The Nation's Pulse

Where the Boys Aren’t

Girls can be anything these days, but what about boys?

By 2.23.12

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Last week I happened to be attending a conference at a Midwestern medical school. Everywhere one looked there were smartly dressed female students. Many were of Asian descent, naturally, but not all. Every so often I came across a young man skulking across campus, but the males were made all the more conspicuous by their scarcity. I made a point of peeking into a few of the auditorium-sized classrooms. Again, a sea of young women.

Now perhaps the males were having a mass skip day, or it could be that like a lot of men I tend to filter out the guys and tend only to notice the young gals. (Unlikely though, since I only have eyes for my beautiful wife.) Medical school enrollment figures show that females account for half of all students, though the distaff portion continues to rise. This parity, however, is only possible due to the Herculean efforts of admissions representatives. These days schools of higher learning are cautious not to accept too many female students. This particular school, like so many others, goes out of its way to attract male students in order to avoid the tipping point after which a college becomes known as a "girls" school, at which point even fewer males apply.

Eventually medical schools may decide it is no longer worth the effort, that there are plenty of excellent female candidates, and they need no longer worry about attracting males. Nor need they worry that an entire profession will be regarded as women's work. What will it matter if most, if not all, our doctors and lawyers, like nearly all of our nurses, reporters, veterinarians, etc., are women?

I THINK IT WILL MATTER. Civilization needs smart boys more than it needs smart girls. Uneducated, uncivilized boys pose more of a risk to society. Civilization requires gentlemen, who by that very definition "never inflict pain." Anyway, there is no reason boys should be falling behind girls in either higher education or in the professions. By every standard boys and girls are evenly bright. (While boys do better in math and girls in languages, it all evens out in the end.) What then explains the disparity?

Theories abound. Among them that schools offer too many girly-girl subjects (literature, grammar, music); that boys are easily distracted and grow impatient with being seated for long periods; that boys are told that studying and doing well in school is "for sissies"; and that boys prefer to begin working and earning as soon as possible. Girls, meanwhile, are more studious, and more suited for "indoor" jobs. Most important, middle class girls are no longer getting married and having children in their early twenties, which leaves them open to graduate studies.

But I suspect another factor is at work here. Unlike in times past, girls -- at least middle class girls -- are repeatedly told (by parents, teachers, society) that they can be whatever they want to be. Girls do not have to "settle" for such occupations as teachers, nurses, or stay-at-home moms, the only options available to smart girls a half century ago. More, in these post-feminist days the stigma of being considered a "smart girl" has largely disappeared. Girls can indeed be anything they desire, from U.S. Senator to patent lawyer.

Boys, who often lack the studiousness of girls, present more of a problem. When my friend and his wife had their baby daughter he was happy to proclaim to the world that she would be a doctor. Their next child was the long -awaited son and heir. "Look at him," my friend announced proudly. "He's going to be a linebacker!" From birth, he groomed his son to be a football player. As far as I could tell, there was never any talk in the home of the young boy being a doctor or an engineer or even a lawyer. Mind you, this is a middle class family, living in a suburban enclave of lawyers, MBAs, veterinarians, etc., and not a poor single-parent household where the idea of graduate school seems an impossible dream, and a million-to-one professional sports contract seems like good odds.

Multiply this by a thousand children and you have what I witnessed on the medical school campus the other day.

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About the Author
Christopher Orlet writes from St. Louis.