Halloween is a time when we like to scare ourselves – artificially, that is. Our kids run around in scary costumes saying “boooo!” It’s all great fun and make-believe, so no problem.
I mention this as segue to discussing a national situation that is becoming genuinely frightening and no fun at all. It involves discrimination, but it’s flying under the cultural radar. Readers might think I mean racial bias, or perhaps discrimination against girls and women. The conventional wisdom holds that gender-bias is still a serious societal problem that needs work. It is, but the pendulum has swung far over in the other direction.
I served several years on the Board of Trustees of a small liberal arts college which I attended early in the last century. In the nearly six decades since my student days, the enrollment of the college has gradually shifted from a nearly even balance of men and women to a current ratio of 60 women to 40 men. The imbalance has crept up gradually. It was ignored at first because it met societal demands for preferring women and girls. But officials are now alert to the risk posed to the college’s viability by this growing gender-imbalance in enrollment.
Experienced administrators know that once a college’s enrollment tips too far over, one way or the other, it’s very difficult to turn things around. Thus, they face the Hobbesian Choice of either “affirmative action” for men – a non-starter as ever was – or lowered academic standards to bring enrollment into balance. Neither of these is acceptable.
Radical feminists might welcome female-dominated college enrollments as a great leap forward, but most college administrators –both male and female – know that an unbalanced enrollment harms the college’s stability by affecting curriculum offerings and disrupting sports programs. Curriculum-wise, men and women have differing levels of interest in the sciences, mathematics, literature, languages, religion, psychology, philosophy, and other traditional liberal arts offerings. As a college attracts more women, science and math courses receive less subscription, while courses more attractive to women gain. An imbalance in the 60:40 range will thus affect faculty-levels, leading to both faculty disquiet and a changed external perception of the college.
Sports-offerings are also proportional to a college’s male and female student populations, as stipulated by Federal Title IX. But the relative numbers of men and women enrolled are also a practical matter. A college might want to field a baseball team – as does the college I mentioned above – but unless it has a large enough male population, with enough men who can actually play ball, it won’t be able to do it.
Thus, college officials are finding, to their pain, that gender-imbalance is non-trivial. To counteract it, some colleges have simply tried to enlarge their overall enrollments. But this is easier said than done in a recovering economy, when a year at a private college runs $40,000 or more. Fifty years of go-go cost-increases have painted colleges into a corner.
At some point, sinking male enrollment becomes a “death-spiral.” A lower male enrollment diminishes courses and sports that men want, causing the college to attract even fewer men. This drives male enrollment down farther. And fewer men on campus can degrade female enrollment, too. Despite all the old jokes about women matriculating to earn the MRS, the fact remains that many women will avoid a college which has too few men. The numbers don’t work for women who hope to find a suitable mate during their college years. Notwithstanding the conventional wisdom that says young women are strongly “career-minded,” marriage and family still remain primary interests in the lives of many – perhaps even most.
It’s useless for educators to bewail and denounce this fact of life. A strong attraction of the on-campus college experience has always been the opportunity to meet potential mates of like mind and educational level. We might as well try to control the weather. (OK, poor analogy – we’re already trying that…)
According to current data, women now receive 60% of all college degrees awarded – matching their approximate representation in college enrollments. The effects of this imbalance extend well beyond ivy-covered walls, however. Recently I read that women now hold a majority of managerial, executive and professional jobs. Moreover, 75% of workers who lost jobs during the latest recession were men.
I cannot remember a time when I personally knew so many men who were out of work and whose wives had become the principal breadwinners for their families. This is also an important development – not really salutary – in our society. An old adage runs: “When a man’s work isn’t right, nothing is right.” Being out of work affects a man’s life at its core. Having experienced this situation myself, I can testify that few things are more disruptive to a man’s sense of self-worth, and a family’s tranquility and order, than when he is unemployed. It is a very bad situation.
The difficulty is that male under-representation in higher education and unemployment can’t be solved by the usual government bromides of preferences, affirmative action, and incentives. Male academic achievement levels, in the aggregate, have been falling for more than a decade. Until they turn around, nothing much is going to change in the educational and vocational worlds.
This is a complex issue, and I won’t pretend that it can be solved in this brief commentary. But it’s worth mentioning that men start out as boys, and boys have been having a rough go in public education for some time. In her book, The War Against Boys: How Misguided Feminism Is Harming Our Young Men, Christina Hoff Sommers notes that an initially well-intentioned effort to elevate the prospects and academic achievements of girls has morphed into a grotesque campaign to pathologize boyhood and harm manhood. When boys are discussed at all, says Dr. Sommers, it’s in the context of how to modify their antisocial behavior – i.e., how to make them more like girls.
Dr. Sommers writes: “Routinely regarded as proto-sexists, potential harassers and perpetuators of gender inequity, boys live under a cloud of censure.” She says boys are losing ground in an educational system that now devotes more attention to the needs of girls. Even recess – a valuable way for boys to let off steam since Lincoln’s time – is being cancelled by many schools. Good move, with obesity reaching “epidemic” proportions. (School-officials say recess is “too rough.”)
Some schools are also letting homosexual activists “help” boys find their true sexual orientation. Very educational, I’m sure. Not quite the 3 R’s that I grew up with. With the transgender movement gaining steam, the Nifty Fifties are clearly far behind us.
The answer to this dangerous situation will not be discrimination against girls. Good grief! When did education become such an either-or proposition? Surely we can do better than this. Some sociologists laud our “great societal advance” of replacing men with women in the managerial ranks of our workforce. Pardon me if I lack their enthusiasm. It’s not at all clear what good result this experiment will produce: turning men into “house-husbands?” or demoting them to mail-room clerks? Do we really want to gamble on this? If so, who made the decision to do so?
National statistics show that boys in grades 4, 8, and 12 still test higher than girls in all academic subjects. The gap is widest in mathematics and science. If any of this potential is being wasted by an educational system that prefers girls to boys, for political reasons, the country will certainly suffer for it. Formerly, we wasted the potential of some women and minorities. Obviously, we can’t afford to lose the potential of men, either. We’re headed for real trouble here. If we don’t correct this educational and vocational imbalance, the result will be a lot scarier than ghosts, goblins and witches carrying bags of candy on Halloween.