Are universities still "where the boys are"? Less so than ever it seems.
According to Professor Mark J. Perry, using data from the US Department of Education: "Women dominate men at every level of higher education, in terms of degrees conferred." The percentage level of males to females overall in universities seems to be about 60/40, and in general, the percentage of women entering universities seems to be increasing, while that of men entering universities seems to be decreasing. "Of the more than 3 million college degrees for the Class of 2009, women will earn close to 60% of those degrees (1,849,200), or almost 149 degrees for every 100 degrees earned by men."
I've now been working at a giant state university for five years, and I've seen basically the same student body composition. In general, there seem to be more girls coming in, and less of them dropping out. I'm not keen on speculating about why this is the case. I've heard a lot of people speculate about this and often their speculations are pretty fucking stupid, as you'll note reading through the comments on Perry's post. So, it seems to me that the subject might just work against intelligent commentary.
However... I would like to analyze the explanation I've heard most often: that schooling is now, institutionally, anti-male. The argument goes that boys are, by nature, more hyperactive, fidgety, disruptive, or even rude. Instead of letting them be themselves, schools try to "feminize" boys by forcing them to behave in specific ways: making them be quiet, not allowing them to talk out of turn, requiring them to be polite, and so forth, that are simply unnatural. And, by trying to force them to conform, they alienate these boys, who then drop out. This is all, incidentally, taken to be a new development, and is often tied to "therapeutic education" or "liberalism" in some sense.
It's actually a very Rousseaunean argument. If you read Rousseau's Emile, you'll find that he agreed that education should basically consist of allowing the student to follow his natural gifts and doing as little as possible to discipline him. He focused, incidentally, only on male education here. But, the liberal argument that discipline warps us instead of elevating us begins with Rousseau. Also the idea that it's better to be natural than unnatural.
So, indeed, by the time you get to the 1960s, you hear a sort of knee-jerk anti-authority argument in which teachers, judges, cops, doctors, et cetera are simply people who exercise power over others to maintain the establishment, and therefore all critiques of those figures are somehow valid. The kid who mouths off to their teacher is simply, "speaking truth to power". I'd suggest that this argument, which derives from Rousseau, is one that more of us would be familiar with.
While boys like Jerry Rubin or the beat writers did sometimes seem to see themselves as being akin to the Marx brothers hassling poor Margaret Dumont, I don't remember the argument being so gender-specific. The current argument seems to be that the system forces boys, and not girls, to conform to a standard that is uniquely "unnatural" for them. So, is the suggestion that young men should be allowed or encouraged to speak male truth to feminine power? Or that schools should back off when boys are behaving in whatever way feels natural to them? It implies a very 60s liberal sort of argument with a mildly conservative slant. We can save the males by rejecting authority.
I went to high school back in the 80s, so maybe this supposed feminization had already occurred; but it's hard for me to imagine the golden age in which young boys were allowed, or even encouraged to mouth off to their teachers or run around yelling. It seems to me that education has never been much like Rousseau's dream and has always been something of a "conformity factory", as Homer Simpson once put it. And, frankly, I've seen the level of discipline in educational settings drop off dramatically in the last two decades. (And one might ask if there are now more boys who are lacking any male adult role models in their lives than there were a few decades ago.)
I can see the argument that schooling might have once been more competitive than it is now; but it's still very competitive, and besides girls are both competing and coming out on top as it is now. So, I can't see how more competition would change that. Couldn't it also be the case that girls feel more comfortable competing with the boys than they used to?
Again, though, I don't know what's changed. I will say, however, that I don't remember ever in my life hearing as many people as I've heard in the last decade claiming that men are, by nature, less academic or cerebral, less given to thoughtfulness or quiet reflection, and less polite and civilized than women are. I don't just hear this in the "schools hate men" argument; I also hear it in movies and commercials, conversations, books and editorials; and usually said with a patronizing shrug, "Aw, you know how guys are!" (Loud & dumb.)
It's also bullshit. I know quite a few young men, and they constantly amaze me with how varied they are- they contain multitudes undreamed of in your philosophy. But, I have to say that a surprising number of them I know are unhappy, and it never seems to be because they're less kind or intelligent or quiet than society expects them to be; usually, quite the opposite. Moreover, none of them I know seem to be lacking in people telling them how "guys" are "naturally" supposed to behave, or not behave.
So, maybe it's not just the teachers that need to just let them be.
Update: What you'd expect, given that now more college graduates are women, would be for the pay gap to start closing. And, indeed, young women in their 20s seem now to be making more than their male counterparts in the major US cities.