By Helen Smith
This is an excerpt from Dr. Smith's new book, "Men on Strike: Why Men Are Boycotting Marriage, Fatherhood and the American Dream-And Why It Matters."
If women were fleeing the nation's universities and colleges, we would have a national uproar, but men are now fleeing in large numbers and society barely notices. Numbers tell the story. Men have been falling behind women for decades. By 2009 National Center for Education statistics for degree-granting institutions listed 11.658 million women enrolled and 8.769 million men. Many predict that women will soon account for 60 percent of our college grads. Public colleges like North Carolina at Chapel Hill and private ones like NYU have almost reached the 60 percent mark already. The University of Vermont in Burlington has so many women that the women jokingly call their college town Girlington. Diane Ravitch, the noted historian of education and a former assistant secretary of education asks: When will it be fair? When women are 60 percent or 75 percent of college enrollments? Perhaps it will be fair when there are no men at all."
Among minorities, the male-female balance is even more skewed. When economist Andrew Sum and his colleagues at the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University looked at gender disparities in the Boston Public Schools, they found that for the class of 2008, among blacks there were 188 females for every 100 males attending a four-year college or university. Among Hispanics the ratio was 233 female for every 100 males. The facts are incontrovertible: young women from low-income neighborhoods in Boston, Los Angeles or Washington, D.C., do much better than the young men from those same neighborhoods. There are now dozens of studies with titles like "The Vanishing Latino Male in Higher Education" and "African-American Males in Education: Endangered or Ignored?"
Males Fading Away
So where are all the men? Media accounts are short on insight and often just insult males, calling them lazy and dumb. Maybe we would be better off if the media and elites weren't so openly pleased that women are outpacing men in college. The college strike didn't happen overnight. It started years ago when the war against boys began after the feminist era. Initially, feminism was presented as being about equal rights between the sexes. Now it is often about revenge and special privileges for women and girls. Christina Hoff Sommers, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and the author of The War Against Boys, argues that feminists and their sycophants have worked hard to turn the educational system into one that favors girls at the expense of boys. Boys are now seen as "defective girls" in need of a major overhaul. Sommers says, "Gender experts at Harvard, Wellesley, and Tufts, and in the major women's organizations, believe that boys and men in our society will remain sexist (and potentially dangerous) unless socialized away from conventional maleness. . . . The belief that boys are being wrongly 'masculinized' is inspiring a movement to 'construct boyhood' in ways that will render boys less competitive, more emotionally expressive, more nurturing--more, in short, like girls."
Girls Have an Advantage
Boys are more at risk than girls in the U.S. educational system. A MetLife study stated, "Girls appear to have an advantage over boys in terms of their future plans, teacher's expectations, everyday experiences at school and interactions in the classroom." Boys are less engaged in school, and less engagement means less success in the classroom; in fact, engagement with school is probably the single most important factor of academic success. Boys are more likely than girls to come to school without supplies and without doing their homework. Why aren't boys more engaged in school? According to Sommers, "schools today tend to be run by women for girls. Classrooms can be hostile environments for boys. They like action, competition and adventure stories. Those are not in favor. Games like tag and dodgeball are out; tug of war has become tug of peace, and male heroes have been replaced by Girl Power." Boys receive lower marks from female teachers, according to research done for the London School of Economics' Centre for Economic Performance.
Some feminist types even say it's fine that older boys and men don't get a college education because they can make it without one. Maybe so for some, but many more will fall in the cracks, getting nowhere in a career.
Let's Feminize the Boys
In an article on the Minding the Campus website, Professor Robert Weissberg explained why so many men are fleeing the campus: "Universities are increasingly becoming feminized and many men, to use the antidiscrimination vocabulary, loathe a hostile working environment. In a word, males increasingly feel emasculated in today's universities."
A commenter named Marcus weighed in on the Minding the Campus article: "As a black male I can testify that this is indeed what is happening on college campuses. White males are at the forefront of the academic sexism but they are definitely coming after all males. Believe it."
Men's activist Glenn Sacks encountered this dynamic first hand at UCLA in the late 1990s, when the hostilities against men were running deep. He summarized his thoughts in a column that highlights the question many men are asking themselves:
I thought of the feminist academics (female and male) who poured their derision upon them, knowing that their students could not effectively fight back. I thought of the timid male professors who were so content with their own careers that they were perfectly willing to allow 18 year-old boys to be beat up on rather than jeopardize their own comfort by speaking out. And I asked myself a question which hundreds of thousands of male college students often ask themselves: "What am I even doing here?"
Free College, But Not Worth It
Many other men ask themselves the same thing in today's anti-male climate. "Michael," a 28-year-old conservative, wrote to me to tell me his story. He went to the University of Florida free as a National Merit Scholar and winner of a Bright Futures Scholarship:
One of my professors was fascinated by me, in the way you might be fascinated by a bizarre animal that you don't understand; at one point, he announced (in front of the rest of the class) that I was surely socially maladjusted because my parents had spanked me when I was a child. At another point, during a dinner near the end of the semester, I made the mistake of mentioning that I planned on purchasing a firearm when I finished with college and got out on my own.
