WKU: The Office of Sustainability and PowerSave

Hello,

The Office of Sustainability and PowerSave interns are pleased to bring you the following events celebrating WKU’s participation in the Campus Conservation Nationals, and regional Bluegrass Unplugged competition.

The Campus Conservation Nationals is a nationwide electricity and water use reduction competition among colleges and universities created by The Center for Green Schools at the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), and in partnership with Lucid, Alliance to Save Energy and the National Wildlife Federation. See our press release here.

Please share these opportunities with your students. Note that each event is free, open to all, and “swipe-able”. Additionally, PowerSave Interns are available to visit your classrooms to talk about energy conservation, how WKU is working to be energy responsible, or to conduct energy audits! Simply contact me to schedule.

Schedule of Events

2/19 Energy/Water Conservation Open Mic 7pm-9pm, DUC Auditorium
Prepare a short spoken or visual form of self-expression no longer than 5 minutes. Prizes (donated by the WKU Store) for 1-3rd place.
For more information contact PowerSave Intern Mary Boothe at: mary.boothe984@topper.wku.edu

Mini Film Festival: 2/20 YERT, 3/5 Light-Bulb Conspiracy, 4/9 Castle in the Sky
8pm-10pm, MMTH Auditorium
For more information contact PowerSave Intern Sophia Sterlin at: sophia.sterlin754@topper.wku.edu

3/23 Earth Hour & Scavenger Hunt, 8:30-9:30pm Turn off the lights for Earth Hour and join the PowerSave interns for a green campus scavenger hunt.
Meet at Topper Café Patio. Teams of 2-5. Prizes for 1-3rd place. www.earthhour.org
For more information contact PowerSave Intern Mary Newton at: mary.newton486@topper.wku.edu

3/23-4/12 Campus Conservation Nationals Bluegrass Unplugged Edition. Help WKU residence halls win 1st place and show UK, UofL, and Berea how energy conservation is done!

4/26 WKU Earth Day Festival. 11-3:30 in Centennial Mall. Announcing CCN winners. Contact Christian Ryan-Downing to participate! Christian.ryan-downing@wku.edu.

Christian Ryan-Downing, LEED AP
Sustainability Coordinator
Western Kentucky University
270-745-2508
www.wku.edu/sustainability

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Farewell to an Uninspiring Pope

New York Times Op-Ed Contributor
Farewell to an Uninspiring Pope
By JOHN PATRICK SHANLEY

POPE BENEDICT XVI quit. Good. He was utterly bereft of charm, tone-deaf and a protector of priests who abused children. He’d been a member of the Hitler Youth. In addition to this woeful résumé, he had no use for women. The Roman Catholic Church, which in so many ways has been a great boon to the City of New York, has been choked and bludgeoned into insignificance by a small group of men based in Italy.

Priests cannot marry. Why? I will tell you why. Priests cannot marry because they would have to marry women. Women cannot be priests. Why? Women cannot become priests because of a bunch of old men. These old men justify their beliefs with a brace of ridiculous arguments that Jesus would have overturned in a minute. “Do unto others as you would have them do to you.” What about that is hard to understand? If you can become a priest, I can become a priest. Period. Equality. Benedict has not been idle. He has put in place a lot of other old guys who have no interest in sharing power with anyone outside the club. The last pope we had who showed signs of spiritual vision was John XXIII. That was a long time ago. He had humility and a good heart. These more recent appointments have been disheartening in the extreme.

When I was a kid at St. Anthony’s in the Bronx (one of the schools that the archdiocese of New York is now closing), there were boxes for the poor. The people of the East Bronx worked hard and made little. Everybody put money in those boxes. I put money in those boxes. As far as I’m concerned, that money was stolen. I have watched the wealth of the Catholic Church turned into a subsidy for wrongdoing and a prop for the continuing campaign against women’s rights and homosexuality. Neighborhood churches, built with the hard-earned money of working-class people, are being sold off. The sacrifices that were made to build these churches were significant and local. The decision to close them has been made antiseptically, by remote control. The men who make these decisions are at a remove, very much involved in protecting their power and comfort.

