On average, there are more women than men in college now. One statistic puts the ratio at 57/43 female to male with a trend that’s leading toward a 60/40 ratio. At my son’s high school, the highest grade point averages have belonged to girls for several years now. My son doesn’t find this surprising at all. It’s what he expects. He’s not sure why, but he thinks that in general girls work harder. He doesn’t think they’re inherently smarter.
Here’s what I think. I think that school systems (sitting at desks listening to teachers; having separate unconnected-to-each-other classes requiring multitasking and much to organize) generally (not always) work better for girls than boys, and that girls do better in the typical school structure. For years this system that may work better for girls than boys didn’t offset entrenched sexism, which favored boys. Many studies have shown that boys are called on more frequently than girls and receive more attention, for example. But as institutionalized sexism has diminished, and as girls have gained the opportunities previously available only to boys, girls have been able to surpass boys academically and pursue higher education in greater numbers.
Should we be concerned that there are so many more girls than boys in college? After all, even though it’s great that girls are achieving so much, we still have a ways to go to reach full equality. Women still get paid less than men for the same work, and the ratio of women to men in leadership positions is far from equal. So maybe it’s a good thing that the ratio at colleges is 57/43 women to men. As a feminist this may be good news, but as the mother of a teenage son it’s really not.
I want our schools to equally serve our sons and daughters. I want a society where equal opportunity includes meeting the varying needs and learning styles of all our students, so that each can reach their potential and thrive. I want systems to favor both equality and respect for difference. As an educator, I know this can be done, but it requires a willingness to creatively confront and change outdated systems.
I believe that we should consider the skewed ratio of women to men in college a wake up call to assess and change our educational system so that it serves all our children better. And of course, we still need to confront the tightly coiled tentacles of sexism and unravel them so that our now majority women college graduates truly have the same opportunities as their male classmates.