rebellion over too few men teachers in elementary schools

men protesting amid lack of men teachers in elementary schools

With the world preoccupied by serious wars, an unimportant incident paralyzed Washington. A boy in second grade was suspended for three months for sticking his tongue out at a girl. In a press release addressing the matter, the elementary school principal Andrea Matronreich declared that her school has a zero-tolerance policy for violence against women and rape culture.

After learning of the boy’s suspension, a group of video-gamers denounced elementary schools for boring and drugging boys and vastly under-representing men among elementary-school teachers. Leading media described the video-gamer group as uncivilized, misanthropic loners who mainly play video games and view pornography while living in small, badly decorated apartments. Nonetheless, men, boys, and their sisters rallied to the video-gamers’ side. The boy’s supporters streamed into Washington, filling streets and blocking access to office buildings and the Capitol. They pleaded with law makers and civic leaders to establish a strong affirmative-action program to increase the number of men teachers in elementary schools.

The Association of Elementary School Teachers and Supervisors (AESTAS) convened an emergency meeting to address the matter. Catherine McKillum, a highly respected scholar on gender in elementary education, addressed the AESTAS meeting. She proclaimed:

“If we had, each of us, made it a rule to uphold the rights and authority of women in relation to children, we would not now have this trouble about men teaching children. As things are now, our liberty of action, which has been checked and rendered powerless by patriarchy within the workplace, is crushed and trampled on by men, boys, and their sisters here in Washington. Because we failed to dominate husbands sufficiently within the home, men, boys, and their sisters have now come together to threaten us in elementary schools. The wonderful story in which the whole of the male sex was extirpated now seems farther than ever from realization.

There is no class of males from which the gravest dangers may not arise. If we allow males to meet without the presence of women, intrigues, plots, and secret cabals against the good order of society will result. I can hardly make up my mind which is worse: allowing men to have physical custody of children, or the disastrous precedent that it creates. That latter concerns me as a gender scholar; the former has more to do with you as elementary school teachers. Whether affirmative action for men teachers in elementary schools is good for women and should be allowed is for you to determine by your votes.

This tumult against women teachers, whether a spontaneous movement or due to the instigation of that gamer group and other hate mongers, certainly points to failure in education. Whether you have failed in educating children and men, or they have somehow learned in other ways, I do not know. It brings greater discredit on you if you have failed in teaching so far as to create agitation among men, boys, and their sisters, and on us gender scholars, more disgrace if we have to submit to gender equality being imposed on us through fear of rebellion, as we formerly had when plebs rebelled against mixed-sex bathrooms.

It was not without a feeling of shame that into this meeting I made my way through a throng of men, boys, and their sisters. Had not my respect for the dignity and virtue of their sisters, more than any consideration for them as a whole, not restrained me from lecturing them publicly, I would have said:

Rapists! Wife-beaters! Girl-molesters! Why have you formed this habit of running free and blocking the streets and harassing gender scholars who care nothing for you? Could not each of you be confined in abjection and servitude to women? Why aren’t you in prison? Surely you do not make yourselves more attractive in the streets than in prisons, as if you should be allowed to associate with women other than your mothers. If males were kept by proper policing within the limits of their rights, it would be most inadvisable for you to associate even with your mothers, whom you often criminally abuse.

Our ancestors would have no man address a woman, except to be directed into mortal battle as duly established through the mass voice of women-society. We suffer men now to dabble with visitation provisions for their children and mix themselves up with coaching children’s sports and meeting with their children’s women teachers. What are they doing now in the public roads and street corners but recommending to all that they be allowed to be part of the life of their biological progeny. Give the reins to headstrong nature, to a creature that has not been civilized, and then hope that they will themselves set bounds to their license if you do not restrain them yourselves. Imposing women teachers on males is the smallest of those means of control that have been imposed upon males by ancestral custom or by laws. They now submit to this with such impatience. What men really want is unrestricted freedom, reproductive rights, equal child custody provisions, and equal criminal justice under law, or to speak the truth, license. If they win on this occasion, what will they not attempt?