I have little reason to hope that the Church of Rome will suddenly realize that without women, the Catholic Church is doomed, and should be doomed. I think of those good nuns who educated me, of their lifelong devotion and sacrifice. They have been treated like cattle by a crowd of domineering fools. In Benedict, the Catholic Church got the pope it deserved. I can only hope, for the sake of my parents, who loved the church so much, that a miracle of divine grace alters the writing on the wall. If not, the Catholic Church will suffer the fate it deserves.

John Patrick Shanley is the author of “Doubt” and other plays.

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Vandana Shive on GMOs

Click here to watch video!
Vandana Shiva on the Problem with Genetically Modified Seeds
July 13, 2012

Bill talks to scientist and philosopher Vandana Shiva, who’s become a rock star in the global battle over genetically modified seeds. These seeds — considered “intellectual property” by the big companies who own the patents — are globally marketed to monopolize food production and profits. Opponents challenge the safety of genetically modified seeds, claiming they also harm the environment, are more costly, and leave local farmers deep in debt as well as dependent on suppliers. Shiva, who founded a movement in India to promote native seeds, links genetic tinkering to problems in our ecology, economy, and humanity, and sees this as the latest battleground in the war on Planet Earth.

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Condoms & Crosses at WKU

I am sure most of you have heard about the art student who draped condoms on the Hilltoppers for Life “crosses” display on WKU’s campus. The reaction of the university is an outrage! I sent this to Rachel Maddow today. Help us blog and get the word out that there are two side to this story!

Greetings!

I am professor in the gender & women’s studies program at Western Kentucky University. Recently Rachel Skyped with one of our journalism and broadcasting classes and it was fantastic! I attended as an invited guest.

I am writing about an incident that recently occurred on our campus with the college right-to-life student group, Hilltoppers for Life (led by male students by the way). Here is what happened (from our local news station): “Hilltoppers for life had placed nearly four thousand crosses in the school’s old football stadium to represent the number of abortions that take place in a day. But on the last night of their University approved display, the president of the pro-life group says he captured footage of a student and her boyfriend placing condoms onto some of the crosses.” Unfortunately, Fox News Radio picked up the story and it has gone viral; almost 100% supporting the right-to-life students.

The format of the LIFE project was visual. It was not a letter to the newspaper, a speech given on campus, or a leaflet handed out to passers-by. The HFL chose to participate in public activism by installing their work in a public University space. Their project literally asked for feedback within their installation. So, the art student chose to provide feedback by draping condoms on the crosses. As a professor of gender studies, I feel like this is another attack in the war on women. The display itself was an attack then was exacerbated by the treatment of the art student who countered the “voice” of the right to life students.

The administration is referring to this as an “unfortunate” and disgusting” act. They have called for a public apology from the student and she has refused. Others are calling for the faculty member to not give her a grade (or give her a failing grade) for the course; a direct violation of our academic freedom policy. A simple Google search on “WKU +Art +Condoms” yields hundreds of hits with only negative reactions to the art student’s action. It has been picked up by every right wings news blog and magazine in the country. What bothers me the most here is it seems there is no support for the student or acknowledgement of HER freedom of speech.

The faculty member teaching the class sent me this email:

As we teach our students, actions do not exist in a vacuum and context is important when establishing meaning.  The context into which the Hilltoppers for Life placed their 4,000 crosses project is important in understanding the reaction to the project created by an art student.

First, the topic covered by the HFL installation was controversial, and the group who installed the piece was aware of and emphasized the work’s shock value.  (The scale of the piece was enormous.  It appeared seemingly overnight and without warning early on a Monday morning.  Questions posed were inflammatory, ie: “How do you justify abortion?”)  The work was placed not in front of a church, or in front of the University Center or dormitories.  It was placed in front of an academic building, engaging itself in an academic conversation.  The project was intended to offend some of those that saw it, and did.  As the artist says in her statement: “I had worried that my idea might offend some. However, after giving it a lot of thought, I came to believe that it is no more or less offensive than the original installation of thousands of popsicle-stick crosses, each representing an aborted fetus.”

The student also spoke to me about the voicelessness she and others felt when viewing the installation.  She stated she felt let down by the administration who should have anticipated negative reactions in students and done something to somehow counteract or speak to alternative points of view in an issue so deeply controversial and potentially personal.  “How would someone who had had an abortion feel if they came in and saw that without warning?  They would feel terrible” she told me when I asked why she felt compelled to react to the work.

