Monday, July 10, 2006

Women are excelling in college. This is a crisis?

By Nancy Jane Moore

The New York Times reports that women are excelling in college. Not only are more women than men going to college, more women than men are finishing their degrees and graduating with honors.

Cause for celebration, right? Wrong: The Times considers it a crisis. "[M]en now make up only 42 percent of the nation's college students," the story says.

Only 42 percent? Funny, anytime you read that women make up 42 percent of some field or activity, it's trumpeted as a great advance. But if men drop back to that percentage, it's a problem.

The second article in the series (which The Times calls "The New Gender Divide") brings up a more disturbing trend: Small colleges -- especially ones that were formerly all women -- are starting football programs to attract male students. According to the article, establishing a football program -- even one without scholarships -- attracts more students than setting up a new field of study.

That probably doesn't surprise Mariah Burton Nelson, author of The Stronger Women Get, the More Men Love Football, which was reissued in an updated version in 2005. Football -- a sport in which "girl" is used to insult players who perform badly -- reinforces male dominance in our culture, Nelson says.

After all, it's not as if men aren't still running things: Fortune reported this year that women make up 2.1 percent of CEOs in the Fortune 1000. There are 14 women in the Senate (out of 100 senators), the most we've ever had. We've actually got 70 female representatives in the House -- out of 435 members.

At the U.S. Naval Academy, women now make up 22.4 percent of the class of 2010, and that's viewed as progress, according to a report in Sunday's Washington Post. Of course, the article goes on to point out that 59 percent of female students report sexual harassment problems and 93 percent have complained of sexist behavior.

And The Times manages to just barely mention that women still aren't making much of a dint in engineering programs -- 20 percent of engineering students are female, according to the National Academy of Engineering, and only 9 percent of engineers are women.

Women aren't even ending up in tenure track professor jobs in proportion to their graduation rates, according to the National Science Foundation. Legal publications frequently report on the dearth of women in partner jobs in law firms, such as this report on By the way, women make up at least 50 percent of law students these days.

In its eagerness to worry about whether women are taking over the world, The Times buried a much more disturbing issue: the effect of class and race on academic performance. To quote from The Times article:
When it comes to earning bachelor's degrees, the gender gap is smaller than the gap between whites and blacks or Hispanics, federal data shows.

All of this has helped set off intense debate over whether these trends show a worrisome achievement gap between men and women or whether the concern should instead be directed toward the educational difficulties of poor boys, black, white or Hispanic.

"Over all, the differences between blacks and whites, rich and poor, dwarf the differences between men and women within any particular group," says Jacqueline King, a researcher for the American Council on Education's Center for Policy Analysis and the author of the forthcoming report.
But scaring men by saying "the women are coming" is much easier than tackling the thorny problems of class and race in a society that is supposed to be classless and that presumably solved racial discrimination in the 1960s.

If you combine the headline with the last paragraph of The Times story -- as likes to do -- you get a more accurate picture of gender issues in the US:
At Colleges, Women Are Leaving Men in the Dust:
"I think men do better out in the world because they care more about the power, the status, the C.E.O. job," Mr. Kohn said. "And maybe society holds men a little higher."
I tell you what: I'm going to start worrying about whether men are being left behind when there are 8 female justices on the Supreme Court and a billion people tune in to watch the Women's World Cup.

1 comment:

GreenSmile said...

Taking the mere statistics and ignoring all the bizarre handwringing, I think it casts a very harsh light on the history of higher education...centuries old and encrusted with traditiions, first of which was No Girls Allowed. It shows what a tragic and monumental waste of talent and lives western ways have been [unless someone can prove that women suddenly evolved their own academic skills this past decade].