The female voices rose high-pitched and shrill above the crowd:

“Five, six, seven, eight, Israel is a terrorist state.”

“We don’t want no Zionists here, say it loud, say it clear.”

“Resistance is justified when people are occupied.”

The voices that answered them were also overwhelmingly female, emanating from hundreds of students chanting and marching around tents pitched in front of Columbia University’s neoclassical Butler Library, part of an effort in late April to prevent the university from uprooting the encampment.

The female tilt among anti-Israel student protesters is an underappreciated aspect of the pro-Hamas campus hysteria. True, when activists need muscle (to echo University of Missouri professor Melissa Click’s immortal call during the 2015 Black Lives Matter protests), males are mobilized to smash windows and doors or hurl projectiles at the police, for example. But the faces behind the masks and before the cameras are disproportionately female, as seen in this recent gem from the Princeton demonstrations.

Why the apparent gender gap? One possible reason is that women constitute majorities of both student bodies and the metastasizing student-services bureaucracies that cater to them. Another is the sex skew in majors. The hard sciences and economics, whose students are less likely to take days or weeks out from their classes to party (correction: “stand against genocide”) in cool North Face tents, are still majority male. The humanities and soft social sciences, the fields where you might even get extra credit for your intersectional activism, are majority female. (Not surprisingly, males have spearheaded recent efforts to guard the American flag against desecration.) In progressive movements, the default assumption now may be to elevate females ahead of males as leaders and spokesmen. But most important, the victim ideology that drives much of academia today, with its explicit enmity to objectivity and reason as white male constructs, has a female character.

Student protests have always been hilariously self-dramatizing, but the current outbreak is particularly maudlin, in keeping with female self-pity. “The university would rather see us dead than divest,” said a member of the all-female press representatives of UCLA’s solidarity encampment on X. The university police and the Los Angeles Police Department “would rather watch us be killed than protect us.” (The academic Left, including these anti-Zionists, opposes police presence on campus; UCLA chancellor Gene Block apologized in June 2020 after the LAPD lawfully mustered on university property during the George Floyd race riots.) Command of language is not a strong point of these student emissaries. “There needs to be an addressment (sic) of U.S. imperialism and its ties to the [University of California] system,” said another UCLA encampment spokeswoman.

It was not too long ago when administrators started bringing in therapy dogs to campus libraries and dining halls to help a female-heavy student body cope with psychic distress, especially after the election of Donald Trump. “Trigger warnings” were implemented to protect female students from Ovid’s Metamorphoses and other great works of literature. Campus discourse and its media echo chamber rang with accounts of the mental-health crisis on campus, whose alleged sufferers were overwhelmingly female.

Par for the course, then, when the editors at the Columbia Law Review (majority female) adopted the rhetoric of trauma in demanding that Columbia Law School hand out a universal pass for Spring 2024 coursework. A May 1 action by the New York Police Department to evict violent trespassers from an administration building had left them, they wrote,  “highly emotional,” “irrevocably shaken,” “unwell,” and “unable to focus”—in other words, displaying all the symptoms of Victorian neurasthenia.

It was not too long ago when a predominantly female professoriate, student population, and bureaucratic apparatus embraced the idea that students’ “safety” should be protected against the “hate speech” that allegedly jeopardized it. (Males, by contrast, place greater emphasis on academic freedom and truth-seeking, regardless of the alleged emotional consequences of intellectual inquiry.) Examples of dangerous speech included arguments that racial disparities are not caused by racism and that human beings cannot change their sex by proclamation.

Now, while still asserting their own unsafety, the pro-Hamas protesters have done an about-face when it comes to political disagreement and “safety,” at least where pro-Israel students are concerned. Nas Issa, a Palestinian alumna of Columbia University, told the New York Times that she saw a difference between feeling uncomfortable and feeling that you are in danger. Challenges to your identity or political ideology “can be personally affecting,” said Issa. “But I think the conflation between that and safety—it can be a bit misleading.”

It was also not too long ago when college campuses were shutting down or locking students in their dorms as an anti-Covid policy, notwithstanding overwhelming evidence showing that adolescents faced virtually no chance of serious Covid complications. This zero-risk policy, in its inability to balance costs and benefits rationally, was quintessentially female. It is fitting, therefore, that N95 masks have been repurposed as go-to accessories for the most up-to-date anti-settler-colonialist look. Females at the Columbia rally in front of Butler Library passed out the masks to the few participants not already wrapped up like mummies. When asked what the point was, one distributor answered, “to protect against Covid”—an answer that, sadly, could as easily be sincere as duplicitous.