For wider context: within FAC [our humanities academic building], we sometimes have art exhibitions that we anticipate might offend some viewers.  We are always conscientious about these, and careful to ensure no one accidentally stumbles upon something they might find upsetting.  The students in FAC were not given similar consideration, coming in Monday morning to find their building hemmed in by 4,000 crosses.  As the art student who reacted to the piece stated, she was offended, and concerned for others who might see the piece.

Moving into the present: students in an art class for the Spring 2012 semester have been creating outdoor art installation projects on campus, clustering primarily around the Fine Arts Center (FAC).  Over the past ten weeks, they have created 45 art installations in and around FAC.  A major rule of the class is that installations cannot alter their environment (buildings or plants) permanently in any way, and that any alteration made to a space or structure must be reversible and must be reversed if requested.  To date, including in this instance, this rule has not been broken.

For the week of April 16, an installation of popsicle stick crosses and plastic tablecloths was placed over the entire set of bleachers in front of FAC.  The cloths spelled LIFE when read from the fourth floor, the floor that houses the art department. Pads of paper with a question written at the top and pens for responses were placed in front of the bleachers.  Students from Hilltoppers for Life stood in front of the installation and asked passers-by to respond to questions.

The crosses were placed in the exact spot as an installation done by a student in the art installation class the week previous, and faced three art installations on the FAC lawn.  Whether it intended to or not, the fact that the LIFE project was a visually based installation placed in direct proximity to other art installations, that it was placed immediately in front of the building housing the art department and composed to be read primarily from the art department’s windows (there are no other classroom windows facing the colonnades) made it speak directly to students in FAC and forced the project to read in part as a response to the art projects installed previously in this area.  As the student who made the work stated to me: “I thought – they’re speaking my language, they are speaking to me. They had a powerful visual message.”

To many within FAC, the 4,000 crosses project was an aggressive, politically-oriented piece with one point of view aimed at them, done in poor taste to make them angry and uncomfortable.  Many of the art students in the installation class felt the piece was done with a nod specifically to them, as a reaction to the installations they had made in class, and believed the HFL group was using the tools and language of art.  Based on the words spoken in the video of the encounter between the HFL students and the art student that the HFL recorded, provoking a reaction, potentially from the art students, was an intent of the HFL project.  As spoken by the HFL videographer as he was approaching the artist on the bleachers: “This is the response we are getting from them …. We knew something would happen …. It very well could be an art installation.”

The fact that the HFL students “had permission” to use the bleachers and ampitheatre begs the question of what permission to use a public University space includes. The bleachers and ampitheatre, a heavily trafficked area used by a large number of the campus community for reading, studying, teaching class, eating lunch, etc – were completely covered by the installation and made unusable for any other purpose for the duration of an entire week.  The HFL installation was impossible not to see when entering FAC from most every major vantage point.  The campus community was remarkably respectful of the way in which their communal space had been altered and consumed.  However, on an active college campus, it is naive to think that work placed in public will not be interacted with in any way.  It is also difficult to imagine that rights to use a public space would completely supersede others’ competing rights to use that same space, particularly when a large, well-used space is taken over for a substantial length of time.

To take account for the competing needs and rights of public space, in teaching the installation class, students are reminded that making the decision to place work into the public University arena in a non-classroom space automatically asks for engagement by the public, and the students have to be willing and prepared to take the consequences of that engagement. Additionally, asking either implicitly or specifically for engagement (the HFL work specifically asked for feedback) invites the public to participate in the visual dialog, and such participation should be anticipated.  Nearly every project my students have installed for class has been altered, with three removed completely.  Campus administrators reinforced the idea that students placing projects in public on a busy college campus should prepare themselves for the ways in which their projects might be interacted with, by making it clear to me that if student projects were altered or damaged by public interaction, it was the student who installed the project’s responsibility to “clean up” what was left, not the campus’ responsibility to protect the projects to ensure that they were not altered in the first place.

This art student chose one of many methods available to her in making her voice heard and to engage in the request by the HFL for dialog. Dialog ­ the in-depth discussion of issues from multiple angles such as the type of discussion encouraged on college campuses ­ is complex, takes time, and involves listening in addition to talking. Various ways of stating a point of view, and what the different impact and consequences are of choosing each of these methods, is exactly what a University teaches.  Hands on and active learning are methods we are encouraged to practice, and asking our students to engage publicly in debates of the day and making critical thinking and action relevant to their daily lives is something faculty are asked to do as a matter of course.

