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




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.