Kursat Christoff Pekgoz has never been to Yale — a school he accused of harboring a toxic environment for its male students. Pekgoz, a Turkish-born lecturer of English literature at the University of Southern California and a former member of a feminist group in Turkey, is now an active member of the National Coalition for Men, the largest international men’s rights organization.
With his Title IX complaint — officers in the Yale Title IX Office declined to comment for this article — Pekgoz launched what would result in a serious ongoing investigation of the university’s female-specific programming, conducted by the Department of Education. According to Pekgoz, women dominate in the realm of higher education and have been outpacing men in both attending and graduating from college for decades now, so there is little to no need for women’s programs. His logic is that instituting these programs — for example, the Women Empowering Women Leadership Conference, Yale Women Innovators and Women’s Campaign School at Yale — is sexist.
Pekgoz is right that there are more women in higher education than men; according to the Pew Research Center, even back in 1994, white women enrolled in college at a rate 4 percent higher than men. By 2014, the gap expanded to 10 percent. For black students, the difference is even more extreme — in 1994, men had a 9 percent lead on women, but by 2014, the trend switched to favor women by 12 percent. For Hispanic and Asian students, the disparities are similar.
“I oppose feminism in colleges because women often have special privileges in academia that men do not have,” Pekgoz told Refinery29. “It would make much more sense to implement affirmative action for men than for women.”
In a list of demands provided to the News by Pekgoz — though Pekgoz declined to further elaborate — he emphasized that women are no longer underrepresented in STEM education, though the source he provided analyzed only students enrolled in high school math and science courses. He also pointed to a study that found that men’s grades are lower than women’s in all subjects. Additionally, Pekgoz pointed out, women who apply to academic STEM positions are more likely to be hired, a statement which is substantiated by an academic study when those positions are limited to tenure-track. Pekgoz, relying on an analysis performed by a consulting recruitment organization, wrote that women are 36 percent more likely to receive a job offer than men.
The demands written by Pekgoz include the conversion of all female-centric programs into gender-neutral initiatives and the creation of male-specific programs to balance any remaining female-centric programs.
To promote further action, Pekgoz published a guide on Scribd titled “Dear Colleague Letter: How to Abolish Affirmative Action for Women,” in which he imitated the Obama administration’s “Dear Colleague Letter,” which paved the way for sex-selective scholarships that favored females. In the letter, Pekgoz described in minute detail exactly how to file a Title IX complaint and how to look for discrimination against men in universities, including a method of scrutinizing women’s studies departments. No male applicants involved in a scholarship pool? No male professors involved in the department? File a Title IX complaint.
Professor Margaret Homans, a lecturer in the English Department and the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program, said women at Yale are still striving to achieve equal opportunity, especially in STEM, where affirmative action is vital in balancing the ratio of male to female faculty members. In response to Pekgoz’s proposal to include a men’s program to balance each women’s program, Homans claimed that women are still disadvantaged in the working world and benefit from female-centric programming.
“There has been a men’s scholarship program for a few centuries,” said Homans. “There has been a men’s studies department for a few centuries. These legacies aren’t over.”
In an anonymous survey of student opinion conducted by the News, 159 Yale undergraduates volunteered their opinions on the Title IX complaint. A majority of females — 78 percent — believe that Pekgoz’s complaint is completely unjustified. Meanwhile, 62 percent of female respondents claimed to have been victims of sexual discrimination at Yale. The incidents cited range from “mansplaining” and being talked over by male peers during debates to more serious allegations such as discriminatory treatment from professors and sexual harassment.
Anna McNeil ’20 is co-director of legal at Engender, an organization dedicated to making fraternities and sororities at Yale coed. She believes that women’s rights and needs are overwhelmed by Yale’s entrenched patriarchal roots and that Pekgoz’s complaint is unfounded.
“As a co-director of Engender, I investigate the ways in which undergraduate culture at Yale benefits men and disadvantages women,” said McNeil. “Men live in and control most off-campus party houses, including fraternities, which host and interact with the most substantial portions of Yale students.”
For McNeil, on-campus groups that support the interests of women are necessary in what she sees as Yale’s patriarchal social and academic culture.
