Monday, November 21, 2011

“What, Me Marry?”

John Gardner

This is not a question I am raising at all, personally. I am married, and very, very contentedly so, I am pleased is the case and to be able to report. Instead, this is the title of a highly provocative article in the November 2011 issue of The Atlantic, by a journalist Kate Bolick. It is subtitled “In today’s economy, men are falling apart. What that means for sex and marriage.”

This excellent journalistic reportage is about the extraordinary changes we are seeing in how the genders are faring in our contemporary society which is increasingly working more favorably for the highly educated and skilled, which means women more than men. I strongly recommend this piece to my readers. The title of her article conveys her thesis that as women become better educated than men, more employable than men, more likely to retain their jobs during recessions than men, earning more money than men, and able to have sex and have and raise children all without benefit of marriage, well then, why marry? Very good question.

And, as many of our students are struggling to sort out how they are going to live in a society of vastly unequal opportunities and privileges (marriage being one of them), I am sure this is a question that many of your female students especially are asking. I think you/we should be talking about this.

For years I have been concerned about the increasing differences I have observed on campuses in terms of the different ways men vs. women, literally, go to college, do college. I have been troubled not only about what I have seen but my inability to arouse much concern about this. This even starts at home. When I bring this up to my very well educated and usually sympathetic to my causes wife, I get no sympathy. Her view is that men still run the country and aren’t doing a very good job of it and don’t need any sympathy from her.

My concerns have been about such factors as these:

1.     Men are less likely to go to college

2.     When they do go to college they are less likely to be retained and graduate

3.     They are less likely to seek assistance

4.     They study less than women

5.     They enter and exit college with higher self esteem

6.     They are more likely to be involved in dysfunctional behaviors ranging from alcohol and drug abuse to vandalism of institutional property

7.     They are less likely to engage in community service

8.     They are less likely to be engaged in leadership roles in campus activities

And this is nothing new. We have been watching this take shape over the past three decades. One of the reasons the alarm bells aren’t really ringing has to be because the majority of campuses are still run primarily by men, and they just either don’t want to see this problem or deal with it if they do. Or if they do attempt to deal with it they fear they will be beaten up by feminist colleagues who will argue no sympathy for the group which is still the dominant group.

If I were still teaching a first-year seminar, I would definitely assign this article to my students. The implications from the declining societal opportunities for men have profound implications for how male and female students are relating to each other on campuses these days. We educators need to understand this better. I think that many of our students already understand this better than we do, in part, because it is having such profound effects on their social lives.

As a gross example of this, I was told this summer by an articulate cab driver in a US resort city, where there is a public regional college with a 70/30 female/male student ratio, that his best and politest customers were female college students—whom he said he liveried around on weekends as they sought out the professional services of male gigolos due to the scarcity of available males on campus. That certainly doesn’t sound like social life on campus as I once knew it. In fact, it gives a whole new meaning to the descriptor of “BMOC”, “Big Man on Campus.”

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