Assuming the latter to be the case, hiding one’s face to escape accountability for one’s actions is the antithesis of manly virtue. The swaddled students would say that they have been forced into such precautions by the risk of “doxing.” But while a home address is properly private and should not be disclosed without permission, a face is public, and participation in public protest fair game for political accountability. The muffled freedom fighters are also aping Third World terrorists, of course, but the worst that might befall these revolutionary wannabes is rejection from their favored investment or consulting firm, not execution.

The dead white males emblazoned on the frieze of Columbia’s Butler Library would not have been surprised by the scene below them. Homer, Herodotus, Sophocles, Plato, Aristotle, Demosthenes, Cicero, and Virgil knew a thing or two about herd behavior and the irrationality of the mob, even if the students knew nothing about the great minds etched above. Our classical forebears developed philosophy, history, and the arts of persuasion to overcome the mind-numbing conformity on display at the greensward.

The founders of Columbia University would have been alarmed, however, to see students illegally colonizing campus grounds and vandalizing college buildings. They would have been dumbfounded to learn that university administrators were meekly negotiating with the vandals and that faculty in neon vests were protecting the trespassers. The idea that student demands should set the school’s agenda would have struck any nineteenth-century academic as surreal.

Universities now assume that students have the right (some would say the duty) to disrupt the system; they bow before students’ every whim. The pro-Hamas protests have unleashed a wave of 1960s nostalgia. They remind Serge Schmemann, a member of the New York Times editorial board, of those “stormy, fateful and thrilling days” of 1968, when Columbia students took control of campus buildings and held an administrator hostage for 26 hours. A front-page Times article on campus activism claimed that college protesters bring “fresh thinking . . . to the world’s most difficult questions.”

Actually, the pro-Hamas encampments have little to do with “thinking,” fresh or otherwise. Like the spread of trans identity among young females, the tent eruptions are a case of social contagion. No change in Israel’s tactics in the Gaza Strip over the last two months explains the ubiquity of encampments now. Rather, they are copy-cat behavior, like the early 1960s hula-hoop craze among teenyboppers—accelerated by the fact, so galling for the participants, that they are about to lose their sympathetic administrative foils come summer vacation.

Schmemann enthuses that disruptive student protests are an “extension of education by other means.” If so, that education now means refusing to engage with contrary viewpoints. At the April 29 protest at Columbia, a masked marcher was wearing a “Fags for Falestine” (not a typo) t-shirt. Asked how far he thought he would get organizing a gay-pride demonstration in Gaza, he stormed off and declined to answer. Every other question posed to the zombie file, such as whether a black protester knew anything about the long history of Arabs enslaving black Africans—a practice ended only by Britain’s naval vigilance—or was aware of current racial views among Arabs, was met with a similar stony silence.

Two days before the march, Iraq passed a law imposing up to 15 years’ imprisonment for gay sex. One of the chants whined out by Columbia’s female chant-callers was:

Hands off Iran, hands of Iraq and the Middle East;

We want justice, we want peace.

The protesters’ demands for LGBTQ justice extend only to docile Western powers. They give their Middle Eastern idols’ overt homophobia a free pass—if they even know about it.

Theater requires the willing suspension of disbelief. But to take seriously the narcissistic melodramas played out on campus quads today requires active commitment to untruth—the untruth that the students know enough about the world to deserve attention from adults; the untruth that they are engaged in heroic behavior, when their brightly colored tents resemble nothing so much as childhood forts, well provisioned with cookies and comic books; the untruth that the trespassers and vandals possess any bargaining leverage independent of what the university voluntarily confers on them; the untruth that an American college could have any effect on Middle East politics. These mediagenic morality plays are well-rehearsed; they spring from hundreds of such theatrical interactions over the last several decades between self-involved students proclaiming various forms of victimhood and co-dependent student-services bureaucrats who need performative conflict to justify their jobs.

But while the “uprisings” will have no effect on the Middle East, administrators’ prolonged paralysis in dealing with them, only now cracking up here and there, will confirm their participants’ self-importance—what Schmemann calls the “frightening and beautiful . . . faith that mere students could do something about what’s wrong with the world.” Graduates will take this self-importance with them into what used to be called the real world, now being remade in the image of intersectional theory, with the same teary, excitable females leading the way.

Photo by Selcuk Acar/Anadolu via Getty Images


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