More surprising were the male responses. Sixty-one percent of male respondents believe that Pekgoz’s complaint has at least some grounds, while 12 percent of the 61 percent claim that the complaint is absolutely justified, and 26 percent responded that they have been sexually discriminated against on campus. Many men surveyed mentioned difficulty applying to scholarships and fellowships that catered specifically to women and minorities. Multiple students claimed that women have greater social power and have priority when it comes to admittance to parties and events. Additionally, feeling like a second priority within STEM was attributed to coming across women-only scholarships or fellowships when applying for summer research. Other male respondents mentioned the inability to voice their opinions during debates for fear of being ridiculed by their female peers.
Tomi Odukoya ’21 is a male student prospectively majoring in chemistry. As a male STEM student focusing on acquiring summer research opportunities and fellowships, he understands the feelings of his male peers who disagree with what they see as an overabundance of female-centric STEM scholarships.
“I understand why people don’t agree with scholarships that only cater to women,” said Odukoya. “But I also am fine with these programs because it’s to fix an issue that’s been plaguing society for decades.”
Most male students’ responses suggested that they understand why female-centric scholarships exist but believe that they represent an obstacle when applying for summer funding. However, a deeper look at the state of fellowships and funding at Yale reveals that of the 269 fellowships in the Yale Center for International and Professional Experience database, only three programs favor women — the Blair Dickinson Memorial Prize, which is awarded to a woman who excels in the arts, and STARS I and STARS II, special summer research programs designed for undergraduates interested in STEM. STARS favors women, students of color, students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, first-generation college students and the physically challenged. However, in 2018, the STARS I program was exactly 50 percent female.
The men’s rights movement was conceived in 1925, just five years after women had won the right to vote and while they still could not attend the nation’s top schools.
On July 27, 1925, Samuel Reid was sent to jail in Willow County, California. He hadn’t paid child support to his ex-wife and had publicly flaunted his decision. He blamed the county court for denying him joint custody of his daughter. He stayed in jail for three years, growing a famously long beard, and later became a living martyr for those suffering the same fate. From the 1920s onward, the roots of the men’s rights movement began spreading in the form of groups with different focuses, such as anti-alimony, divorce reform and fathers’ rights.
“Meninism” has come a long way from Samuel Reid. As scholarship on the movement is virtually nonexistent, there exists a gap of approximately 70 years before the emergence of the internet gave birth to the so-called “manosphere,” a dark hole of blogs and websites and forums populated by infuriated men empowered by their sudden online anonymity.
Protest signs soon emerged: “Don’t Mess With History,” “HE FOR HE,” “Stop Demonizing Male Sexuality,” “#RepealTheRegistry” and “He Can Do It Too!” (complete with a crudely Photoshopped male Rosie the Riveter). But the movement was lacking a face until one man was found — Warren Farrell, an illustrious writer and adored board member of the National Organization for Women.
Farrell entered the men’s rights movement after NOW pronounced its distaste for joint custody. Horrified by NOW’s decision, Farrell immediately retreated from New York City’s feminist scene and began a lifelong project of researching gender dynamics, fathers’ rights, and the trials and tribulations of men. He became a board member of the National Coalition for Men, of which Pekgoz is also an active member. Farrell had the correct look.
Farrell even produced a “bible” for his disciples in the form of “The Myth of Male Power: Why Men are the Disposable Sex.” Farrell’s tactic is to claim rationality. In Farrell’s world, boys are suffering. Although Farrell admits that men make up the majority of leadership positions in this nation, he believes that this merely obscures the troubles that men face. Fathers are often separated from their children by custodial courts, the White House hosts no council on men’s and boys’ issues, universities do not have men’s studies departments, and men drop out of college and commit crime and suicide at higher rates than women. (In 2010, 79 percent of those who committed suicide in the United States were men.) Men on average also have shorter lifespans.
“We need to know not only why are our sons committing suicide, but also why are our sons much more likely to be the ones to shoot up schools?” said Farrell, who declined to comment for this article, at the first International Conference for Men’s Issues in 2014. “We’re all in jeopardy if we don’t pay attention to the cries of pain and isolation and alienation that are happening among our sons.”
In many ways, the way forward is through education — education especially on the challenges posed to successful and inclusive progress. As the Obama administration’s “Dear Colleague Letter” states, “Education has long been recognized as the great equalizer in America.” After 19 pages outlining recommended steps toward this end, the letter concludes with one last assertion of the country’s goals: to “work together to ensure that all students have an equal opportunity to learn in a safe and respectful school climate.” Pekgoz’s “Dear Colleague” letter, on the other hand, ends on the note that, if additional evidence of disparate treatment emerges at Yale, he will be ready.