Saturday, April 24, 2010

Dealing with the "gender gap": Do we need affirmative action for men?

Although recent reports show that the gender gap is leveling off, women still outnumber men in college 57% to 43%.
Richard Whitmire, author of Why Boys Fail, speculates on the social implications of failing to deal with the “gender-gap”:
“The marriageable-mate dilemma, whether white women decide to "marry down" to less-educated males, will be a long-term impact of these gender gaps, and probably the biggest impact. Black women have long faced the marriageable-mate dilemma, and college-educated black women have low marriage rates and high out-of-wedlock birth rates. The question is whether more white women will start making similar choices.”
Sounds like if we don't do something about this soon, we could face serious repercussions.
What is the root of the gender gap? Why are girls attending college at such higher rates than boys?

Whitmire says, “the reforms launched by the nation's governors more than 20 years ago to get more students college-ready had an unintended consequence: Most girls adjusted nicely to the intensified verbal skills demanded in the early grades; most boys didn't.

Lionel Tiger and his Foundation for Male Studies blame feminism, “a well-meaning, highly successful, very colorful denigration of maleness as a force, as a phenomenon.”

Christina Hoff Sommers, author of The War Against Boys: How Misguided Feminism is Harming Our Young Men, writes, “It's a bad time to be a boy in America... Boys are less likely than girls to go to college or do their homework.” Hoff Sommers goes on to paint a bleak view of the future: “There have always been societies that favored boys over girls...Ours may be the first to deliberately throw the gender switch. If we continue on our present course, boys will, indeed, be tomorrow's second sex."

So is the hype deserved? Should we fear a future in which women dominate men and relegate them to the status of a “second sex?”

Well, before answering this question, let me quote one more educational theorist. G. Stanley Hall, former president of Clark University, and a vocal opponent of coed education, was “deeply distressed by the evils… of a rising divorce rate, a declining birth rate… and the appearance of feminized men.” Hall seems to confirm Whitmire's, Tiger's and Hoff Sommer's fears.

Hall was also concerned with the fact that women outnumbered men at some large state universities including California, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, and Washington. He suggested that educational reforms could solve the problems caused by too many women going to college and the social forces “feminizing” men.

Of course, Hall was writing in 1907.

Let me repeat that. Women first began to outnumber men at large state universities in 1907. The ratio began to favor men again during the forties and fifties (perhaps due to the passage of the G.I bill.) Starting during the sixties, the ratio began swinging back towards women.

What I find so fascinating is that the fears about the dangers of female education and the social implications of female achievement have not changed in over a hundred years. Just as Hall did a hundred years ago,Whitmire fears the effects of the gender gap on the institution of marriage. Just like Hall did a hundred years ago, Sommers fears “male-averse attitudes” and the political incorrectness of masculinity.

How long are we going to use the rhetoric “reverse oppression” as an excuse to keep down the educational achievement of women?

You can read more about the ideas of G. Stanley Hall and his proposals for educational reform in Maxine Seller’s “G. Stanley Hall and Edward Thorndike on the Education of Women: Theory and Policy in the Progressive era” (it is interesting throughout, but unfortunately not available to the general public).


  1. Aside from whether declining social status of men is something to embrace or fear, I question the assertion of how successful feminism has been at demonizing or denegrating maleness. I propose as the counter-evidence to the females in college statistics three arenas of life in which maleness/masculinity are doing fine and are admired in our culture. 1. Politics - sure there are more female members of Congress than there were in 1907, but you could make a good argument that for a woman to be successful in politics she needs to minimize her femininity. 2. Sports - despite the WNBA's efforts, the most admired people in sports are men and the most viewed sports are those tailored to male physical attributes. 3. Media - look at the number of movies with lead by a typical male figure, the number of video games appealing to traditionally male interests, and the fact that the most coveted demographic in marketing is males 18-24 (which implies another thing about men and that is their economic power/willingness to spend money).

  2. What is the "femininity" that women in politics need to minimize?