As someone who has always been interested in Gender Studies and Women’s Studies in particular, I took a special interest in Lad Tobin’s essay The Personal Narratives of Adolescent Males . I think it is fascinating that he approaches this essay with a sexist attitude toward men, or at least adolescent men. His criteria for branding his male students as potential problems were pretty amusing as well. For any educated man to show prejudice to an undergraduate male based on the fact that the student wears a baseball cap is ludicrous. He believes that the cap allows the student to violate any rules of classroom etiquette, which ultimately gives him a feeling of masculine power.
I highly doubt that the student is aware of this when he dons a cap prior to heading for class. More than likely, the student just likes to wear caps and does so because it’s cool. I don’t believe that it would ever occur to the wearer of this baseball cap that it is a way of asserting his masculinity. Therefore, I think Tobin is overanalyzing this. A baseball cap is like any other article of clothing, and if he finds some kind of symbolic meaning behind it, then he should also look into what else the student is wearing and whether or not his entire outfit is making a statement.
I also find it interesting the way Tobin analyzes the writing of his adolescent male students. Initially, he sees it as a bunch of macho mindless fluff, but then he starts to discover deep psychological underpinnings of one particular essay. Tobin goes on to talk about other adolescent male essays and how they may possibly be indicative of some psychological struggle. He seems entirely out of touch with what it is like to be eighteen, which makes me wonder how long it has been since he was that age.
An eighteen year old, regardless of gender, is going to have psychological issues that may reveal themselves in the student’s writings. These students are on their own for the first time in their lives, making new friends and having new experiences. It can be a very confusing time as well. I think Tobin is completely missing this point. Tobin sees correlations between an adolescent trying to compose an essay and compose his identity. One can assume that adolescent females are trying to do the same thing. So why is Tobin so much more interested in the male narratives than the female narratives? Is he actually being sexist against women by being so much more interested in what the men have to say?
One thing I will agree to, however, is that any freshman essay, whether written by a male or female, is likely to be unimaginative and full of clichés. After all, these are inexperienced writers who were probably used to writing personal essays in high school and are unaccustomed to other genres. Tobin may be getting a little carried away when he says that the male essays are threatening because they often focus on machismo, male bonding, and aggression, while largely ignoring women. I think it’s just a matter of boys being boys, and boys not knowing any better because they are a product of a male-dominated society that glorifies aggression and competition.