COMMENTARY: On Men's Saunas and 21st Century Discourse

By Jim Forsyth

On my college campus, engraved over the entrance to the Health and Physical Education building, were the words MENS SANA IN CORPORE SANO. Now even a teenaged skull full of mush like me could figure out that was Latin for 'a sound mind in a sound body.'  'Mens' as in 'mental,' 'sana' as in 'sanitary,' and so forth.

So imagine my surprise when I started getting urgent letters (yes, letters, this was the seventies) at the radio station and college paper where I worked from a woman expressing her outrage at the inscription and alerting us to protests and sit-ins at the college President's office to demand its removal.

We soon realized that the outraged student thought there was a sauna in the building that was only open to men, and it was time for her aggrieved sisters to finally wipe out this sexist scourge.

It was also clear that 'Men's Sauna Girl,' as we started calling her, also wanted us to know that after more than forty years of being prominently inscribed on a major campus building, it was only her unique special super perceptive feminism that enabled her and only her to realize the true danger of this looming menace.

Men's Sauna Girl finally stopped writing, probably after somebody who actually knew Latin gave her what was surely a 'never mind' Emily Litella moment.  I haven't thought about her over the intervening decades, but she has re-entered my consciousness lately as an early predictor of 21st Century discourse.

Consider---just in the last few months we have been told by presumably smart people that Dr. Seuss is racist, that 'Jingle Bells' is racist, that Skittles (or is it M&Ms, I forget) are symbols of white supremacy, and on and on.

The one thing that is important for everybody to know, and this will come as a disappointment to my conservative friends who enjoy mocking these that nobody actually believes any of this.  Not the people who write it, not the peers in the peer reviewed publications that disseminate it, not the rest of the faculty lounge; nobody.

You see, that's not the point of this type of scholarship.    Unlike most research, this is not meant to move forward knowledge, to enlighten the masses, or to provide insight.

The purpose of this, like Men's Sauna Girl's outrage all those decades ago, it to prove that the person who originated these concepts is, in the tortured grammar of the Trump era, 'woke.'  In fact, in order to have perceived this racism, sexism, or other outrage that others have missed proves that, in a room full of woke people, he or she is woker than everybody else.

And it isn't just virtue signaling, there is real potential benefit here.  During the current strong economy, the airwaves and the web are packed with people anxious to tell us that economic doom is right around the corner.  Just as 'he predicted the market crash of 2008' has been the golden key to TV chat show appearances and book contracts for investment managers, some of these new social science concepts will stick, and, ten years from now, being the person who first uttered the now unquestionable truth that the white lines in the middle of the highway are enduring legacies of racism (hey, why are they white, huh?) will be worth an endowed professorship, at least.

So the bottom line is, expect more of these pronouncements, but also recognize that their value is to the maker, and not to the receiver.  And now, time to step into the sauna. And hey, NO girls allowed!!

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