Thursday, May 22, 2008

Real Life Affirmative Action for Boys

Time magazine had an interesting editorial recently regarding the "gender gap" in college education. In it, the author discusses how as the numbers of women entering college has outpaced the numbers of men, colleges have begun admitting less qualified men over more qualified women.

How this situation gets spun in the media will be interesting to watch. Will those opposed to affirmative action (for minorities) support such affirmative action for men? Interestingly, I have a hunch that at least some of those who oppose affirmative action for women and minorities are in favor of affirmative action for men on theory that some alleged "war on boys" is occurring.

And similarly, will those in favor of affirmative action (for minorities) support affirmative action for boys?

Historically, affirmative action has been used to redress the effects of past discrimination. As the general class of males (as opposed to specific classes such as African-American males) has not been subject to past discrimination, the justification for admitting less-qualified men over more-qualified women must come from somewhere else. For instance, the Time article alludes that the justification for affirmative action for boys rests in the need for "gender balance" on college campuses. While I strongly believe that the purpose of anti-feminism is to justify affirmative-action-like ideas for men, here we have an acknowledged program that grants preferences to boys using some other justification that does not involve telling us how women are less "fit" for education than men are.

In light of this program granting preferences to less-qualified males, it's really very tempting to argue, riffing off of misogynist Vox Day's anti-Title IX tirade, that admitting unqualified boys to colleges in the interest of this fluffy thing called "gender balance" may very well lead to the total and utter destruction of our society!

But alas, such a claim would be a "bit" hyperbolic. All this affirmative action program for boys really means is that less-qualified boys will be given a step up while more-qualified girls will have to go to less prestigious schools or forego college altogether. Although that won't have dire consequences for society as a whole, I find this affirmative action program unsettling in light of the fact that men continue to dominate leadership roles in virtually every social institution and are, arguably, better paid for the same work. When it comes down to it, doesn't real life begin after college?

As Kim Gandy for the National Organization for Women puts it:

"It's true that more women than men are enrolled in four-year colleges, but they're still outnumbered at Ivy League schools. And because the average woman with a bachelor's degree makes about the same as a man with only a little college, the degree starts to look like an economic necessity for women."

Second, take a look around. Are we in danger of women taking over society? Only a handful of women are Fortune 500 CEOs. Of 535 members of Congress, just 84 are women. Women working full-time make only 77 cents to a man's dollar. When NOW was founded in 1966, it was 58 cents. Forty years later, we have closed the wage gap by less than half.

With odds like these, it's no wonder more women are earning degrees. After all, education is about building skills, developing knowledge and gaining credentials that allow you to compete in the working world — a world still dominated by men."

For those who are so concerned about this emerging "boy crisis" in higher education, I can only ask where is the "concern" about the concurrent "girl crisis" in equal pay and leadership positions? It is odd, but not surprising, to me that girls and women have been fighting for equal rights in education and the public sphere for hundreds of years and yet at the merest hint of a "boy crisis" in education steps are immediately taken to save the males.

Don't get me wrong. If there are structural reasons why boys fail to attend college in the same numbers as girls, those reasons should be addressed and rectified. But in light of the fact that most women need a college degree just to break even with the earnings of a man who has no college degree, affirmative action for boys is troubling. For, the end result of affirmative action programs for boys, whether based in genuine concern for boys or in some anti-feminist theory, is the same: Fewer women in higher education means fewer people that less-qualified men have to compete against once they get out in the real world.

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