The “War on Boys” Narrative Is Back. Ugh.

shutterstock_172074812Every year as a new school semester begins, someone writes an ominous article about the fact that more women are graduating from college these days than men.

The latest hand-wringing salvo comes from famed anti-feminist Phyllis Schlafly, and it’s a doozy. Schlafly wrote on World Net Daily earlier this week that not only is this imbalance bad for men, but also for women, since a dearth of males on campus puts a crimp in women’s plans to find husbands, leading them instead to pursue meaningless sex. Schlafly writes:

Anybody who understands human nature realizes that this situation changes behavior. Girls do not want to get left out in the cold, so they compete for men on men’s terms. This results in more casual hookups that are dead-end encounters with no future and no real romantic relationships.

Never mind the fact that the days of going to college to get your MRS are long over. Now that women can pursue careers beyond nursing, teaching and typing, they are taking advantage of the education they need. And when they do get married, it’s usually after they’re done with school. And some studies show that people who marry later in life tend to stay together, which increases social stability.

More outrageously, Schlafly claims this gender ratio is responsible for all the sexual assaults that are suddenly happening on campuses nationwide:

“The imbalance of far more women than men at colleges has been a factor in the various sex scandals that have made news in the last couple of years,” she writes, completely ignoring the fact that the reason there have been so many scandals lately is that victims are no longer keeping quiet about what’s happening to them or letting cagey administrations sweep everything under the rug.

Her solution to this problem? Quotas that favor men, and less financial aid. Iran has been trying the former since 2012, arguing that women don’t need a university education to be wives and mothers. That’s despite the fact that Iran was one of the few countries in the world where the majority of STEM majors were female. It is no accident that the first woman to win the Fields Medal, a prestigious math prize, comes from that country.

Ironically, part of Schlafly’s argument for quotas is about the STEM gender gap in this country, which favors men. She states that since girls tend to score lower on the math portion of the SATs, they are not as well prepared for STEM majors as are boys. This is not untrue, which is why there’s been a big push to get middle and high school girls interested in number professions during the last decade. But in the end, quotas wouldn’t change the STEM gap, it would make it worse.

Schlafly’s argument is part of the larger trend of discussion on the “war on boys” in education, which unfortunately comes, more often than not, with a heaping side of sexism.

Back to gender ratios in colleges, Schlafly is not wrong that female graduates outnumber males, even though The New York Times story she is sourcing appeared five years ago. But a look at the numbers show that it’s a little more complicated than she thinks. A study by the Pew Research Center last year showed that more Asian (83 percent), Latino (62 percent) and African American (57 percent) men enrolled in college in 2012 than they did 20 years ago. Only the rate of white men has remained the same, at 62 percent. So in effect, even after figuring in the white men, the number of men attending college hasn’t shrunk, but grown.

What’s skewing the ratio is that more women are enrolling than ever before, with 76 percent of Latina, 72 percent of white, 86 percent of Asian and 69 percent of African American women going to college in 2012.

That ratio doesn’t apply to top-tier schools. The Ivies showed a much more even ratio in the class of 2018, with some, like Harvard (55 to 45 percent), and Princeton (51 to 48 percent) accepting more men than women.

But at the end of the day, why is the fact that more women are going to college than men such a bad thing? And why should their success be punished by denying them access? Haven’t women fought hard enough for an education, and stepped up when they got the opportunity to get one? Can’t we help the men without hurting the women?

Sadly, part of the argument against having more women in college relies on the notion that they don’t really deserve to be there. Schlafly points out that the better grades girls usually get in school are not necessarily due to smarts, because they consistently score lower on standardized tests than boys.

The insinuation is that girls get good grades mostly because they are better behaved than boys, not because they do better work. It’s a nasty dig, particularly when paired with the fact that the majority of K-12 teachers are women.

These women teachers, critics like Christina Hoff Summers say, are discriminating against naturally rambunctious boys by demanding that they sit still in class. Since girls are, allegedly by nature, much better at being placid, they are rewarded. And worse, this squashing of boys’ natural exuberance—often with prescription drugs—has become more pronounced in the last 20 years, as the women’s movement has gained momentum and feminized the educational system with its dominant female teachers and their insistence on good behavior in class.