Learning and debating are not always pretty or polite processes.  Critical engagement with ideas can get messy.  If we are asked to introduce our students to all the tools of debate and engagement, they will use these tools.  The use and discovery of tools, and the use and discovery of voice is exactly what is occurring on our campus, on both sides of this current discussion.

Unfortunately, this is not a local campus dialog, although it disguises itself as such.  This is an orchestrated, national-scale, politically motivated propaganda machine targeting colleges and universities.  This project pretends to be one about opening a dialog on the issue of abortion.  But instead, it is designed to frustrate and bait students into a response, a response that the National Students for Life of America followers are encouraged to video record and send to the national organization for their distribution and use. In the end, the real danger is that WKU and our students on BOTH sides of this issue simply become pawns in a larger political game and real learning is lost.

We sure could use some help in getting some positive publicity on this matter. It truly is a prime example of the war on women we are facing in this country.

Thank you,

Dr. Molly Kerby

 

 

 

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REPORT: SEX-CHANGE TREATMENTS ON THE RISE AMONG CHILDREN & TEENS

CHICAGO (The Blaze/AP) — A small but growing number of teens and even younger children who think they were born the wrong sex are getting support from parents and from doctors who give them sex-changing treatments, according to reports in the medical journal Pediatrics.

It’s an issue that raises ethical questions, and some experts urge caution in treating children with puberty-blocking drugs and hormones.

An 8-year-old second-grader in Los Angeles is a typical patient. Born a girl, the child announced at 18 months, “I a boy” and has stuck with that belief. The family was shocked but now refers to the child as a boy and is watching for the first signs of puberty to begin treatment, his mother told The Associated Press.

The Daily Mail reported about yet another example of this back in September:

The lesbian parents of an 11-year-old boy who is undergoing the process of becoming a girl last night defended the decision, claiming it was better for a child to have a sex change when young.

Thomas Lobel, who now calls himself Tammy, is undergoing controversial hormone blocking treatment in Berkeley, California to stop him going through puberty as a boy.

Sex Change Treatment on the Rise Among Children & TeensTammy Lobel’s parents allow the 11-year-old boy (whose birth name is Thomas) to use hormone blockers to delay puberty

Pediatricians need to know these kids exist and deserve treatment, said Dr. Norman Spack, author of one of three reports published Monday and director of one of the nation’s first gender identity medical clinics, at Children’s Hospital Boston.

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Kids who veer from gender norms at higher risk for abuse

Berkeley, California (CNN) — When a boy struts in a tutu or a girl dons boxer shorts, it makes grown-ups nervous. It’s one of the first lessons kids who are gender nonconforming learn.

Mich is biologically female, but didn’t identify as a girl. As a child, Mich insisted on having boy-cut short hair, shunned all things pink and refused to play with dolls or wear dresses.

At age 3, “I told my mom I wanted to be a boy,” said Mich, who requested to be identified by first name only. “And, throughout the years, I learned that saying that was not right … and so, you hide this part of yourself. But you still know something’s up. The problem with kids is that they don’t have the language to say it, but they know.”

The pressure to be more girly came from Mich’s parents and other adults, rather than school bullies, said Mich, who now is 25 and lives in the Bay Area.

“The messages from adults, especially my parents, were this was not how it was supposed to be,” Mich said. “I don’t think it was subtle. I would cut my hair really short and my mom would say, ‘Why do you look like a boy? You can’t be a boy.’ An adult would say, ‘Why aren’t you in a dress?’ They’re pushing this message on you.”

When teenagers and children reject conforming to their biological gender roles, they are often teased, misunderstood or scorned by both peers and adults.

A study published in Pediatrics this month showed that children who do not conform to gender roles are more likely to be abused, increasing the likelihood they will have post-traumatic stress disorder by the time they’re in their 20s.

Gender nonconformity means that an individual tends to associate with roles, behaviors and activities of the opposite gender, rather than those of his or her biological sex. This could be a boy who grows his hair long or paints his nails, or a girl who only wears male clothing. These issues are often confused with transgender identity, but they are not the same thing.

Boy wants to be a Girl Scout

Transgendered woman tells her story

Tammy and Mario: Gender journeys

Proud to be ‘Born This Way’

Gender nonconforming behavior occurs in one out of 10 children, according to the study. A vast majority of these kids do not need medical interventions, because the behavior tends to fade as they grow older.

