loving pale males

Loving Pale Males

In 1993 a father of sons realizes extreme feminism is an attack on his children.

More than 25 years ago, I experienced a turning point in my feelings about gender issues. Starting in the late 1960s I had always been a feminist: I supported female faculty at my college in the early ’70s when they were starting up one of the nation’s first Women’s Studies programs, I always gave strong encouragement to my female students, and, in fact, very much hoped when my second child was born that it would be a girl (I already had one son), so I could enjoy as a father what I saw as the welcome and inevitable ascent of young women.

Though minutes after his birth, I was adoring my second child (now in his 40s), I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was very disappointed when the nurse announced the obvious when he was born: “It’s a boy!” (This was well before the days of routine sex-identifying sonograms.)

And seven years later – this time with no surprise, since we already knew the sex – my third son was born. I was disappointed again, but still cared a lot about girls and women, and, in fact, my research focused on understanding them better. True, I was getting more sensitized to the sometimes anti-male extremes of feminism, but overall, I was still a supporter.

But then in the winter of 1992-93, I had a moment that turned my life around.

That moment, and its effects on me, inspired me to write a heartfelt piece, over a period of two months, and submit it to the New York Times magazine for a bi-weekly feature called “About Men” (It alternated with “Hers.”) I titled it “Loving Pale Males.” My piece was rejected, but not in the standard Times way. Rather, the editor called to say it had missed publication by one vote of the editorial board.

I tried some other publications, but it was a no-go. So I publish it here (with just a few minor edits). Please keep in mind that that this is from March 1993, and that the focus on white males is primarily because of the comment I heard that led to me writing the piece. Since writing it, I have come to realize that young African-American males are truly at the bottom of the nation’s pecking order. In fact, I truly believe that the time has come for young men across racial and ethnic lines to recognize that their falling behind young women is something they share. As the African-American actor and comic D.L. Hughley recently said, on the Bill Maher “Real Time” program, qualifying his remarks on the stagnation of blacks in the U.S., “Black women are excelling.” The same could be said about white women.

So here it is, “Loving Pale Males” – from 1993.

*                   *                    *

One evening last winter I was watching the Charlie Rose show on public television. He and four guests were discussing the presidential election and what might lie ahead in the (Bill) Clinton presidency. The sole female member of this informal panel was Robin Morgan, a radical feminist. Rose asked each guest for an introductory statement, and Ms. Morgan was the last person to speak.

She started out by expressing her annoyance that here she was, one person out of four, representing the majority of the population (failing to mention the fact that the reason females are a majority is that males are more likely to die at every age). I found myself beginning to wince, as I so often do when someone that radical speaks. And then she said something that got me to turn off the program.

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Rose asked Morgan why Anita Hill was such a catalyst for women’s political activism, and she began her reply by commenting on how everyone saw Hill being questioned by those “pale males.” I kept the TV on long enough to hear her say that Clinton was not a “feminist prince,”  but that she would have voted for a gerbil to get rid of Bush.

Clinton, of course, is a pale male too. I can see a lot of problems with the fact that pale males have dominated government, business, and just plain life in America since it began, but I have a particular difficulty in joining the movement to overthrow them. It isn’t so much that I am one of them. I am 50 years old, and the furthest I’ve gotten politically is to be a councilman in a small town. Professionally, I am an associate professor at a college headed by a female. I know that, technically, I am part of the power structure, but I don’t feel at all powerful.

No, my problem is that I have three sons. Pale males all. And I love them more than I love life itself.

However, because I, and they, are members of the group that still holds power in this country, there seems to be no need, legally, politically, or morally, to protect us from prejudice or discrimination. And these do exist, both institutionally and in casual interactions.

For example, an article (Lloyd, 1990) appeared a couple of years ago in the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, a major publication in the field of behavior modification. It reported a study where the same manuscript was sent to various journals, half the time with a man’s name as author and the other half the time with a woman’s name. Male reviewers accepted it at the same rate, regardless of the supposed gender of the author. However, female reviewers were more likely to accept the manuscript if they believed the author was female.

I find it equally disturbing when I hear women make comments like “He’s okay, given that he’s a middle aged white male.” At this point in our history, could a similar statement be made about the member of any other group? Furthermore, these are the comments being made in front of me.  What is being said when no man is present?