But women didn’t build the system. Yes, teaching has been a woman-dominated profession in this country since the 19th century, when Western Expansion allowed educated women to make their own money in a respectable fashion. But the expectation that pupils must sit still and pay attention is not some recent emasculating feminist conspiracy. Since antiquity, teachers have cracked down on pupils who act out in class, only not with Ritalin but with beatings.

The most masculine education systems in this country—military and parochial—have little-to-no tolerance for pupils of either gender acting up in class. Self-control is both valued and expected. Learning to work in a unit, to accept one’s place in the hierarchy, and taking responsibility for one’s actions are seen as crucial to success, as part of being an honorable man.

So why is it that when girls do these things in public school, they are derided as obedient little robots who don’t deserve their grades?

We should be lauding them for working so well within the system that rejected them for so long. What we shouldn’t do is discourage them or punish them because the boys aren’t enrolling in college as much as they are, even if it means their romantic prospects are delayed.

It’s too bad Schlafly can’t get on board with that.

Photo via Shutterstock

ak001002

A.K. Whitney is a journalist with 20 years of experience in print and online. She has written for publications including Paste, Cosmopolitan, XOJane and Bitch, and spent the first years of her career on staff at the Press-Telegram in Long Beach, Calif., where she covered education, health, the arts and food. Follow her on Twitter @AKWhitney.


Comments

  1. catherine maisey says:

    Ms Schlafly’s education is in constitutional law…so until she finds a constitutional amendment banning more women than men going to college, her opinion, and that is what the statement is, her opinion …should be taken with a grain of salt….until Ms Schlafly’s education consists of degrees in human biology, psychology, psychiatry and sociology her really stupid comments about the education of women should be ignored…..

  2. The gap in SAT scores among men and women isn’t even all that statistically significant according to some researchers. Check out this article by Denise Cummins, Ph.D.: “Why the Gender Difference on SAT Math Doesn’t Matter” http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/good-thinking/201403/why-the-gender-difference-sat-math-doesnt-matter

    And men don’t outnumber women in ALL the stem fields: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/good-thinking/201403/are-women-smart-enough-be-engineers

    And lots of studies show the SAT under-predicts how well women do in college (and by the way, women outperform men in college on average). Wonder when universities will realize SATs are a waste of time. This Dartmouth argues that at the end: https://www.dartmouth.edu/~chance/course/student_projects/morgen/node1.html

  3. An excellent article. Something you haven’t considered is that women and other minorities may be choosing to go to college in increasing numbers because of the authority and leverage a university degree garners them in the job market. White men, on the other hand, are often the most economically advantaged, have the most connections, and are automatically viewed as more capable and qualified than women and POC with better educations and more relevant work experiences. This means that they are often able to secure respectable positions (and even work their way up managerial ladders to surprisingly high positions) without any higher education. This would also explain why the percentage of white men attending university has remained the same: despite all the complaining about affirmative action, their privilege in the job market and workplace hasn’t changed. Charismatic white men who become incredibly successful CEOs, CFOs, and entrepreneurs are universally respected, while women who reach positions of power without relevant advanced degrees are automatically seen as unqualified and suspected of nepotism and “sleeping their way to the top.” Just something else to think about.

  4. Goodness, I thought Ms. Schlafly was through fussing at us for everything in the world. I stopped listening to her years ago, and I agree with Catherine, “her really stupid comments … should be ignored.”

  5. The core message of this article: any area that men are disadvantaged is the fault of the choices men make and any area that women are disadvantaged is the fault of… men by discriminating against women.

    You’re making the same arguments that the right has been making against quotas for years now that someone points out that men aren’t as advantaged as we are all told. The irony is beautiful. I think this says it all:

    “But at the end of the day, why is the fact that more women are going to college than men such a bad thing? And why should their success be punished by denying them access? Haven’t women fought hard enough for an education, and stepped up when they got the opportunity to get one? Can’t we help the men without hurting the women?”

    Switch the genders and you have the textbook conservative case against quotas. Again, irony anyone?

  6. Sarah LaRae Godwin says:

    I cannot believe that this woman is still living as she seemed old to me forty-one (41) years ago! What does she get out of putting WOMEN down, helping to defeat THE EQUAL RIGHTS AMENDMENT, and now this antiquated thinking ABOUT more women GOING to college than men, and instead of praising WOMEN for coming this far , she says that the educational system favors female because they behave better in class ??!! She must just want to make a name for herself and probably earns her points with sexist men and gets a better job and more money. Otherwise, I CANNOT figure out why someone would be so downright mean and hateful!! I will pray for her as she badly needs it!!

