ladies Night drinks to women, claimed the university could not use government money, such as federal financial aid, to fund its Institute for Research on Women and Gender. Women's studies courses, he maintained, discriminate against men and are therefore in violation of the 5th and 14th amendments. He also called Columbia a "bastion of bigotry against men ... [that has] thrown its influence and prestige into violating the rights of men by offering a women's studies program but no men's studies program."
Two questions come to mind (and, for the record, I have a degree from Columbia). First, how did an institution that kept its undergraduate women in a separate college across the street (Barnard) until 1983 manage to become a "bastion of bigotry against men" in such a short time? Second, when did women's studies gather enough steam to pose a legitimate threat to men?
I'm not suggesting there aren't certain strains of feminism that unfairly dismiss the male perspective. But come on, how much damage can be done by term papers with names like "Reappropriations of Patriarchal Narratives: A Gaia-Centric Interrogation"?
Quite a lot, apparently. When I called Den Hollander, he explained that women's studies departments offer networking opportunities from which females benefit more than males, even though men are allowed to take the courses.
"The courses pretty much treat guys as if they're sources of evil in the world and the women are victims," Den Hollander said. "I'm using the same argument here as we have with Title IX. When a university receives government funding, they have to provide equal opportunities for men and women. If there's no men's studies, women's studies is unconstitutional."
I know what you're wondering, and the answer is yes. Men's studies exists in the broader academic world, although Columbia doesn't have a men's studies department. It explores such subjects as "paradigms of fatherhood" and "gendered violence." And according to Harry Brod, editor of the scholarly book "The Making of Masculinities: The New Men's Studies," it's an outgrowth of the feminist movement. "If Roy Den Hollander really understood what men's studies was," Brod told me, "he wouldn't be in favor of it."
Den Hollander, for his part, hasn't gotten that far. "I don't know if men's studies even exists," he said. "But whenever you make a charge that you're favoring one group over the other, they either have to make it equal or eliminate the first one. I'd like to see every women's studies program throughout the country eliminated."
His beef is not really with women's studies but with the way it spreads the "religion" of feminism, again helped by federal money, which he contends violates the establishment clause.
"It's a belief system and, like all religions, it's an irrational one," Den Hollander said. "A feminist is someone who was born as a female and because of that believes they're superior to men and that females are innocent until proven guilty and that guys are primarily always at fault."
Den Hollander, who has an MBA from Columbia and who briefly attended Columbia's School of International and Public Affairs, says that this lawsuit, like all his pending suits, comes out of his personal experience. Contentious interactions with female classmates at SIPA, for instance, planted the seed for the women's studies lawsuit. A suit filed earlier this year against the U.S. government, which claimed that aspects of the Violence Against Women Act do not adequately protect men from domestic abuse charges brought by foreign-born wives seeking immigration, grew out of his bitter divorce from a woman he says turned out to be "a Russian mafia prostitute." His qualms with Ladies Night reportedly originated when he tried to lift himself from his post-divorce funk by going out drinking with a buddy and discovered inequities in the pricing policy.
What's the takeaway here? Well, if you're a guy and you're about to leave for Columbia, there may be more opportunities than ever for male bonding. In the hopes of building a class-action suit, Den Hollander plans to start recruiting other plaintiffs as soon as the semester starts.
But heads up: He may do it by impersonating a character from "Lord of the Rings." "If feminism is declared a religion, that's going to be a knife to the heart of darkness of it," he told me. "And as I smile and put my arms around feminists, that's the dagger hidden in my right hand."
Yeah, but it's still not a half-priced drink.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times