Posted by: emjb | July 9, 2006

Education and Privilege and Men and Women

Goodness, there are so many questions raised by this article in the NY Times that I can hardly think where to start.

I’ll tell you my take on it, and if you want to comment or email, tell me yours.

The basic gist of the article is that women are enrolling in college and graduating in larger numbers and with greater honors, overall, than men. And this is raising concerns and interest, which I’ll get to.

Questions not raised or addressed by the article are:

1. If women are slightly more than half the population, is it realistic to strive for a 50-50 balance?
2. Is there something a bit, hmm, suspicious about the fact that when men were the majority not so many years ago, no one but feminists were concerned? Could the sudden surge of women be due to pent-up ambition…mothers and fathers suddenly realizing that their daughters have achievement potential?
3. Why are the men who drop out because they play video games all day/don’t study so prevalent…in what ways has society encouraged this low-achieving mindset? And is it true that they will continue to get higher pay than women anyway once they graduate?

The article does pause to give some credence to the “boys just aren’t good at school, it’s unfairly tilted towards girls!” cry that’s been going around for a few years. Which makes so little sense, it’s mind-boggling. The typical school atmosphere we have now was created by men, to teach other men. Women weren’t even allowed in to places like Harvard, or hell, a lot of middle and high schools, for years after they were founded. So how can we be suddenly blaming a “feminized” system when the system is about as masculine in its origins as it’s possible to be? And when (I have to add) the only reason most teachers are women is that teaching is considered some sort of low-status advanced babysitting by the taxpayers, who therefore don’t want to pay anything for it, so most men shy away?

I think one of the female students they interview pretty much nails it:

“The men don’t seem to hustle as much,” Ms. Smyers said. “I think it’s a male entitlement thing. They think they can sit back and relax and when they graduate, they’ll still get a good job. They seem to think that if they have a firm handshake and speak properly, they’ll be fine.”

The question is, who’s right…the men or the women? Will all this achievement still not result in more women Supreme Court justices, CEOs, and an eventual Presidency? I don’t think the patriarchy is that powerful…I think that if you’ve got enough Ivy League women working their tails off, then some of them are going to find their ways into power, and bring their women proteges along too. And that rocks.

I think the article is really only telling half the story. “Men falling behind” is important, sure. But so is “Women surging ahead.” A Renaissance of female achievement is taking place, but instead of celebration we seem to get a lot more head-shaking and hand-wringing about these poor boys who are apparently so spoiled they will waste their parent’s money at college flunking out and playing video games. Excuse me if I’m less than sympathetic. If that was my son, I’d kick his butt, then make him go to work and pay me back. Just as I’d do with a daughter.

You see, I have a son. We don’t have a lot of money, and probably never will. If he wants to achieve things in his life, we won’t be able to hand him an education…he’ll have to work for it. We’ll help, but if he thinks just being a guy is going to ensure him a good job and a good future, it won’t be an idea he gets from us.

I do feel for kids at college who lack direction, who get depressed, who are finding out that the privileges of being male, of being athletic and social and charming, are not enough to survive on anymore. I feel for them only because they’ve been lied to by their peers and their society, and now that women have started to take off their shackles, the field isn’t so artificially tilted in the boys’ favor anymore. But life is like that, and if you don’t want to just hide out in your room forever, you have to deal with the fact that you will have to work for what you want. Work harder than men did when they had all the privileges to themselves.

I would think, if a young man respected and valued himself, he wouldn’t be permanently damaged by this revelation. I would think that a young man of regular intelligence who’s willing to work could still find his way in a world where women compete with him. Where his achievement was real, not based on placing obstacles in womens’ way. He may not be a king anymore, but he could be an equal citizen. If he thought about it, he might even figure that it’s better to be with women who are equals, and therefore maybe less likely to either bleed him dry or just resent his always expecting them to pick up his underwear.

If he thought about it.



  1. I got an electrical engineering degree and the M:F ratio was about 5:1. The ratio in leadership positions, however, (in technical and honors societies) was closer to 1:1. In my opinion, GPA only matters for landing your first job, after that they’re looking at your experience. Also, getting a college education sets you up to be an employee, not a business owner. Rich Dad says the A students end up working for the C students and the B students work for the government.

    For really demanding jobs, the best setup is probably to have one person in a marriage totally dedicated to making the money and the other person running backup – taking care of housework, the kids, keeping track of business contacts, keeping up the social calendar, etc. It probably doesn’t matter so much who does what… but female does have that childbirth and subsequent breastfeeding thing going on and male might have an easier time in the corporate/political world.

    Just my 2 cents.

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