Call to mind all the regulations respecting men by which our ancestors curbed their license and made them obedient to women. Yet in spite of all those restrictions, you scarcely control them. If you allow them to pull away these restraints and wrench them out one after another, and finally put themselves on equality with women, do you imagine that you will be able to tolerate them? From the moment that they become your gender equals, they will become your masters. But surely, you say, what they seek is equal rights to parent and teach children, not a privilege but a fundamental aspect of human life. No, they are demanding the abrogation of gynocentrism that you created and which the practical experience of all these years has approved and justified. This they would have you overturn. By overturning gynocentric society, they would weaken all. No society is equally agreeable to everybody. The only question is whether it is beneficial on the whole and good for the majority. If everyone personally aggrieved by gynocentrism is to destroy it and get rid of it, what is gained by having a majority women electorate enact laws against men and have them in short time teach against them?

I want, however, to learn the reason why men, boys, and their sisters have run out into the streets and scarcely keep away from institutions of social control. Is it that the vast number of men incarcerated — their fathers and husbands and children and brothers — may be ransomed? The republic is a long way from this misfortune, and may it ever remain so! Still, when mass incarceration of men emerged, you refused to show concern despite dutiful entreaties. But, you may say, is it not dutiful affection and solicitude for those they love that has brought them together? They want to welcome back rightly maligned Priapus from his deservedly icy exile. What pretext in the least degree respectable is put forward for this male insurrection? “That we may enjoy,” they say, “teaching children and spending time with our children,” as though in triumph after forcing you to hire more men as elementary school teachers.

You have often heard me complain of men’s violence against women, not only that of bad men but that of all men. I have often said that the community suffers from two opposite vices — men and boys. They are pestilent diseases that have proved the ruin of all great empires. The brighter and better the fortunes of the republic become day by day, and the greater the growth of its economy, the worse becomes the position of women. So much the more do I dread the prospect of men captivating us rather than us taking them as captives. It was a bad day for this city, believe me, when men were first allowed to adopt children. I hear far too many people praising and admiring those fathers, and scorning struggling single mothers and their rapaciously suckling children. I for my part prefer mothers who have loved us. I trust that mothers will continue to love us so long as we continue to allow them to control and teach their children.

In the days of our foremothers, Ovid attempted to tamper with men’s relation to women by means of his teaching. Women were not then teaching in elementary schools, yet not a single man admitted to learning from Ovid. What do you think was the reason? The same reason that our foremothers had for not pushing men teachers out of elementary school: there were no elementary schools. Women dominated teaching within the home, and within the home women taught children that teachers like Ovid are sick. Disease must be recognized before remedies are applied. So men’s passion to be more for their children than wallets for their children’s mothers must exist before social institutions restrain it. What called out child support laws except forcing men into work outside the home? What led to alimony laws except men moving into wage servitude from which they could pay money to women? It is not therefore in the least surprising that neither child support payments nor alimony were imposed when both men and women worked in a home-based, non-cash economy. Today women can acquire enormous monthly payments fallaciously called child support simply by sleeping with a high-income man and becoming a single mother with his child.

There are some desires of which I cannot penetrate either the motive or the reason. That what is permitted to women should be forbidden to men may naturally create a feeling of shame or indignation, but when gender equality is proclaimed to all why should any man resent being subjected to forced financial fatherhood? The very last thing to be ashamed of is supporting gender equality, but promoting affirmative action for men elementary school teachers deprives women of their dominate position as teachers. The wealthy woman says, “This idea of men parenting and teaching children is just what I do not tolerate. Why am I not to receive large monthly payments from the man with whom I had sex? Why is the womb-lessness of men to be disguised under the appearance of their parenting and teaching children, so that they might be thought to possess, if it were possible, that which is quite out of their power to possess?”

Do you want, teachers and mothers, to plunge men into a rivalry of this nature, where women risk losing what no one else can do to women’s liking, and men desire to have what none of them can truly acquire? Count upon it, as soon as a woman begins to be ashamed of what she ought to be ashamed of she will cease to be able to shame men. He who is in a position to get an elementary school teaching job will get one under affirmative action for men. He who does not seek to teach children within school will feel affirmed to teach children within the home. The wife is in a pitiable plight whether she yields or refuses. In the latter case, he and his children will find another mother who better respects men as fathers and teachers. Now they are soliciting other men’s wives, and seeking their support for men as teachers and parents, and are getting support from some, against the interests of you and your profession and your relation with your children.

Once the affirmative action law for men elementary school teachers has validated men’s relation to children, you will never constrain them to be merely father-wallets. Do not imagine that things will be the same as they were before affirmative action for men teachers. It is safer for a father to be ignored than for him to be acknowledged and then thrown out of his children’s lives by a family court. Treating fathers as wallets would have been more tolerable if men had never gotten the idea that they could teach children. They will now be like wild beasts that have been irritated by their chains and then released. I give my vote against every attempt to increase the number of men elementary school teachers. I pray that all the gods may give the action you choose a fortunate result for women.”