In the study published Monday, nearly 9,000 respondents were asked to recall their childhood experiences before age 11, including favorite toys, games, roles they took while playing, media characters they imitated or admired, and feelings of femininity and masculinity. When they reached adulthood, the participants were surveyed again — this time about whether they experienced physical, sexual, or emotional abuse and were screened for PTSD.

What fuels transgender backlash?

The results showed “very clear patterns,” said S. Bryn Austin, one of the study’s authors. “The young people who as children were most nonconforming were much more likely to report mistreatment or abuse, within the family, by people outside the family. They were targeted for abuse.”

There should be extra precautions taken to protect them, she said.

“We are concerned about the health and risk of abuse and harassment targeting children who behave in a way, or express their gender in a way that’s not typical,” said Austin, an associate professor of pediatrics at the Children’s Hospital Boston and Harvard School of Public Health. “We know there’s a lot of bias about how girls and boys are supposed to behave.”

Gender nonconformity tends to diminish as kids get older. And in many cases, kids with these tendencies grow up to be gay or lesbian, experts say.

“A lot of children seem to be experimenting with cross-gender behavior, but very few are following through to request gender change as they mature,” wrote Dr. Walter Meyer III, a pediatric psychiatrist at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, Texas, in a separate commentary published in Pediatrics.

Mich, who wanted to be a boy during childhood, does not want to become a man, having reached adulthood. Mich now identifies as gender neutral — meaning neither female nor male.

When children cross-dress, they toe the gender divide and challenge conventions, making their parents and adults very anxious. It’s an issue that Diane Ehrensaft, director of mental health and founding member of the Child and Adolescent Gender Center and a clinical psychologist in the Bay Area, has dealt with for years.

Ehrensaft raised a gender nonconforming son and wrote a book, “Gender Born, Gender Made,” in which the cover shows a young boy with curly hair in a tutu. Her son, now an adult, identifies as gay.

A lot of children seem to be experimenting with cross-gender behavior, but very few are following through to request gender change as they mature.
Dr. Walter Meyer III, department of psychiatry and behavior sciences at University of Texas Medical Branch

“I started seeing more and more children and families who just came to me around their child’s gender nonconforming behaviors,” Ehrensaft said in an interview with CNN.com at a health conference last year. “In the last five years, there has been an explosion in the number of children who are saying you guys have got it wrong. I’m not the gender you think I am.”

There are “princess boys” and girls who only wear boy clothes, and many others who express their gender identity in unconventional ways.

Whether the behavior is a result of nature or nurture remains contested. Some in the field believe children can be brought out of their nonconforming behavior by immersing them in conventional gender roles.

Gender nonconformity by itself does not indicate a mental health disorder, so doctors often take a wait-and-see approach when the behaviors appear in young or school-aged children.

In rare cases, gender nonconformity in children can lead to gender identity disorder in adolescence, also known as gender dysphoria, a diagnosis that involves a disconnect between a patient’s sex, which describes anatomy, and their gender, which involves identity.

People with this condition feel distressed because their bodies don’t match their gender identity in their minds. The adolescent form of the disorder is typically diagnosed in early puberty, said Dr. Scott Leibowitz, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at the Gender Management Services at the Children’s Hospital Boston, the first gender identity clinic in North America.

“The dilemma is the inability for anybody to accurately predict whether reported gender dysphoria in childhood persists in adolescence or not. In a majority of cases it does not,” he said.

In another study published in Pediatrics, authors found that 44% of teenagers with gender identity disorder had significant psychiatric history including self-mutilation and suicide attempts.

In either case, signs of gender nonconformity in kids can cause confusion and isolation for families. Often parents are blamed for the kids’ behavior.

Two years after giving birth, Nicole Seguin realized that her daughter never behaved like a typical girl. Her daughter, Anneke, at age 2, seemed miserable in a dress and would rip or mess up the feminine clothes.

“The first time I kind of remember taking off my dress and just chilling with the diaper,” said Anneke, now 15. “I did not wear any clothes unless they were my Spiderman jammies. No dresses, nothing pink, nothing like that.”

