- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 13, 2000

Clyde Frazier is looking for a cease-fire in the war of the sexes.

That's what the Meredith College professor said in a proposal for a book defending manly virtues. But when he circulated his ideas on the all-women campus, he drew fire that shows no sign of ceasing.

Mr. Frazier, who has taught politics at the Raleigh, N.C., college for 18 years, is developing a book proposal titled "Is Masculinity Obsolete?" In February, he distributed copies of his 26-page manuscript to a few professors and to students in one of his classes. He wanted feedback.

He got it.

Angry letters appeared in the campus newspaper. The first salvo, signed by nine students, said Mr. Frazier's opinions "are demeaning to women and contradict Meredith College's goal of 'educating women to excel.' "

Alumnae got involved in the controversy. A flurry of e-mail messages erupted, some suggesting that Mr. Frazier did not belong at Meredith. A hundred students turned out March 30 to hear Mr. Frazier debate his ideas with four female professors. Now, a faculty committee is reviewing his proposal to make his "gender politics" course a part of the permanent curriculum.

Mr. Frazier, 53, is a divorced father of two with a silky smooth radio voice and a doctorate from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In his manuscript, he worries that masculinity is being abandoned in our culture after a sustained attack by the feminist movement.

"Characterizing masculinity exclusively as a form of oppression is a highly effective tactic for interest group politics; it's hardly an adequate basis for understanding men," Mr. Frazier writes.

American schoolboys are falling behind, he writes, and fatherhood is being devalued.

"Current welfare, child-custody and abortion policy all undermine fatherhood. These are complex and contentious issues, and fathers are certainly not the only concern, but far too often they have not been considered at all."

In an interview, Mr. Frazier said that anyone who writes about differences between the sexes can expect disagreements. "I'm really OK with that. But I was a little taken aback, frankly, with the idea that I was doing something wrong."

Plenty of women on the campus said they, too, were astonished when they read the manuscript. In defending traditional masculinity, they said, Mr. Frazier attacked feminism and belittled women's accomplishments.

"Throughout the article, he refers to women as biological beings because of their reproductive capacity and refers to men as being cultural because of their intellectual capacity," said senior Hannah Weber, who is not Mr. Frazier's student. "That was offensive to me. If that's his research, this is a bias he carries into the classroom. That's troubling to me."

Miss Weber cited a line in Mr. Frazier's manuscript: "The importance of culture not only distinguishes humans from other animals, it is even more important for men than for women because their lives are less profoundly shaped by biology."

Mr. Frazier asserts that traditional gender patterns can and should have an important place. Modern society needs men for dangerous tasks, he said, and it needs heroes.

"We as a society need to construct masculinity," he said. "We have attacked it and endangered things about it that are valuable to everyone."

Mr. Frazier doesn't see himself as part of the so-called men's movement. "I'm not a movement kind of person, in general." If anything, he said, he always has considered himself a feminist. On a bulletin board near his office, a flier promotes his public leadership class with the slogan "Who says women can't rule the world?"

At the March 30 forum, he noted that as the father of a son and daughter, he had the interests of both genders at heart.

"What I'm seeking is balance," Mr. Frazier said, flanked by four female professors on the panel. "It's not pro-male, and it's not pro-female. We're in this together."

Mr. Frazier was allowed to speak for five minutes. The other professors, several of whom questioned the quality of Mr. Frazier's scholarship and his lack of footnotes, were given 10 minutes apiece during the debate.

Rhonda Zingraff, sociology professor and coordinator of women's studies, worries that students will get a skewed view of feminism if their only exposure to gender studies is in Mr. Frazier's class. But she won't deny his right to teach gender politics.

"Anything that would compromise his academic freedom to teach these ideas could be used to compromise the academic freedom of everyone on this campus," she said. "That would be too high a price to pay."

Rosalind Reichard, who became Meredith's vice president for academic affairs in February, had to deal with the controversy in her first weeks on the job. She said she had been impressed with the students' maturity, given the emotional nature of the subject. "It's a sensitive issue, and they had strong personal opinions about it. I can understand how they would have."

Miss Reichard predicted a close vote when the new course is reviewed later this month. Mr. Frazier has taught the class on five occasions as part of a special study curriculum, and he is seeking to make it a permanent course at the college.

While there clearly have been some hurt feelings during the debate, administrators said, the gender skirmish has been a positive experience overall.

"This is an educator's dream," said Michael Novak, chairman of the history and politics department. "We've got 100 people here stirred up about ideas. That can't be anything but good."

• Distributed by Scripps Howard.

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