From the wide-eyed looks around the dinner table, you'd have thought I said I eat babies on a regular basis. Needless to say, the professor thought this was further evidence of my maladjustment. I couldn't walk to class without passing at least one group of surly protestors every day. Sometimes more than one. You name it: protesting Taco Bell, protesting Israel, this and that, to the point where I felt like I was besieged on all sides perpetually--and that was even before I got into class for my daily dose of propaganda. Eventually I decided that I couldn't take it anymore. Free was too much to pay for this.
Women's Studies--No Place for a Man
On my blog, I asked about college experiences-- negative or positive--and twenty-five-year-old "Andy" emailed me, saying he attended Wheelock College in Boston, and found the environment hostile: "Once at the school, interactions with the staff got strange. I realized quickly, being a male, how much of a minority at that school I truly was. Wheelock College definitely had a Men=Bad attitude, and it made [my] time there awkward and difficult at times. I only spent a year there."
"John" also emailed in response to my request to write in about his college experiences:
My fiance and I decided to take a class that would be a little less stressful, or so we thought, as an elective. We--and I can't believe I admit to this--took women's and ethnic studies. Just as an aside, I'm a white, blonde male, and she's a white, black-haired woman. The makeup of the class was 75% black, 97% female and 100% bullshit. The one other white male in the class and I learned early on that we were the target of all the animosity being discussed. I did my part and actually argued my voice and against the indoctrination, not getting that this was only digging my grave with the instructor. . . .
A running theme was the concept that since I am not part of a minority I cannot possibly understand what they've gone through, and that because of my being born a white male I was inherently in a privileged position. Another running theme was that minorities can't be racist. I said many times in that class that their theories were ridiculous and offensive. . . .
One female in particular seemed to take my viewpoints personally and began to attack me, both verbally in the classroom, then stalking me on the class's Internet discussion board. I told her and my instructor that this was unacceptable behavior. The instructor did nothing, and the female, an immigrant from Africa via Germany, saw nothing wrong with her behavior. I explained the situation to the dean of the university after months of trying to get in touch with her. I was told it wasn't her call, and that she couldn't do anything about it. When I tried to take a medical absence for something unrelated, the university slapped me with a "needs anger management" class before I was allowed to re-attend, because that same lunatic complained I made her uncomfortable. The only way not to lose is to not play. So I'm out.
Leading a Double Life
"Jeff" wrote in with an interesting observation:
It comes down to one observation. Men must live a double life on campus. To succeed, men must believe one thing but act like they believe another. Manliness wants to compete, to win, to boast, to glory, even to fail honorably against the best. This is disallowed to men on campus. Winners are picked not discovered. It was clear to me; the winners would almost always be females and occasionally males who lived the double life. I left.
Though most of the guys who wrote to me about bailing out of college seemed to go on and do well in life without a college degree, there are many guys out there who aren't doing so well. The skills they needed were not deemed important enough for the school system or culture to address. These are the consequences: when organizations like the American Association of University Women put out research and programs to help girls, they dismiss boys' needs as unimportant. Men who become uninterested or wary about school either don't go, or find that higher education is not a good fit for many males.
Do the experiences of these men represent the norm for young men arriving on campus? In an interview, Christina Hoff Sommers told me: "The moment a young man arrives on the college campus, he is treated as a member of the suspect class. One popular freshman orientation program is called "She Fears You." Next there are "Take Back the Night" marches, performances of the Vagina Monologues--accusatory posters plastered all around the school--and lots of classroom readings--all driving home the point that women are from Venus and men are from Hell. Few classes are mandatory except freshman writing seminars. Unless the student is well-organized (and what boy is?) he will be too late for the reasonable course offerings and end up in a class where he has to read chick victim lit like the Joy Luck Club or Girl Interrupted. A nightmare for many boys."
I originally thought that once educators, legislators, and parents realized that boys were in trouble academically, our schools would try to make classrooms more accommodating to them. That has not happened. Because historically women have been the second sex, and did suffer discrimination, there is now an elaborate and powerful network of private and federal agencies that protect and promote women's interests. Boys do not have a lobby to defend them. Worse, the women's lobby (especially hardline members like the American Association of University Women--AAUW) fights efforts to help boys. Women's groups follow a double standard: When women lag behind men, that is an injustice that must be aggressively targeted. But when men are lagging behind women, that is a triumph of equity to be celebrated. Many men have just decided that they don't belong in college and, consciously or unconsciously, they are going on strike.
Helen Smith is a forensic psychologist in Knoxville, Tennessee who specializes in the problems of violent children and adults. She holds a PhD from the University of Tennessee and masters degrees from The New School for Social Research and the City University of New York. She has written The Scarred Heart: Understanding and Identifying Kids Who Kill, and was writer and executive producer of Six, a documentary about teens who murdered a Tennessee family.
(Photo: Grossmont and Cuyamaca commencement. Credit: GCCCD.)