Growing up, Anneke always had masculine interests — soccer and hockey over tea parties and Barbies. One of the first words Anneke as a toddler uttered was “Hup Holland,” a phrase used by Dutch soccer fans. When Seguin bought her daughter a dollhouse, Anneke shot toy cars off it. Anneke always wanted to play sports.

For years, Anneke identified as “gender fluid” — meaning not completely male or female.

In December, Anneke became Cory, changing names and now preferring the male pronoun. Although identifying more as a male, Cory still considers himself “gender fluid.” He likes chick flicks, watches “Glee” but also loves playing hockey. He plays on a nearly all-male hockey squad as goalie.

Cory’s case highlights the complexity involved in gender identity. Life outside the gender norms doesn’t come easy.

“I went through various stages of depression,” he said. “The only reason why I’m here right now is because of all the support my family gave me.”

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Meet the ‘Inappropriate’ Female Witness Barred From Speaking at the Birth Control Hearing

Yesterday in perhaps one of the most heartbreaking visual representations of how little conservative politicians care about women I’ve ever seen, California Republican Representative Darrell Issa assembled a panel of 5 men to testify before a Congressional committee about how having insurers pay for birth control for women was violating religious freedom of dudes. Democrats were denied their request to include a pro-birth control woman on the panel on the grounds that she was “unqualified” to discuss the issue. So what was she planning on saying?

Sandra Fluke is a third-year law student at Georgetown University. She said she was “stunned” by Rep. Issa’s decision to block her testimony, that of course women’s experiences with and need for birth control was relevant to the conversation.

The story Fluke was prepared to tell was a sad tale of a female friend of hers, a woman who took the pill to treat polycystic ovary syndrom (PCOS). Georgetown University student insurance refused to cover the prescription for the woman, even with a doctor’s note, and the woman was forced to cover the cost of her medication herself. At $100 a month, the woman eventually decided she couldn’t afford it and stopped taking it. She ended up developing a cyst that had to be surgically removed, and is now, at age 32, experiencing symptoms of early menopause. She may never be able to have a child. Not taking birth control ended up interfering with the ability to bear children! What say you now, fetus enthusiasts?

Fluke’s full prepared testimony is available here.

Of course, Rep. Issa doesn’t care that Sandra Fluke’s friend might not be able to have kids for a couple of reasons. One: he’s a total dick. But more importantly, his line about yesterday’s hearing (that he repeated eleventy times) was that it wasn’t about women, it was about religion. Therefore, the importance of birth control to women wasn’t as important as the disdain for birth control by some more extreme religions.

It seems this problem could’ve been solved, then, had Sandra Fluke simply declared herself high priestess in the Church of Everyone Gets Free Birth Control if They Want It and demanded a spot on the panel to testify that these men were violating her religious freedom by demanding the government prop up their non-fact-based beliefs at the expense of hers. And then maybe we all would have heard her story in the halls of Congress rather than on an MSNBC show.

Still, the image of a panel of men harumphing and whining about somehow being affiliated with a certain type of women’s health care that allows many Americans (both men and women) to have access to recreational sex without fear of pregnancy rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. And so did Rep. Issa’s extremely ill-advised references to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.during the hearing.

King was a strong proponent of birth control. But, like Sandra Fluke, he didn’t testify, either.

 

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Doing Gender

Happy Spring Semester 2012!

Doing gender is a new way of looking at gender and roles in our culture: “Gender is the activity of managing situated conduct in light of normative conceptions of attitudes and activities appropriate of one’s sex category (Fenstermaker & West, 2002, p.5).”

Here is a link to a great article about “Doing gender:”

http://www.jstor.org/stable/622707?seq=1

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The End of Men

Reposting from: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2010/07/the-end-of-men/8135/?single_page=true

The End of Men
By Hanna Rosin

IN THE 1970s the biologist Ronald Ericsson came up with a way to separate sperm carrying the male-producing Y chromosome from those carrying the X. He sent the two kinds of sperm swimming down a glass tube through ever-thicker albumin barriers. The sperm with the X chromosome had a larger head and a longer tail, and so, he figured, they would get bogged down in the viscous liquid. The sperm with the Y chromosome were leaner and faster and could swim down to the bottom of the tube more efficiently. Ericsson had grown up on a ranch in South Dakota, where he’d developed an Old West, cowboy swagger. The process, he said, was like “cutting out cattle at the gate.” The cattle left flailing behind the gate were of course the X’s, which seemed to please him. He would sometimes demonstrate the process using cartilage from a bull’s penis as a pointer.