But what hurts even more is when a female friend says something derogatory, somehow forgetting that I am a member of the group she is condemning. This happened recently when a woman I have known for 20 years, an ardent feminist, said to me, concerning an unpleasant interaction she had at work, “Well, what can you expect from a middle aged white male?” “But, Judy,” I reminded her, “I’m one of those too.” “Oh yes,” she said. “But you’re different.” This reminded me of a presentation I heard several years ago by an African-American woman talking about prejudice. She discussed the insidiousness of a white person liking a particular black person because he or she was “different.” To continue to see the “likable” black individual as different simply perpetuated the prejudice, she said. If anything, it could encourage a stronger prejudice than that felt by the white person who knew no African-Americans at all.

My sons are part of a minority group. Males of all colors are a minority group, and white males probably represent less than 38 percent of the total American population. However, other minority groups can unite in organizations that have proud histories, such as the NAACP, or NOW. What is the first group you think of when you think of white males? I think of the KKK, and I want no part of them. So what do I tell my sons when they feel the sting of female prejudice? They don’t feel powerful. Like most young people they feel confused and troubled.

Though one could hardly consider white males oppressed, I see men, including myself, engaging in the same kind of behavior that genuinely oppressed groups have often engaged in, self-hate. To my horror, I discovered myself recently wishing I had daughters, so I could enjoy the ascent of females into all areas of the work world. I looked on as the girls in my middle son’s high school class outshined the boys in athletics as well as academics, and felt envious of the support that women and girls give each other. But we men are seen as already united in power, so any attempt to unite formally is marked as sexism.

I was disturbed to see strong support in my union’s newspaper for the Ms. Foundation’s “Take Our Daughters to Work” day, where “mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers, uncles and aunts and neighbors” are urged “to take a young girl to work.” I feel angry that my children have been left out, and I believe a “Take Our Children to Work” day would be much better for the nation’s families. Suppose I did have a daughter. How would her brothers feel if I or my wife took only her to our place of work?

Maybe many young girls still feel that certain fields are not open to them, but, in my experience as a parent and as a college teacher, I see young women excelling in every area. For years now, it has been the women in my classes, far more than the men, who seem highly motivated to succeed. And I have strongly encouraged these women. But as the war between the sexes continues and escalates, I sometimes feel like I am being forced to make a choice.

As a loving parent, there is no choice. One moment recently, I looked at my 12-year-old son and was almost brought to tears by my realization of how I had been bemoaning the fact that my children were not part of a movement, that I could not have the thrill of seeing a daughter in a previously male-dominated field. My son is beautiful to me, as are his brothers. They are pale males. But they are, above all, human beings with as much right to be successful and happy as anyone else.

March 1993

*                   *                    *

Since writing this piece, girls and young women continue to outdo boys and young men (this situation is especially pronounced among African-Americans). And many people don’t hesitate to freely put down white males, especially in the academic world.

But on the positive side, by 2003 “Take Our Daughters to Work” day became “Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work.” And there are more and more signs of young males getting the attention and encouragement they deserve. Consider, for example, Warren Farrell and John Gray’s 2018 book, The Boy Crisis: Why Our Boys Are Struggling and What We Can Do About It.

As the years went by, my fruitless hope for a female descendant continued. I now have five grandsons (and no granddaughters). So here I am, a lifelong liberal, who still loves “pale males,” but now even more of them!



Lloyd M.E. (1990) Gender factors in reviewer recommendations for manuscript publication. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, vol. 23:539–543

This article first appeared here.

Photo credit: Pixabay

Mark Sherman, Ph.D.

View posts by Mark Sherman, Ph.D.
Mark Sherman is a professor emeritus of psychology at the State University of New York at New Paltz. After receiving his Ph.D. in psychology, he taught for 25 years at SUNY New Paltz, soon specializing in gender issues. By the early 1990s, his principal interest was -- and remains -- the crises facing boys and men (especially young men). He is a member of the multi-partisan coalition for the establishment of a White House Council on Boys and Men, and writes regularly for Psychology Today, principally on issues facing males -- especially those under the age of 30. His strong interest in this comes not only from his academic background and his social concerns, but are quite personal as well: Sherman is the father of three sons and the grandfather of five grandsons.

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