Back in 1920, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Princeton â€™17, in This Side of Paradise described â€œThe Idea of the Yale Manâ€ this way:
I want to go to Princeton,â€ said Amory. â€œI donâ€™t know why, but I think of all Harvard men as sissies, like I used to be, and all Yale men as wearing big blue sweaters and smoking pipes.â€
â€œIâ€™m one, you know.â€
â€œOh, youâ€™re differentâ€”I think of Princeton as being lazy and good-looking and aristocraticâ€”you know, like a spring day. Harvard seems sort of indoorsâ€”â€
â€œAnd Yale is November, crisp and energetic,â€ finished Monsignor.
They slipped briskly into an intimacy from which they never recovered.
The Yale man in fiction was traditionally portrayed as the All-American, square-shooting man-of-action. Fictional exemplars included Frank Merriwell, Dink Stover, Flash Gordon, and even Bruce Wayne.
At least one millenial undergraduate these days has lots of problems with that tradition.
Jun Yan Chua (a senior in Saybrook), in the OCD, writes:
Today, the idea of the â€œYale Manâ€ inspires disdain. Memes that denigrate Yale men proliferate on Facebook… Some of this outrage is well-deserved: At its worst, Yale masculinity can be sinister â€” indeed, criminal â€” as evidenced by recent allegations about sexual assault at Delta Kappa Epsilon and other fraternities. …
As scholars of gender studies have understood for years, the â€œpatriarchyâ€ harms men as well as women. By setting an impossibly high standard for the elusive, ideal Yale Man, the dominant culture condemns the vast majority of men to fall short, prompting them to act out and hurt others â€” primarily women. …
To be a â€œsuccessfulâ€ Yale Man is to check off a daunting list of boxes. One must be tall, fit and subtly dressed. Outgoing and social, but not loud or crass. Not just funny and intelligent, but effortlessly so. In reality, few live up to the demands of the normative Yale Man, yet his specter lives on as a figment of our cultural imagination, haunting we who fall short.
While women face similar pressures, men probably have fewer ways of conforming to this aesthetic of Yale cool. You can be the idealized boy next door â€” the frat bro or student-athlete, who also happens to be in Phi Beta Kappa. Or you might become a Yale politico â€” Yale Political Union extraordinaire in the streets, policy wonk in the sheets. Or you could be a man of arts and letters â€” think theater, a cappella or The New Journal. Fall outside these tropes, and goodbye social capital. The intense pressure leads Yale men to seek out sites of male bonding, only to find that these, too, disappoint, with their petty cruelties and oversized egos.
I exaggerate, but only slightly. In fact, the vision of the idealized Yale Man has a long cultural history. In 1912, Owen Johnson published his best-selling novel, â€œStover at Yale,â€ which documents the titular characterâ€™s attempts at navigating Yaleâ€™s social hierarchies. Driven by its ladder of fraternities and societies and its emphasis on football, brutal competition characterized Yale at the turn of the 20th century.
That atmosphere took a toll on real-life as well as fictitious Yalies. …
We urgently need to reimagine Yale masculinity. … So how might we create a kinder and more generative masculinity? Instead of focusing on Yale cool as an aesthetic, letâ€™s transform it into an ethic. Rather than fixate on who we are, letâ€™s think about what we can do â€” for ourselves as for others. And letâ€™s tell more varied stories about â€œreal menâ€ at Yale â€” stories of redemption as well as perfection, of struggle as well as triumph, of vulnerability as well as strength.
I expect the reader can easily imagine what I think of people who take courses in “Gender Studies,” who take that kind of contemptible nonsense seriously, and my response to the idea of a “Kinder and More Generative Masculinity.” The latter phrase provokes in my mind the image of a frail, sissified young man sitting on an egg.