In the late 1970s, Ericsson leased the method to clinics around the U.S., calling it the first scientifically proven method for choosing the sex of a child. Instead of a lab coat, he wore cowboy boots and a cowboy hat, and doled out his version of cowboy poetry. (People magazine once suggested a TV miniseries based on his life called Cowboy in the Lab.) The right prescription for life, he would say, was “breakfast at five-thirty, on the saddle by six, no room for Mr. Limp Wrist.” In 1979, he loaned out his ranch as the backdrop for the iconic “Marlboro Country” ads because he believed in the campaign’s central image—“a guy riding on his horse along the river, no bureaucrats, no lawyers,” he recalled when I spoke to him this spring. “He’s the boss.” (The photographers took some 6,500 pictures, a pictorial record of the frontier that Ericsson still takes great pride in.)

Feminists of the era did not take kindly to Ericsson and his Marlboro Man veneer. To them, the lab cowboy and his sperminator portended a dystopia of mass-produced boys. “You have to be concerned about the future of all women,” Roberta Steinbacher, a nun-turned-social-psychologist, said in a 1984 People profile of Ericsson. “There’s no question that there exists a universal preference for sons.” Steinbacher went on to complain about women becoming locked in as “second-class citizens” while men continued to dominate positions of control and influence. “I think women have to ask themselves, ‘Where does this stop?’” she said. “A lot of us wouldn’t be here right now if these practices had been in effect years ago.”

Ericsson, now 74, laughed when I read him these quotes from his old antagonist. Seldom has it been so easy to prove a dire prediction wrong. In the ’90s, when Ericsson looked into the numbers for the two dozen or so clinics that use his process, he discovered, to his surprise, that couples were requesting more girls than boys, a gap that has persisted, even though Ericsson advertises the method as more effective for producing boys. In some clinics, Ericsson has said, the ratio is now as high as 2 to 1. Polling data on American sex preference is sparse, and does not show a clear preference for girls. But the picture from the doctor’s office unambiguously does. A newer method for sperm selection, called MicroSort, is currently completing Food and Drug Administration clinical trials. The girl requests for that method run at about 75 percent.

Even more unsettling for Ericsson, it has become clear that in choosing the sex of the next generation, he is no longer the boss. “It’s the women who are driving all the decisions,” he says—a change the MicroSort spokespeople I met with also mentioned. At first, Ericsson says, women who called his clinics would apologize and shyly explain that they already had two boys. “Now they just call and [say] outright, ‘I want a girl.’ These mothers look at their lives and think their daughters will have a bright future their mother and grandmother didn’t have, brighter than their sons, even, so why wouldn’t you choose a girl?”

Why wouldn’t you choose a girl? That such a statement should be so casually uttered by an old cowboy like Ericsson—or by anyone, for that matter—is monumental. For nearly as long as civilization has existed, patriarchy—enforced through the rights of the firstborn son—has been the organizing principle, with few exceptions. Men in ancient Greece tied off their left testicle in an effort to produce male heirs; women have killed themselves (or been killed) for failing to bear sons. In her iconic 1949 book, TheSecond Sex, the French feminist Simone de Beauvoir suggested that women so detested their own “feminine condition” that they regarded their newborn daughters with irritation and disgust. Now the centuries-old preference for sons is eroding—or even reversing. “Women of our generation want daughters precisely because we like who we are,” breezes one woman in Cookie magazine. Even Ericsson, the stubborn old goat, can sigh and mark the passing of an era. “Did male dominance exist? Of course it existed. But it seems to be gone now. And the era of the firstborn son is totally gone.”

Ericsson’s extended family is as good an illustration of the rapidly shifting landscape as any other. His 26-year-old granddaughter—“tall, slender, brighter than hell, with a take-no-prisoners personality”—is a biochemist and works on genetic sequencing. His niece studied civil engineering at the University of Southern California. His grandsons, he says, are bright and handsome, but in school “their eyes glaze over. I have to tell ’em: ‘Just don’t screw up and crash your pickup truck and get some girl pregnant and ruin your life.’” Recently Ericsson joked with the old boys at his elementary-school reunion that he was going to have a sex-change operation. “Women live longer than men. They do better in this economy. More of ’em graduate from college. They go into space and do everything men do, and sometimes they do it a whole lot better. I mean, hell, get out of the way—these females are going to leave us males in the dust.”