  7. Codi Johnson says:

    The fact that women have made gains has what exactly to do with men NOT making gains? Nothing, absolutely nothing is preventing boys from excelling at school. Except maybe they wish to follow pop culture representations of masculinity where it’s so much cooler to wear cool clothes, hang women on your arms, and be a bad ass. Not realistic for most boys, but certainly ends up keeping one from thinking that education is important and should be one’s primary focus when young.

  8. I can’t believe she is still around.

  9. Thanks for a great piece.

  10. Schlafly believes that having more women than men on campus is the reason for all the sexual assaults? Doesn’t she have it backwards? By her reasoning, with fewer men on campus, there would be no need to use force because all these desperate husband-hunting women would be competing to throw themselves at the men that are there.

  11. I often wonder what century Ms. Schlafly is mentally living in; the 20th or even the 19th. She certainly doesn’t appear to be living in the 21st century. If she were, she would have noticed that generally speaking, women don’t go to college to snare a good husband any more. They go to college to get a good education, which they later use to get well-paying jobs. Didn’t Ms. Schlafly go to college herself, at some point?

  12. More women than men graduating from college is a broad statistic. I think that the rise in online classes may account for some of the graduation trends. The Ivy league schools, as noted, have a somewhat even ratio. They are a traditional model of education that does not apply to older, working women. As an adjunct teacher for a few online colleges, I see the advantages of an online education for a single, working mother. I think online school graduates are skewing the statistics. Good for them!

  13. None ya says:

    Wow reading these comments are really eye-opening on how close minded you feminists really are. Dr. Sommers was peacefully writing about boys are falling behind in school and you women attack her for it. How is that fair? Is feminism about equality or female domination? The way you women represent it seems like all you want to is discriminate against men. In this article A.K. Whitley states that its not a bad thing women are in front of men in school, but what if it was flipped? What if men were doing better than women school? You ladies would flip. Dr. Sommers its not “living in the 18th or 19th century” she is simply stating that it is a problem. You cannot say that boys don’t think and act differently than girls. Everyone is unique and you cannot demonize boys because of their gender. That’s just a heaping load of sexism. Disgraceful.

  14. “But women didn’t build the system. Yes, teaching has been a woman-dominated profession in this country since the 19th century, when Western Expansion allowed educated women to make their own money in a respectable fashion. “…..
    Please state the full context of Ms Hoffs statements upon which you are commenting your above statements. Ms. Hoff clearly proves that more and more schools are discouraging behviour which is considered more boyish and rewarding behaviour which is more girlish. For eg. boys are lamented and send home from school because they wear a fighter jet t-shirt where as girls are more than allowed to wear whatever they want. Nobody will stand up for a guy if a female teacher throws out a guy with a fighter jet t-shirt, but everyone will support a girl if she is ousted by a male teacher for wearing a short skirt.
    Also a lot of material is geared towards girls, for example, for a reading class instead of judging on HOW one reads, students are judged on WHAT they read. As a result the women teacher give more marks to girls who read more emotional books, because of the content of the book rather than how the content is interpreted. They also dont allow boys to read more of action and science fiction books, or if they allow to read then they already have a negative connotation about that book and therefore are in the default state of disliking the book and hence giving less marks to boys, just becasue they dont like the content boys read.

    ‘But the expectation that pupils must sit still and pay attention is not some recent emasculating feminist conspiracy. Since antiquity, teachers have cracked down on pupils who act out in class, only not with Ritalin but with beatings.
    The most masculine education systems in this country—military and parochial—have little-to-no tolerance for pupils of either gender acting up in class. Self-control is both valued and expected. Learning to work in a unit, to accept one’s place in the hierarchy, and taking responsibility for one’s actions are seen as crucial to success, as part of being an honorable man.”

