Writer Rebecca Solnit brilliantly described the commonplace phenomenon of mansplaining in her book Men Explain Things To Me. There’s a similar phenomenon — menplaining? dudespouting? — in which men co-opt women’s grievances to complain that they’re the victims of sexism when some advance in women’s rights constrains male advantages.
Title IX‘s current battles and its history are full of menplaining in the courts. Male student athletes sued in the 1990s and 2000s. They complained of sex bias in the Title IX regulations because they forced — forced! mind you — athletic directors to cut some men’s teams when budgets got tight. Ignoring, of course, that football gobbled up more and more of the athletic budget. Today, male students who have been disciplined under Title IX for sexual assault or harassment complain that bias against men influenced the college’s decision.
Time after time, these lawsuits fail because the plaintiffs complain about sex equity as if it’s sex discrimination, and the courts usually don’t fall for it. The suits keep coming because some men just feel so darn angry about the way things are changing. Occasionally, though, they’ve got a legitimate beef when administrators aren’t following the rules.
Male swimmers sued in 1993 after the University of Illinois cut four men’s teams. The suit claimed that Title IX’s regulations turned it into “a statute that mandates discrimination against males.” At that time, women comprised 44% of students but they got only 23% of the opportunities to participate in athletics. In 1996, male wrestlers sued California State University, Bakersfield claiming much the same thing. So did male wrestlers, tennis players, and soccer players at Miami (Ohio) University in 1999. Courts rejected their twisted logic.
When suits like these flopped, disgruntled male jocks and their coaches stopped suing schools and in the 2000s started suing the federal government. The National Wrestling Coaches Association sued in 2002. So did a membership corporation calling itself Equity in Athletics in 2007. After “almost a decade leading the fight” against Title IX, so did the American Sports Council (which included the wrestling coaches association) in 2011. Rather than work toward solutions that benefit male and female athletes in equal measure, they choose to complain. Repeatedly. In court. Still. Despite courts saying, “No.” (For a great summary of these and other key cases related to Title IX, see this Marquette Sports Law Review article.)
Today, menplaining related to Title IX comes more from male students who claim they’ve been falsely accused of sexual assault or harassment. Their colleges disciplined them because of bias against males, they say. The thinking may go something like this: Because most students who get sanctioned for sexual misconduct are males, that shows bias. It’s classic menplaining. Instead of acknowledging that the problem is men doing most of the assaulting (and therefore getting most of the punishment) they complain that the system must be biased if it inconveniences them.
The Title IX Blog’s excellent review of recent cases like this lists six suits that courts dismissed early in the litigation because the plaintiffs couldn’t point to some specific basis for the claim of bias. In at least four other cases, though, courts have agreed to let plaintiffs proceed to the next phase of litigation, the gathering of evidence (called discovery). After that, universities can move for a “summary judgment,” asking the court to evaluate the quality of the evidence and either dismiss the suit or allow it to go to trial.
One of the first courts to reach that stage has dismissed the complaint of a student who said Colgate University expelled him because the general, increasingly anti-rape climate forced the school to become more responsive to reports of sexual misconduct. That responsivity translates to anti-male bias, he argued. My translation: He is the victim here, not the person who suffered the sexual misconduct.
If that argument seems familiar, it’s because it’s a very, very common counter-attack by people who have been accused of sexual abuse and betrayal. Psychologists Jennifer Freyd and Pamela Birrell call it DARVO. This stands for: Deny the behavior. Attack the person reporting it. Reverse the roles of Victim and Offender so that the perpetrator assumes the role of victim and turns the true victim into an alleged offender. DARVO puts the accuser on trial instead of the accused.
We’ll be seeing more court decisions in similar cases as they reach the summary judgment stage. I hope that judges continue to reject the twisted logic of these arguments. I predict that, despite rejections, the menplaining lawsuits will keep coming. What have they got to lose? They might at least get the school to settle out of court, while they dream of gutting Title IX.