This is a comment by Alastair on the post “Why Do Men Need Male-Only Groups on Campus?“
Some points on men and women in higher education.
First, we should distinguish between the position of male students on campus and the place of male students in university. My impression is that the sort of issues that male students as a group might face on campus are fairly minor compared to those faced by female students. This is not to deny that there are issues that affect male students, or that these issues are worthy of attention, but just to point out that men, while a minority, are very, very far from being a persecuted one.
Second, the situation really varies from field to field and at different stages of education (here is a helpful diagram of PhDs awarded by gender for each subject in 2009 in the US). Male students really have the advantage in many disciplines. In the diagram I just linked, it can be seen that woman really dominate in the social sciences, education, and in language and literature. However, in engineering and the hard sciences, men represent the vast majority of doctorates. Only 37% subjects have a gender ratio of 2:3 or closer to parity. In short, while the overall number of PhDs awarded in the US may be close to gender parity, further education has quite pronounced gender polarities for particular disciplines.
Third, not all disciplines are equal when it comes to career opportunities, prestige, or future remuneration. Levels of funding will also differ from discipline to discipline. On each of these fronts, male-dominated disciplines tend to do considerably better than female-dominated disciplines. Even with women-friendly hiring policies, men will typically find it easier to get tenure track jobs and are considerably less likely to have to sacrifice having a family for an academic career. Even within fields, women often predominate in the less prestigious sub-disciplines.
Fourth, men typically dominate highest faculty positions and at the top of fields. Men are much more likely to experience career success in academia.
Fifth, when we look at the figures relative to particular points in education, it might become clearer that males actually aren’t doing all that badly in higher education at all. While about 33% more women than men may enter higher education in the US, slightly more men are receiving doctorates, and the gender difference becomes even more pronounced after that point in men’s favour. This would seem to suggest that men may even be thriving.
It would also suggest that the real problem for males doesn’t seem to lie in higher education, but in secondary and primary education. I could suggest a number of reasons for why males seem to outperform females at the top levels of education, but underperform at the lower levels. Here are a few:
1. The fact that higher education favours a different style of intelligence and learning from lower levels of education, privileging assertive, vocal, challenging, independent-minded, confident, combative, disputational, creative, and risk-taking thinkers, rather than thinkers who conform to set expectations and demands. These character traits are more common among males and, while often stifled or under-appreciated in lower levels of education come into their own at the highest levels of education.
2. The fact that most teachers at lower levels are female, while faculties in higher education are dominated by males.
3. The fact that primary and secondary education are typically non-competitive, egalitarian, conformist, inclusive, highly sensitive, communal, non-physical, quiet and sedentary, non-confrontational, affirming, and are test and grade-oriented. This doesn’t exactly play to boys’ strengths and tends to lead to the stigmatization of many male traits.
3. The fact that the male population has a greater level of variance than the female population. As a result, men are more likely to dominate at the top and at the bottom. In the lower levels of education, the greater level of male variance will lead to a greater number of boys failing. However, as the cream of the cream is only selected in the very highest levels, it is here that the other side of the greater male variance will come into its own.
4. The kicking in of the differences resulting from women’s motivations, choices, and self-investments in light of marriage, pregnancy, and child-rearing.
5. The lower motivation for women to assume the greater personal and professional costs and risks associated with pursuing a career in academia.
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