    Those ‘beatings’ had a temporary effect rather than Ritalin which has permanent effect. Boys (and girls who act out alike) act out because of the extra energy they have. Beatings were never so severe to completely strip them off this behaviour as opposed to Ritalin. What happens here is that a girl’s quite demeanor is considered as the ideal behaviour of the class. It is considered as a norm which everyone has to follow. Couple that with the cut in recess time, and boys don’t have any avenues to release energy. Then even in sports today there are a lot of restrictions so that it doesn’t hurt the feelings of those who are bad at sports. Imagine what is the fault of a a good ball player if some other kid sucks….If you think it isn’t the girl’s fault that boys are laggin behind in studies and therefore she shouldn’t apologize or change any of the things she does that make her successful, then why do you want that the ball player(the boy) to play in such a manner that others feelings aren’t hurt?…Isn’t this double standards…
    So..
    1) The schools are now standardizing a quite girls behaviour as the norm/standard behaviour.
    2) They are taking away areas of avenues for boys to release energy.
    3) They are making education geared more towards what is considered traditionally girly, and discouraging activities which boys like, discouraging action and science fiction books and plays in schools,playing less sports, not keeping scores, and hence diminishing the competitive spirit, and always being apologetic to girls, always being taught about what/how a real boy/man should behave (and it is more often than not, modeled on how the girl in the class behaves).

    The truth is earlier schools were geared more towards boys, hence boys excelled, now schools are geared more towards girls so girls are excelling. In the name of equality, the balance of power has been shifted to women. We are all humans and it is human nature to long for more power. The reason why todays men hate feminism is that in the guise if equality they want to encroach every thing which has a labe ‘boy’ somehwere. Thats why there are more remakes of women starring in erstwhile male dominated movie series (example ghostbuster 2016 and the new star wars), rather than creating something of their own(example Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, REsident Evil Series, and Kill Bill amongst many).

    As for the military thing, the discipline there required there is totally for different reasons than the reasons of discipline requirements in shcools. Military personnel are trained to be disciplined because they will need that handy discipline in war times, something civilian school boys aren’t going to face. Also in military they spend a lot of physical energy so therefore the reasons of acting out are different from the ones in any normal school, hence the comparison of normal school indiscipline with military discipline is not right.

  15. Reading this article and reading these comments makes me feel shame for being a women. If the rolls were reversed for this articles feminists would be freaking out. If the education system is masculine but there are more women in the system than why haven’t they done anything to change it?! If they plan to is it only going to carter girls or will cater for both sexes? Why shouldn’t we have girls and boys on the same page? There been more violence, terrorism,rapes and mental illness around the world because there is a lack of education for boys ( yes girls to but largely boys). When your closed minded you leave no space for growth. We should as a society raise girls and boys equally. Not get all mad because you don’t like the idea of help boys. If you have a son don’t you want the best for him? Don’t you want him to have the best education and the best life possible ? Why would you want to bring him down because he was born a boy? This article is sexist towards boys, yes I said sexist. This sounds like women domination but weren’t we fighting for EQUAL rights not domination? Tell me this, why is it that girls have more charities, groups, activists for them compare to boys. I read a story a while back ago that a school open a group for underprivileged boys to go to for support. They did things like reading, building things etc but when a feminist group heard wind of it they got it close down. Now image if that was a group for girls, you wouldn’t stand for it. But you will let it happen to boys. So it’s okay to hurt boys than? I don’t think so and I hope you don’t think so too. Maybe you should reread those articles with a open mind not feel like your being attacked.

  16. Given some of the comments here, women, specifically American women are the perpetual victims. Never taking responsibility for the consequences and repercussions for their own choices. Which is why an American woman will not be elected President any time soon.

  17. The beneficiaries of systemic sexism are in a very poor position to see the situation for what it really is.

    The privileged are blind to their own privilege.

  18. Chance Choop says:

    This article is not asking itself the opposing argument.

    What it really boils down to is the way conflict and pain is dealt with in the school yard.
    When a girl is hurt it is a big deal, but boys are expected to be hurt.
    I’ve witnessed this in my own family. That the child who is raised by women and neglected by the men for whatever reason. The child doesn’t know how to cope with the expectations of manliness later in life. Even decades down the road.

    Secondly, i wouldnt say it was wrong for women to enter college.
    I would just infer that the temperments of women push for these radical movements of identity politics.

    If anything men and women are not the same. We complete each other rather than destroy each other. And there will never not be differences, even within families.

    Better to work on yourself, know your own faults and be better.

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