Are men really needed at all?

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By Avery Friedman, CNN Legal Analyst and Ursuline College Distinguished Visiting Professor in Constitutional Law

For a guy who has spent time at nearly three dozen universities, I can tell you there’s no place like Ursuline. Maybe it’s the nurturing quality of seemingly everybody here. Maybe it’s Sister Diana who personifies the school. Maybe it’s something in the water. I don’t know. More people hug around Ursuline than at any university or college I’ve ever been to or lectured at.

Maureen Dowd, whose writing I adore, recently spent time with Professor David Page who’s an evolutionary biologist at M.I.T. Page teaches a class called “Are Males Really Necessary?”

The professor’s provocative question to his students, “Since only females can give birth, why is it of any advantage to the species to have a second sex? Why should nature bother with males?” Dr. Page cites a species of lizard in the Rio Grande Valley that is parthenogenetic. Instead of eggs getting fertilized, they clone themselves. So are men really needed at all?

Look, no doubt, Page is a brilliant guy. His research may on some level be very important. But I have a question about his question. Aren’t males more than a bunch of Y chromosomes? As a scientist, Page puts it like this: “The Y [chromosome] wants to maintain himself but doesn’t know how. He’s falling apart, like the guy who can’t manage to get a doctor’s appointment or clean up the house or apartment unless his wife or girlfriend does it.”

To be honest with you, I hate this us -vs- them kind of proposition, but I’m no scientist. While they’re up in Cambridge decoding the Y chromosomes of rhesus monkeys, I have resigned myself to the reality, speaking on behalf of my entire gender, that you have to give it your best shot in trying to do some good and actually try to make whatever it is you’re doing better. And, with what I see here at the college, you can do it with kindness and a warmth toward others.

The broadbrush doesn’t really work for me as a part of the male minority on campus. Dowd quotes comedian Sarah Silverman‘s recent tweet: “Dear Men, Just b/c we don’t need you anymore doesn’t mean we don’t WANT you! Love forever, Women.” Whew! It’s one thing to be reduced by scientists to nothing more than a chromosome. But when we see an American society which has a growing proportion of women workers flourishing in nontraditional jobs, greater representation of women in the professions and the availability of legal mechanisms to fight back if someone gets in the way of increasing women’s economic and social power, maybe manning up means acknowledging the equality of women on all levels. We’ve got a nursing program, for example, that’s man enough to have more men. And some of my female students are heading to law school when, before coming to Ursuline, they had never even thought about doing something like that.

So I figure out that, as part of the male minority here at Ursuline, we’re more than a Y chromosome.

Along with everyone else who teaches, we all recently got our evaluations. Mine came from students in UCAP’s “Women & The Law” course. I’m really not sure I’m needed here, but the evaluations made me feel better and inspired me to keep teaching. When the material for a class can be presented in both a substantive and a nurturing way, the evaluations help us understand that the course is working and you definitely feel wanted by your students. Being here you learn that it’s something more than something in the water. And I think I know Y.

averyAbout Avery Friedman: The Wall Street Journal calls Avery Friedman a “walking reference source” on civil rights law. He has been recognized in TIME, The New York Times and USA Today as a nationally distinguished civil rights lawyer and law professor. Friedman has lectured on federal civil rights law at nearly three dozen major law schools including Stanford, Duke, Berkeley, Michigan, North Carolina, Tulane and the University of Texas. He has appeared by invitation as an expert on civil and constitutional rights by both the U.S. Senate and House subcommittees. For about 13 years, Friedman has served as CNN’s Weekend Legal Analyst every Saturday, bringing a human rights perspective on CNN to America’s hottest legal cases to over 3,000,000 viewers each week. 

Photo credit: @SarahKSilverman

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