That’s what we used to say back at my “Seven Sisters” college in the 1980s! Every twenty years or so, it seems like even the most elite and well-established women’s colleges have a conversation about going co-ed. Let’s face it–coeducational or historically all-male colleges have much bigger endowments. My sense is that male alumns support their colleges much more generously, because they can. (That is, they can give more because of the wage gap that persists between men and women, plus the fact that few male college graduates drop out of the workforce even temporarily because they married and/or had children.) So, I understand the appeal of admitting male students. (I also understand the value to the endowment of invoking the spectre of co-education for women’s college alumnae. That sure opens up a few moth-eaten old wallets and revs up the donorcycles, eh?)
Well, there’s reason for us old broads to fear co-education at our alma maters, because a women’s college may be “better dead than co-ed.” Susan O’Doherty over at Mama Ph.D. tells the fascinating tale of what happened when her women’s college went co-ed while she was an undergraduate. (This was a follow-up to a post she wrote last week about the idea of applying lower admissions standards to men who apply to competitive colleges, because of the fact that a number of selective colleges have a noticeably skewed sex ratio in favor of women.)
By the time I graduated, there were about thirty men among a student body of 2500. Some of these guys were stellar — bright, committed, enlightened, and fun to be around. Most were not. A number were unprepared for the academic and social challenges of college; a few bragged that they had transferred because “with all these chicks around it should be a piece of cake to get laid.” It was clear to us that there was a double admissions standard. We joked that the entrance exam for men consisted of the ability to sign one’s name, but we didn’t find it funny, really.
There was one men’s dormitory. It was a beautiful old house — one of several on campus; most were reserved for honors students or those with special interests. I lived in one that was dedicated to French-speaking students. It was a privilege to live there, among well cared for antique furnishings, and we were constantly reminded that the privilege could be revoked for bad grades or bad behavior. The men, however, lived under no such strictures. After two years the furniture in their parlor had to be completely replaced, with sturdy vinyl-covered couches and chairs and utilitarian lamps, because the antiques had been wrecked, some in drunken parties and others through everyday abuse such as cigarette burns and carved initials. When they partied we could hear them clear across campus. And it was sometimes hard to maintain an atmosphere of respect in the classroom with some guy blathering on about a topic he clearly knew next to nothing about.
Again, this wasn’t everyone. Idiocy wasn’t a requirement for admission if you were a male — it just wasn’t a dealbreaker. The “good” men were embarrassed by the others, and worked to dissociate from them. But the others dominated.
And the question arose, again and again, Why are they doing this to us? When our “brother” college agreed, grudgingly from what we understood, to begin admitting women, they didn’t lower their admission standards. The women there kept up with their classes at least as well as the men did, despite stories of harassment and shunning. But the quality of our classroom discussions was degraded, and our college’s academic reputation was somewhat tarnished.
Unfortunately, the commenters over at Mama Ph.D. refuse to engage O’Doherty’s points. The first one accuses Susan of being “insulting,” “sexist,” and “prejudiced.” (Right–because she lied about her own observations? I thought it was pretty clear that she wasn’t generalizing about all college men, but was writing about a small group of men at one small college in particular.) The second commenter uses this blog post to ask, “How can we help boys?” (Hint: by expecting them to act like human beings and not like animals? That would seem to be a good place to start!) The third one makes the reasonable point that the anxiety of a skewed sex ratio in favor of women is all about “male privilege.” Then the fourth one jumps in to contract #3, saying that it’s far too, too complex to chalk up to male privilege, and asks rhetorically, “rather than pitting women and men against one another wouldn’t it serve us all to have a more symbiotic relationship?” Riiiiiight–because it’s feminism that sets women against men, male privilege doesn’t set men against women at all! (This is why I monitor my comments closely, friends!)
O’Doherty asks at the end, “Why?” In other words, why is it that men are perceived as so important to college life that they’re not only tolerated but lured with lower admissions standards and welcomed with open arms even though overall they’re more destructive, violent, and predatory than women and at the same time far less academically successful? And isn’t it cute that a blog post about this can be turned into an occasion to scream “Oh, my lord, what about teh menz?”
For how many centuries was it not considered a problem that women were systematically excluded from higher education? And now that we’ve had a few years in which women are the majority of college students, students who have earned admission to college in a meritocratic system that rewards their previous academic performance (rather than through an arbitrarily exclusive system, like the ones that predominated in the past that said “no girls/Jews/Catholics/blacks/Asians allowed?”), now it’s a problem that the meritocracy selects for women who actually read books and followed directions in high school instead of men who smoked pot and played video games?
What’s next? Lemme guess: the argument that professors are feminizing the college experience by expecting students to live up to their high academic standards? That it’s so totally anti-male to expect college men to do homework and pass classes, and stuff, in order to earn their degrees? (Here’s my question: what the hell have parents of boys been doing for the last thirty years?)