Yahoo is reporting that 57% of people on college campuses are women and asking whether this is “cause for celebration – or for concern?”
This article irritates me because it conflates two related, but very separate issues. Yes, women are currently more academically successful than men, but this is not the same thing as saying that women are more academically successful at the expense of men.
The reason we have to be careful about making clear the distinction is that there clearly is a real problem and one that needs to be solved immediately, if not sooner, but the solution is not to exclude women in order to make room for men.
What’s not the problem
It’s not a problem that more and more women are going to college, that they’re doing better in school over all and that they apply to college in large numbers and go to college in large numbers.
This is a cause for celebration.
Amazingly, somebody can actually have success without it hurting someone else.
But linking the success of women with the failure of men makes it seem as if the solution to the problem is to just admit fewer women to college and more men so as to even out the numbers, thus making everything right with the world.
But there’s a telling paragraph in the Yahoo story:
“We think there’s value in having equal numbers,” says Jim Bock, admissions dean at Pennsylvania’s Swarthmore College. Last year, the school admitted more women than men, but it admitted a greater percentage of the male applicants than female. The student body’s male/female breakdown is about 48/52. [emphasis mine]
See what Bock is saying? There’s a smaller pool of men from which to draw. Not admitting well-qualified women so that you can admit the right number of men does nothing to address the underlying problem–that there aren’t enough well-qualified men.
Where Are All The Well-Qualified Men?
Well, I suppose we could just stick our heads up our butts a la Larry Summers and suggest that more women go to college than men because women are just biologically smarter than men.
Problem solved. Men don’t go to college in large numbers because men are just inherently stupid.
Maybe we ought to study some of the ways that stupidity expresses itself–excessive violence, crappy taste in music, high crime rates, etc.,–and then we can feel really smug about things.
The Real Problem
But the real problem has little to do with women, as a group. The real problem is that we, as a whole society–men and women–have really fucked boys over.
How have we done boys wrong?
Here are my votes, in no particular order:
1. Championing a soul-corrupting version of manhood that prizes accumulation of things and the degradation of women–see Hollywood, the glorification of the pimp, much popular music, and video games–without any real attractive alternative versions of manhood.
2. Shrinking recesses*. All kids, but especially boys, need to run around and wrestle and climb things and kick things and burn off energy and come up with shit to do on their own. Shortening recess periods means kids are restless in class.
3. Education, especially elementary education, is still an intellectual ghetto on most university campuses. Can’t hack biology? Flunking out of French? Switch to education. I had a lot of friends who were Education majors who were continually grossed out by the morons in their classes. Well, those morons go on to teach at perpetually shitty schools. To make a broad generalization, boys–like all kids–respond well to challenges. If teachers cannot challenge boys, boys will lose interest. Boys pay a high price for shitty teachers.
4. We drug them up.
This is a tough subject to talk about, and I’m guessing some of you already have your angry comments ready to go. Hear me out. I’m not an idiot. I’m not denying that ADD and ADHD are real disorders and I know for a fact that Ritalin and other drugs help people who really have these disorders.
I also know that it doesn’t take much to get your kid on these drugs. Having two brothers, I’ve seen it work both ways. One brother had a battery of physical and psychological tests and saw a team of doctors and psychiatrists before he was prescribed Ritalin. The other got it after his pediatrician said, “eh, his brother needs it, can’t hurt him.”**
Of course people should get the medicine they need to help them, but how is it possible that we went from almost no one needing these drugs to, in some schools, almost everyone needing them?
Listen, social scientists, I know proximity does not necessarily indicated causality, but isn’t it interesting that when I went to college very few kids were on ADD drugs and the ratio of men to women in college was pretty close to 50/50? And isn’t it curious that, as these drugs became more widely prescribed to boys–as evidenced by the two stages of ease of drug procurement represented by my brothers–the number of boys going to college plummets?
Why might that be?
Let’s go to Huck for the first-hand account:
Did it help me? Depends… It is all a matter of perspective. It improved my ability to code tenfold, and gave me the focal power of a zombie at a Neurology conference. Now I can sit here and code until either the cows come home or the drug wears off. So yes, it helped my ability to do my job, but it destroyed my creativity. My brain could no longer surge from topic to topic at the light-speed pace needed to write something interesting. It is a total 1 to 1 trade off of personalities. I either keep taking the drug and keep my job, and thereby, keep my family healthy and warm, or stop, and throw everything I’ve built for the past 9 years into the trash and be me.
Let’s look at this carefully–not only because it tells us something about how we fuck up boys, but also because it tells us something about what might guide us as we try to decide if drugging someone is appropriate. In Flea’s case, Ritalin seems to have been the answer. Her son is doing better and is happier on it.
In Huck’s case, though, the result is not so clear. Huck clearly enjoys the way his mind works–leaping from idea to idea at lightning speed, drawing connections where others don’t. And for him, the trade-off of being able to concentrate on something he doesn’t like doesn’t always feel particularly worth it***.
Why should we expect other boys to feel any different? If they already feel ambivalent about school, prescribing them a drug that they don’t like the feel of in order to make it possible for them to sit through school is no way to convince them to go further in their education. It doesn’t take a genius to see that, if you have to take a drug you don’t like to go to school, you might not have to take that drug if you don’t continue to go to school.
Problem or Symptom?
The real hard question comes down to whether the declining numbers of boys in college is the problem or if it’s an indication of a larger problem.
I think it’s actually a symptom of two larger problems.
1. Things suck. Hello. Rich getting richer. Poor getting poorer. Jobs going overseas. Doom. Misery. Etc. We can debate all day whether things are as bad as they seem, but, America, things seem very bad to a lot of people. And it doesn’t seem like they’re going to get better.
Is it any surprise that our societal anxiety has manifested itself in the despair of boys? I think not.
2. You sleep in the bed you made****. How long have I been saying that crappy ass attitudes towards women hurt men? As long as any of you have known me. And some of you even have kind of humored me. Well, here you go.
You spend all a boy’s life telling him, “Don’t be a pussy.” “Don’t be a bitch.” “Don’t do that girly shit.” and what does he learn? That his opposite is whatever is female and that he must avoid doing anything that might be perceived as feminine because “being a man” is both the most important thing in the world and, apparently, so very weak and fragile.
And now that girls are doing well in school and going on to college and excelling in even traditionally male-dominated fields, y’all are in quite quandary.
You pretty much need to go to college in order to succeed in life, but girls go to college. Only pussies like and do well in school.
We tell boys over and over to not be pussies. Surprise. They don’t want to do girly shit like learn.
I’d laugh if your bull-headed insistence on never being associated with any of my attributes wasn’t so fucking sad and obviously harmful to yourselves.
* It’s not just recess, but recess kind of stands for something larger about the fact that we don’t really let kids have time to just fuck around any more.
** I should say that both of them sold their Ritalin for pot money, so I can’t really judge which way was “better,” since the end result was the same.
*** Again, my opinion. Hopefully Huck will come by and clarify if I’m misreading him.
**** It was really all I could do to keep from calling this section “Stewing in your own ‘Don’t be a pussy’ juices.” I hope you appreciate my restraint.