Beware the Matriarchy
When the seducer Willoughby comes to call on Marianne Dashwood in Emma Thompson’s adaptation of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, Sir John Middleton, in a conspicuous attempt at humor, turns to the spurned Col. Brandon and says, “Come, Brandon, we know when we are not wanted.”
If there’s a moment in our late cultural tradition to capture the decline of men in academia, this is it. Since women began to crowd out men in the classroom in the late 1970s, keen to outperform their male counterparts with study guides and color-coordinated binders, men have recognized where they’re not wanted, and have slowly slipped out the back door.
Already on a long downward trajectory, male college enrollment plunged to record lows this year, as the Wall Street Journal reported in a viral article earlier this month. The feminization of higher education says as much about women as it does about men, who now make up just 40 percent of college students and account for 71 percent of the decline in enrollment in higher education over the last five years. At this rate, men are but a few years from earning one college degree for every two women who graduate, the Journal reported. Politics compounds the statistics as, unsurprisingly, colleges have little interest in vocally championing men in our post-feminist political consciousness. One can only imagine the wolves that would be unleashed on the gutsy school that started a program to help men keep up with their female peers (never mind getting ahead).
So, while higher ed quietly offers more scholarships to male students and adds sports offerings or engineering programs in a form of affirmative action meant to entice more boys, the statistics are only getting worse. Women are everywhere, dominating student government executive boards, more eagerly seeking and achieving campus leadership positions, and outperforming their male counterparts academically, the Journal reports. (Even at my very traditional alma mater, Hillsdale College, the female GPA has surpassed the male GPA for years.)
The matriarchy extends beyond the ivory tower walls. While the number of upper schools worth attending can be counted on two hands, the majority of salaried jobs still require a college degree at a minimum, meaning that female success in school is forking over huge dividends for them after graduation compared with their male counterparts. Women hold more jobs than men in the total U.S. workforce, including 58 percent of government jobs and 56 percent of finance jobs. They’re even making strides in mining and logging jobs, as well as manufacturing, transportation, and other typically male industries, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. And while female CEOs may still be few and far between, women hold the majority of America’s managerial jobs, at 51.7 percent. Women are crushing men in nearly every major metric.
Men, on the other hand, don’t seem to care. The Journal‘s sources speculated that men aren’t trying harder in school because of “a lack of guidance, a strain of anti-intellectualism and a growing belief that college degrees don’t pay off.” In other words, they don’t care because they haven’t been told to—which seems doubtful, given the wealth of evidence to suggest the necessity of a college degree for any high-paying job, and the parallel wealth of career resources available, online and elsewhere. The alternative, which the Journal gingerly avoids, is because they don’t want to care.
The answer, by now, should be obvious, if too avant-garde to admit at a Georgetown cocktail party. Young men are not anti-intellectual. They aren’t lacking the right program to help them get involved, or more scholarship, or help controlling their testosterone. Rather, they have found themselves in a society that demands they be anything other than who they are as men, and they are, largely, trying to escape it.
We shouldn’t be surprised that the female-ruled classroom has little appeal for them. It is yet another environment in which a growing class of childless women can play mother. Divorced from the grace we reserve for our own flesh and blood, the female managerial class wages a cold war of nips and tucks on the male spirit from his childhood onward, demeaning him for his existence (male fragility), for his point of view (mansplaining), even for spreading his knees too far apart on the subway (man spreading). Left with few, if any, healthy avenues for exercising any power, is it any wonder young men so often turn to seek thrills in the lowlife entertainment of video games, drugs, and pornography?
Eleven years ago, Hanna Rosin wrote in the Atlantic about how the end of history was really the end of men. A summary of the key findings in her book by the same title, the article explained how the post-industrial economy is made for women, and, as she demonstrates, women are doing far better in it. “The attributes that are most valuable today—social intelligence, open communication, the ability to sit still and focus—are, at a minimum, not predominantly male,” she described. The global market wants women, since, “with few exceptions, the greater the power of women, the greater the country’s economic success.”
A decade and a bit later, the problems have only gotten worse. In tandem with the rabbit-growth of women in colleges in the late 1970s was another important statistic: Women started delaying marriage for an average of 2.5 years more, likely to finish a degree before having children. Enamored with success, however, and with the help of the pill, each successive generation of women has pushed that major life event back even further, to pursue a career, to go to law school, or simply not to be “tied down.” Today, the average American woman gets married at 31, ten years later than she did in the 1920s, and only 29 percent of Americans between the ages of 18 and 34 were married in 2018, compared to 59 percent in 1978. Unsurprisingly, as male success has gradually declined, a career offers far more exciting prospects for most young women today than a husband, who on average has less social clout than she, a key incentive in female selection. To today’s high-achieving women, a record number of whom identify as lesbian or remain unmarried, a man is rarely worth it; those who do marry are often marrying below, rather than above, their social class.
Rosin described how, at least at the time of the 2010 article’s publication, a program at Columbia Business School taught “sensitive leadership and social intelligence” as key for getting ahead in the business world:
“We never explicitly say, ‘Develop your feminine side,’ but it’s clear that’s what we’re advocating,” says Jamie Ladge.
She chronicles how even at conception, in the case of engineered pregnancies, men are behind the bottleneck. When interviewing biologist Ronald Ericsson, who invented the technology for separating sperm by X and Y chromosomes and who is himself a caricature of old-school masculinity, Rosin recounts Ericsson’s acceptance that, in a split from the majority of human history, women of today want daughters, not sons. And why wouldn’t they? he asks.
Women live longer than men. They do better in this economy. More of ’em graduate from college. They go into space and do everything men do, and sometimes they do it a whole lot better. I mean, hell, get out of the way—these females are going to leave us males in the dust.
While his granddaughters were collecting careers in biochemistry and civil engineering, Ericsson told Rosin he had to instruct his grandsons, “just don’t screw up and crash your pickup truck and get some girl pregnant and ruin your life.” It’s not just the outcomes; the expectations for men are also significantly lower.
There’s not much left for men in higher education. There’s not much left for men anywhere, for that matter, and one has to ask what reasonable means remain to try to close Pandora’s box. But my fellow females should beware the matriarchy. When we’ve driven men out of every sphere of American society—and we almost have—we may find each hollow without the male attributes that once made them great.