Gender scholar Catherine McKillum, faced flushed with anger, returned to her honorary chair at the front of the meeting. The president of AESTAS then announced that she saw no need for further discussion. All the leaders of the meeting nodded uniformly in agreement. “Our solemn concern is teaching children during the school year,” said the president of AESTAS. “Think of the children.” Then the president queried, “All in favor of opposing men elementary school teachers, say us.” There was a roar of us’es. “All against, say them.” There was just one soft, quiet voice saying “them.” The Association of Elementary School Teachers and Principals thus resolved to oppose strongly men elementary school teachers.

The next day, men, boys, and their sisters poured out into the streets of Washington in even greater numbers. However, a leading newspaper reported that some of the protesters had opposed allowing a woman to have two husbands. Soon major media were filled with bitter debates about polygamy and whether the protesters were fundamentally misogynists. The boys and their sisters were baffled. Before men could teach the children how the world works, all protesting men were made subject to arrest and incarceration for disrupting public order. For fear of providing a bad example for their children, the men took their children back to the day-care centers. The men then returned to their jobs to earn money to make their alimony and child support payments.

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Men accounted for only 10.7% of primary school teachers in public schools in the U.S. in 2011-12. A primary school is defined as “a school offering a low grade of prekindergarten to 3 and a high grade of 8 or lower.” See table from U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS), “Public School Teacher Data File,” 2011–12.

The text above is closely adapted from Livy, Ab Urbe Condita Libri (History of Rome) 34.1-8, from Latin translated Roberts (1905). I have mainly adapted a speech that Livy attributed to Cato the Elder. Cato ostensibly made the speech against repeal of the Lex Oppia in 195 BGC. Livy almost surely fabricated Cato’s speech:

{Cato’s} reference to treasures brought in from Asia and Valerius’ reference to the Origines are rare instances of anachronism in Livy, and it is hard to believe that they are not deliberate.

Chaplin (2000) p. 101. The speech Livy scripts for Cato is “at most minimally Catonian.” Milnor (2005), p. 164. In scripting speeches for Cato and Valerius, Livy set up an already conventional polarization between conservative and progressive. Id. p. 172, n. 57.

Within Livy’s history, the debate about repeal of the Lex Oppia occurs in the context of past and future wars. Wars underscore men’s position as relatively disposable persons. Shortly after narrating the Roman women and their advocates forcing repeal of the Lex Oppia, Livy narrated slaughter of Celtiberian soldiers and civilian men:

Valerius states that they amounted to 20,000 men and that 12,000 were killed, the town of Iliturgi taken and all the adult males put to the sword.

Livy, Ab Urbi Condita 34.10. For criticism of women’s luxuries in the context of men’s deaths, see e.g. words of Isaiah to the women of Jerusalem.

Cato’s speech is stylistically similar to Hitler’s celebrated rant in Downfall (2004). Hilter’s rant has spawned a vibrant culture of parodies. Those works have in turn fostered publicly important legal understanding. Classicists failure to appreciate adequately Cato’s speech in Livy has contributed to the marginalization of classics.

The final paragraph above adapts the claim that Papirius Praetextatus told his mother: the Roman Senate was considering allowing one man to have two wives or one woman to have two husbands. Aulus Gellius, Attic Nights 1.23. Gellius attributes that story to Cato the Elder in his speech, To the soldiers against Galba. That speech hasn’t survived. The story of Papirius Praetextatus evidently isn’t historical. It was transmitted to medieval Europe through Macrobius, Saturnalia 1.6.18-25. Ziolkowski (2008) p. 230.

Plutarch’s Lives includes a lengthy account of Cato the Elder’s life. For Cato’s views of men in relation to women, see Cato the Elder, De Agri Cultura 143 and Gellius, Attic Nights 17.6. Juvenal followed Livy’s Cato the Elder in imagining an earlier age before opportunities for luxury corrupted women.

[image] Protesting in Washington. Thanks to Yoke Mc / Joacim Osterstam and Wikimedia Commons.


Chaplin, Jane D. 2000. Livy’s exemplary history. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Milnor, Kristina. 2005. Gender, domesticity, and the age of Augustus: inventing private life. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Ziolkowski, Jan M. 2008. Solomon and Marcolf. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University.

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