It’s tough to be a man. That’s the message of male conservatives who worry about how terribly oppressed men are on college campuses facing the evil feminist conspiracy. Even though the people who run universities—presidents, trustees, coaches, even tenured faculty—are overwhelmingly male, we keep getting told this myth about the victimization of men.
This week came the latest, and perhaps the most ridiculous, example when Glenn Ricketts wrote at the NAS blog about how men were avoiding college due to the fear of being charged with sexual assault:
There may be multiple reasons underlying the steep decline in male enrollments in American higher education, but I have to think that one is that so many campuses are literally “hostile environments” for guys. Through the prism of a ubiquitous and imperial feminist ideology, they’re sexists, chauvinists, potential rapists, etc., etc., with lots of speech and conduct codes in place ready to pounce. It’s pretty easy for the boys to get into lots of trouble, and – as KC Johnson illustrates in this piece about an incident at Brown over at Minding The Campus – well nigh impossible to get out of it. An outrage, you say, but one that’s also becoming commonplace. How many aspiring college men, I wonder, might conclude that it just isn’t worth it?
The answer to Ricketts’ question, I believe, is “exactly zero.” That may be why Ricketts and all of the conservative media have never been able to produce any actual person who declared that they didn’t go to college due this irrational fear of conduct codes.
Of course, Ricketts’ presumptions are wrong, too. A report last year found that male enrollment in college is increasing, and that the gender gap in college enrollment only really exists among impoverished students, not the highest income quartile. Considering that I assume Ricketts must think that the influence of “imperial feminist ideology” (which, of course, does not exist anywhere as an institutional policy) at colleges is strongest at the elite institutions (such as Brown) that enroll the wealthiest students, this directly contradicts his theory.
Ricketts is on shaky factual ground with every sentence in his blog post. Is it “pretty easy for the boys to get into lots of trouble” on campus and “well nigh impossible to get out of it”? There’s absolutely no evidence to support this. In fact, I’d wager that there’s not a single man in America who has ever decided not to go to college out of fear of being charged with sexual assault. There might be a few rapid conservatives dumb enough to believe the delusional ravings on certain sites (such as the NAS blog) who might decide to attend Princeton rather than Brown because of some dubious assertion, but I find it hard to believe that any of them actually decided to skip college.
And why would they? The very worst penalty for men accused of misconduct at any of these colleges is (gasp) being expelled from college and forced to attend one of the other thousands of colleges available to them. In fact, colleges have a long tradition of protecting men from criminal charges and discouraging sexually assaulted women from going to the police.
The real reasons why more women than men attend college are simple: more young men than women are in prison, men find it easier than women to get jobs without a college degree, and men tend to perform worse in K-12 schools and are not as well prepared for college. Disciplinary standards for sexual assault cases have absolutely nothing to do with male college attendance.