2010 seems like a particularly interesting time to be reverting to the gender stereotypes that constitute an appropriate v-day “date”. This past weekend, the most sexist round of superbowl commercials I have ever seen aired on national TV, and the overwhelming response was that ‘the recession is hitting men harder than it is hitting women,’ or, even more terrifying, ‘it’s hard to be a man’. Two weeks ago, the NYTimes published a story about the college where I teach (and attend graduate school) titled, The New Math on Campus, a piece whose very premise (that a shortage of men on a college campus is a problem for women) should be cause for alarm.
Let’s take a closer look at this fluffy NYTimes trend piece. First, I just want to say to you, oh New York Times, the paper I was raised to honor and revere, what are you doing with yourself? In the best case scenario, here’s how I think this article was generated: You sent Alex Williams to Chapel Hill to cover something actually newsworthy, perhaps a performance at Memorial Hall or maybe the Basketball team, and then he got snowed in. Desperate for a story, he found himself drinking at “The Deep End,” with a bunch of underage sorority girls who were bitching about the lack of eligible men to date on campus. This is the best case scenario. For the purposes of maintaining the special place you hold in my heart New York Times, I am going to assume that this is what happened. I’m going to assume you didn’t actually think this was a good idea for a story, that this would be good journalism. Right?
Girls are outnumbering boys on college campuses. This is a trend that is not particularly new. You can read David Brooks whining about the state of ‘male education’ in this country back in 2006 here . Every couple of years he writes an article where he argues that boys and girls are different, and have different educational needs. If we don’t want the boys to fall behind, we simply MUST recognize that they learn differently. As Caryl Rivers and Rosalind Barnett so nicely argue here , this ‘boy crisis’ in education is simply a myth. Educational performance varies according to race and class in much more significant ways than it does according to gender. While many college campuses now have gender ratios closer to 55/45 than 50/50, the idea that women are outperforming men simply doesn’t hold. As is well-rehearsed, women and men perform equally up to a certain point. At the highest levels of business, law, education, and medicine, the leadership is overwhelmingly male. The organization of work in this country is such that women (who still perform more of the home-making, child-rearing than their male counterparts) cannot operate at the highest levels in business, unless they can afford to pay someone else to do their domestic work, or choose to remain unencumbered by family.
I have gotten carried away. I have two major gripes with this article. First, it assumes that the only relationships that occur on college campuses are heterosexual, otherwise the ratio of men/women would not be relevant. This refusal to acknowledge the potential glbtqi scene at a school as large of UNC (with close to 18,000 undergraduate students) is simply unforgivable. Second, this article assumes that all women do at the prestigious universities in which they now make up a more significant portion of the student body than men is complain about their dating troubles. This is of course, simply not true. I have no doubt that the UNC women interviewed in this story spend a lot less time thinking about dating than this article implies. Williams notes that “women are primarily in college not because they are looking for men, but because they want to earn a degree” and yet by framing the article the way he does, he participates in the kind of discourse that positions women as primarily motivated by a desire for romance. Williams did not do an exhaustive study of women on college campuses, and it seems that his interviewees are mostly members of sororities who live in single-sex houses. Considering the amount of time these women spend around other women, it is not entirely surprising that they don’t meet a lot of men. Whatever trend Williams has identified here has less to do with ratios of men and women on campus than with changing understandings of courtship in a digital age. Text messaging, Facebook, and Twitter actually ARE changing dating culture on college campuses, but that argument is difficult to make, and would require a thoughtful (and expansive) approach to questions of gender, communication, and courtship.