I know it seems like we do this a lot, but it’s time to start wringing your hands again about women who go to college. Apparently there are too many of us! And now we can’t get boyfriends!
North Carolina, with a student body that is nearly 60 percent female, is just one of many large universities that at times feel eerily like women’s colleges. Women have represented about 57 percent of enrollments at American colleges since at least 2000, according to a recent report by the American Council on Education. Researchers there cite several reasons: women tend to have higher grades; men tend to drop out in disproportionate numbers; and female enrollment skews higher among older students, low-income students, and black and Hispanic students.
In terms of academic advancement, this is hardly the worst news for women — hoist a mug for female achievement. And certainly, women are primarily in college not because they are looking for men, but because they want to earn a degree.
But surrounded by so many other successful women, they often find it harder than expected to find a date on a Friday night.
Fifty-seven percent female feels “eerily like a women’s college”? Really?
The line “And certainly, women are primarily in college not because they are looking for men, but because they want to earn a degree” is also an instant classic. Way to go, New York Times.
Needless to say, this puts guys in a position to play the field, and tends to mean that even the ones willing to make a commitment come with storied romantic histories. Rachel Sasser, a senior history major at the table, said that before she and her boyfriend started dating, he had “hooked up with a least five of my friends in my sorority — that I know of.”
These sorts of romantic complications are hardly confined to North Carolina, an academically rigorous school where most students spend more time studying than socializing. The gender imbalance is also pronounced at some private colleges, such as New York University and Lewis & Clark in Portland, Ore., and large public universities in states like California, Florida and Georgia. The College of Charleston, a public liberal arts college in South Carolina, is 66 percent female. Some women at the University of Vermont, with an undergraduate body that is 55 percent female, sardonically refer to their college town, Burlington, as “Girlington.”
It’s “Girlington” because it’s 55 percent female? I think something else is going on here, and it’s not “there are too many ladies around.”
I went to New York University, which does skew female. And yes, my female friends and I joked about the dearth of single straight men on campus (NYU is also pretty LGBT-friendly and pulls in a lot of gay students). But when you look at the actual numbers of women vs. men on campus, it’s not so unbalanced that dudes are pulling five chicks a night. It seems to be a problem of perception more than statistics — if there are roughly equal numbers of men and women in a room, or if there are a few more women than men, we perceive the situation as thoroughly female-dominated. The same phenomenon happens with race. We’re used to seeing men (and white men in particular) as the standard; we’re used to them dominating higher education and the workforce. When we up the numbers of non-men in a situation where men have traditionally made up large majorities, the perception is that no more men exist — even though men are nearly half of the room.
So I am hesitant to believe that “Thanks to simple laws of supply and demand, it is often the women who must assert themselves romantically or be left alone on Valentine’s Day, staring down a George Clooney movie over a half-empty pizza box.”
It gets even worse than that, though, the Times warns. Not only are college women lonely, they’re also “hooking up,” as the kids say, in an effort to find love:
“On college campuses where there are far more women than men, men have all the power to control the intensity of sexual and romantic relationships,” Kathleen A. Bogle, a sociologist at La Salle University in Philadelphia, wrote in an e-mail message. Her book, “Hooking Up: Sex, Dating, and Relationships on Campus,” was published in 2008.
“Women do not want to get left out in the cold, so they are competing for men on men’s terms,” she wrote. “This results in more casual hook-up encounters that do not end up leading to more serious romantic relationships. Since college women say they generally want ‘something more’ than just a casual hook-up, women end up losing out.”
W. Keith Campbell, a psychology professor at the University of Georgia, which is 57 percent female, put it this way: “When men have the social power, they create a man’s ideal of relationships,” he said. Translation: more partners, more sex. Commitment? A good first step would be his returning a woman’s Facebook message.
Women on gender-imbalanced campuses are paying a social price for success and, to a degree, are being victimized by men precisely because they have outperformed them, Professor Campbell said. In this way, some colleges mirror retirement communities, where women often find that the reward for outliving their husbands is competing with other widows for the attentions of the few surviving bachelors.
“If a guy is not getting what he wants, he can quickly and abruptly go to the next one, because there are so many of us,” said Katie Deray, a senior at the University of Georgia, who said that it is common to see six provocatively clad women hovering around one or two guys at a party or a bar.
Sidenote: If I could take one phrase out of the English language, it would be “provocatively clad” (or “provocatively dressed”). What, exactly, is a provocatively clad woman provoking? Erections? When I see a dude at a bar wearing one of those white COCKS hats, I feel provoked into punching him (although I restrain myself, obviously); when I see this young man without any pants on, I think, “those are some nice thighs, I would like to see more of that.” Yet I have never once heard a man’s style of dress described as “provocative.” Even when he’s wearing a hat that simultaneously advertises his favorite sports team and his junk. Even when he’s pantless and smoking a cigarette on the potty.
ANYWAY. Again, the ratio of women to men in college is not six to one! And instead of just bemoaning how a 56 percent female population means that we don’t get as many dates as we would like, perhaps it’s worth looking at the fact that women go to college in larger numbers in part because men have more options if college doesn’t suit them. Jobs in construction, the military, factories, the fishing industry… they are all technically open to women, but are often not exactly welcoming. They also don’t require a college degree, but often pay significantly more than minimum wage. Similar pink-collar jobs — jobs that are disporportionately female and don’t usually require higher education — are largely care-related, and pay very little. When preparing to leave high school, young women and young men have different options at their immediate disposal. For young women, college may seem like a better choice, even if they aren’t all that academically motivated or inclined; for young men, it’s easier to see how you could make a decent living without a college degree.
But I suppose that story isn’t nearly as fun and scary as one that ends like this:
The loneliness can be made all the more bitter by the knowledge that it wasn’t always this way.
“My roommate’s parents met here,” said Mitali Dayal, a freshman at North Carolina. “She has this nice little picture of them in their Carolina sweatshirts. Must be nice.”
Ah yes, it wasn’t always this way. In the good old days a lot of schools wouldn’t even let women in, but at least someone’s roommate’s parents could get a date.