This column appeared in the Dec. 2005-Jan. 2006 issue of The American Spectator. To subscribe, please click here.
On September 23, USA Today published an editorial which should serve as a wake-up call to everyone who cares about American higher education. Pointing to a recent U.S. Department of Education study, the paper noted with alarm that across the country, "135 women receive bachelor's degrees for every 100 men. That gender imbalance will widen in the coming years." As the paper warned, "This is ominous for every parent with a male child. The decline in college attendance means many will needlessly miss out on success in life. The loss of educated workers also means the country will be less able to compete economically. The social implications -- women having a hard time finding equally educated mates -- are already beginning to play out."
USA Today cited some possible culprits for the increasing distaste young men are showing for college, pointing provisionally to our high schools, suggesting that perhaps "female teachers in elementary and middle schools, where male teachers are scarce, naturally enforce a girl-friendly environment that rewards students who can sit quietly -- not a strong point for many boys, who earn poor grades and fall behind." One reader countered that in fact, "schedules, curriculum, social politics and teaching methods have gone overboard to benefit girls" and other officially designated "protected groups" -- which essentially amounts to anyone other than white males.
In subsequent days, letter writers aptly noted that if such an imbalance cut the other way -- if women were turning out to be under-represented at U.S. colleges -- it would result in a national uproar, including presidential fact-finding commissions, multimillion dollar study grants from non-profit foundations, and calls for affirmative action. To no one's surprise, the decline of the male on campus has elicited no such concern -- particularly on the very campuses where it is happening. Indeed, it would be hard to find an environment more hostile to the concerns, preferences, and (in some cases) even the presence of young men than the average secular or post-religious American college.
And that, I would like to suggest, is a big part of the reason that men are leaving them -- dropping out, refusing to enroll, or seeking friendlier habitats such as work on construction sites laying pipe, or the battlefields of Fallujah.
NOW, THERE HAS NOT BEEN (and never will be) a U.S. government-funded study of the effects of classroom feminism, political correctness, and anti-male affirmative action on male American college students. So I do not have the benefit of statistics here. However, I can draw on both personal experience (as someone who pursued, and completed, a Ph.D. in the humanities) and the abundance of anecdotal evidence which comes my way as editor of Choosing the Right College, a guide to over 130 American colleges compiled with information gathered from thousands of faculty members, alumni, and current undergraduates.
In our research, we found many schools with strong curricula and healthy campus life. We also came across many instances of feminism gone amok. Now, "feminism" as practiced on college campuses has nothing to do with equal rights, equal pay, or equal treatment under the law. Such worthy goals have largely been achieved in the West and are no longer controversial. The varieties of feminism that inspire teachers and administrators across America are those inspired by Marxism, which regard women as a "domestic proletariat" engaged in class conflict within the family -- or recondite European cultural theorists such as Monique Wittig, who is famed for such formulations as:
The discourses which particularly oppress all of us, lesbians, women, and homosexual men, are those which take for granted that which founds society, any society, is heterosexuality.
It would be incorrect to say that lesbians associate, make love, live with women, for "woman" has meaning only in heterosexual systems of thought and heterosexual economic systems. Lesbians are not women.
Again and again, we heard reports from students appalled to hear the great thinkers of the West -- from Plato and Socrates to Thomas Jefferson, even Jesus -- dismissed as "Dead White European Males" (DWEMs for short). Spend enough time listening to stuff like that in what you thought was a class in English Lit, and a job at Wal-Mart might begin to seem appealing.
Nearly every elite campus we cover features some sort of "women's center" -- typically dominated by radical feminists or lesbians; at the same time, traditional male preserves such as fraternities are frequently under attack. At Colgate University, where a women's studies professor became president, the school in 2003 decreed that all fraternities had to close and sell their buildings to the college -- to be transformed into "diversity housing" units. Students who did not comply faced expulsion. At several colleges, highly popular male sports have been discontinued in favor of lightly attended activities for women -- in the name of complying with the federal government's intrusive "Title IX" regulation.
At Wesleyan University in Connecticut -- which surely takes the cake as the most "politically correct" school in the U.S. -- students can burn off most of their distributional requirements with courses such as "Rereading Gendered Agency: Black Women's Experience of Slavery," "Questions of Queer Travel," "Problems and Methods in Queer Historiography," and "Multiculturalism and Oppression." The president of Wesleyan is pressuring all its fraternities to become co-ed, while the student government denounces single-sex dorm rooms on the grounds that "gender and biological sex are separate and distinct concepts," which means that students must be free "to define their own gender." The college-sponsored "Queer Resource Center" provides a lending library of gay porn.
IT GETS WORSE AS YOU BURROW DEEPER into academia. I know several highly qualified graduate students who left degree programs in the humanities because of the intense promotion of feminism (enforced by punitive grading) in the classroom. While I persevered and finished my Ph.D. in English, I knew better than to apply for academic jobs; one glance at the panels presented at the annual Modern Language Association (essentially the job-fair for English majors) told me that as a white male I was not welcome. Traditional Western philosophy was dismissed as "phallocentrism"; an entire new discipline, "Queer Theory," was erected to assert the equivalence of same-sex relationships with marriage; panel after panel singled out and discussed female writers, and never male -- unless, lucky things, they happened to be "Queer." The job notices I saw posted were all, to the last flier, adorned with a standard affirmative action notice, always some variant of: This university especially encourages applications from women, African-Americans, Asian Pacific Islanders, and... essentially everyone but me. I knew how to take a hint.
One professor at an ostensibly conservative Southern school who was imprudent enough to criticize campus feminism publicly found himself charged with sexual harassment -- on the grounds that such criticism itself created for women professors "a hostile work environment." This mild-mannered Old English scholar who loved J.R.R. Tolkien was so ostracized and persecuted by his colleagues that eventually he gave up tenure and moved to an ashram in India.
Most American men who enter college will not be driven that far. They will suffer through some tedious classes that trash their values and deride their religious beliefs and patriotism, collect their B+, decide that humanities are only for women and "Queers," and move on. They will face charges that they belong to an "oppressor gender" with a stiff upper lip, and do their best to graduate. What they will not do, unless they are incredibly stubborn and brave, is try to become teachers in the humanities. Even those who entered college with a love for literature, history, or art will likely move on to other disciplines, rather than try to explore and pass along the fragile, immensely valuable traditions of the West, which created our free society -- and which are essential to its survival.
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