Are you ready to ‘challenge man box culture?’ asks the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh’s Women’s Center. Or maybe that special man in your life suffers from ‘privilege’ and needs rehab through Brown University’s Masculinity Peer Education program.
But what about young men looking for meaningful, non-confrontational connections on campus? That scene is awfully dry. While groups like Women in STEM and Women in Business boost female students’ confidence by treating them as capable and competent professionals, college-aged men are often left with little to give their lives direction.
Don’t expect these trends to change anytime soon either. According to the Wall Street Journal, women now make up nearly 60 percent of the college population, an all-time high. While feminists might celebrate the fact that women, who once faced barriers to getting an education, are now comfortably positioned to take high-paying jobs and thus close the much derided ‘gender pay gap,’ anyone raising a son ought to be concerned.
These days, men who attend college enter the lioness’s den. From orientation to graduation, they are likely to hear that masculinity is toxic and must be suppressed. ‘Smashing the patriarchy’ is all the rage. And if that weren’t enough, men are inundated with the ubiquitous refrain ‘the future is female.’ Yet if that’s the case, why would a young man even try to succeed on campus — or even matriculate at all? Are the odds not stacked against him from day one? And what will his place be in a radically feminized future?
While men and women alike are encouraged to engage in hook-up culture, it’s men who end up paying the price when things don’t go well. Personal accountability is important. But as Title IX is increasingly used to retaliate against men, it has cheapened the trust of a system that should take actual instances of rape, harassment, and sexual assault seriously. Furthermore, as the National Association of Scholars discussed in a 2020 report, ‘Dear Colleague,’ Title IX officials appear more interested in revenge than offering men (and women) examples of healthy masculinity.
The decline in masculinity starts even before students pass through the ivory gates. Right from childhood, boys are at a disadvantage with the prevalence of single parenting in lower- and middle-class families. Between 1979 and 2018, the proportion of children raised by two married parents in a lower-class family decreased from 44 percent to 35 percent. Middle-class families also experienced a decline from 86 percent to 75 percent during this period. And while all children are prone to negative effects from divorce, boys are at a distinct disadvantage because most single parents are female. Dad is either forced out or he simply leaves. Boys who grow up without fathers are more likely to experience behavior issues and poorer educational results.
But these facts find little air in gender studies courses or in the lungs of their now-administrator graduates. Instead the dismantling of the ‘nuclear family’ is celebrated. Besides, the presence of a Y chromosome is an inherent marker of life-long privilege — so who cares if the parents are around?
Men hold off discussions about college as an overly feminized K-12 education system chips away at their interest in higher learning. But if grades and procrastination don’t hold them back, the costs surely will. The costs of college have more than doubled since 1980. Students today can expect to pay anywhere between $25,000 to $50,000 a year. Young men may want to avoid paying off student loans for 20 years, instead choosing to pursue paid apprenticeships in lucrative trades. Six-figure debt to endure four years of misandrist lectures, or six-figure earnings within four years in a field of your choice? Which is more appealing?
The success of one sex shouldn’t have to come at the expense of the other. Why not offer more opportunities for men to exhibit the best of masculinity?
We could encourage boys to pursue careers catered to their interests that require a college education, such as a Men in STEM initiative in K-12 schools. (There are some organizations that already do this, but most are specifically targeted to boys of color. What about the others who fall through the cracks?) We already know that men gravitate toward these fields, so let’s capitalize on their natural interests and support programs targeted to make happy and flourishing men. Such an initiative kills two birds with one stone — it bridges the STEM achievement gap among Americans and improves outcomes for American boys.
At the collegiate level, we should get rid of extremely anachronistic sex-based affirmative action policies. Women have outnumbered men at universities since the 1980s, yet higher education continues to give preferential treatment to women.
Let’s not leave our future fathers, brothers, and sons weak, uninspired, and directionless. Let’s work to ensure they can attend college and flourish there, or otherwise find a useful skill at vocational schools without turning to beer bongs and tailgates in order to start successful careers.
Neetu Arnold is a senior research associate at the National Association of Scholars and author of Priced Out: What College Costs America. Chance Layton is the communications director at the National Association of Scholars.