Man has been the dominant sex since, well, the dawn of mankind. But for the first time in human history, that is changing—and with shocking speed. Cultural and economic changes always reinforce each other. And the global economy is evolving in a way that is eroding the historical preference for male children, worldwide. Over several centuries, South Korea, for instance, constructed one of the most rigid patriarchal societies in the world. Many wives who failed to produce male heirs were abused and treated as domestic servants; some families prayed to spirits to kill off girl children. Then, in the 1970s and ’80s, the government embraced an industrial revolution and encouraged women to enter the labor force. Women moved to the city and went to college. They advanced rapidly, from industrial jobs to clerical jobs to professional work. The traditional order began to crumble soon after. In 1990, the country’s laws were revised so that women could keep custody of their children after a divorce and inherit property. In 2005, the court ruled that women could register children under their own names. As recently as 1985, about half of all women in a national survey said they “must have a son.” That percentage fell slowly until 1991 and then plummeted to just over 15 percent by 2003. Male preference in South Korea “is over,” says Monica Das Gupta, a demographer and Asia expert at the World Bank. “It happened so fast. It’s hard to believe it, but it is.” The same shift is now beginning in other rapidly industrializing countries such as India and China.

Up to a point, the reasons behind this shift are obvious. As thinking and communicating have come to eclipse physical strength and stamina as the keys to economic success, those societies that take advantage of the talents of all their adults, not just half of them, have pulled away from the rest. And because geopolitics and global culture are, ultimately, Darwinian, other societies either follow suit or end up marginalized. In 2006, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development devised the Gender, Institutions and Development Database, which measures the economic and political power of women in 162 countries. With few exceptions, the greater the power of women, the greater the country’s economic success. Aid agencies have started to recognize this relationship and have pushed to institute political quotas in about 100 countries, essentially forcing women into power in an effort to improve those countries’ fortunes. In some war-torn states, women are stepping in as a sort of maternal rescue team. Liberia’s president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, portrayed her country as a sick child in need of her care during her campaign five years ago. Postgenocide Rwanda elected to heal itself by becoming the first country with a majority of women in parliament.

In feminist circles, these social, political, and economic changes are always cast as a slow, arduous form of catch-up in a continuing struggle for female equality. But in the U.S., the world’s most advanced economy, something much more remarkable seems to be happening. American parents are beginning to choose to have girls over boys. As they imagine the pride of watching a child grow and develop and succeed as an adult, it is more often a girl that they see in their mind’s eye.
What if the modern, postindustrial economy is simply more congenial to women than to men? For a long time, evolutionary psychologists have claimed that we are all imprinted with adaptive imperatives from a distant past: men are faster and stronger and hardwired to fight for scarce resources, and that shows up now as a drive to win on Wall Street; women are programmed to find good providers and to care for their offspring, and that is manifested in more- nurturing and more-flexible behavior, ordaining them to domesticity. This kind of thinking frames our sense of the natural order. But what if men and women were fulfilling not biological imperatives but social roles, based on what was more efficient throughout a long era of human history? What if that era has now come to an end? More to the point, what if the economics of the new era are better suited to women?

Once you open your eyes to this possibility, the evidence is all around you. It can be found, most immediately, in the wreckage of the Great Recession, in which three-quarters of the 8 million jobs lost were lost by men. The worst-hit industries were overwhelmingly male and deeply identified with macho: construction, manufacturing, high finance. Some of these jobs will come back, but the overall pattern of dislocation is neither temporary nor random. The recession merely revealed—and accelerated—a profound economic shift that has been going on for at least 30 years, and in some respects even longer.

Earlier this year, for the first time in American history, the balance of the workforce tipped toward women, who now hold a majority of the nation’s jobs. The working class, which has long defined our notions of masculinity, is slowly turning into a matriarchy, with men increasingly absent from the home and women making all the decisions. Women dominate today’s colleges and professional schools—for every two men who will receive a B.A. this year, three women will do the same. Of the 15 job categories projected to grow the most in the next decade in the U.S., all but two are occupied primarily by women. Indeed, the U.S. economy is in some ways becoming a kind of traveling sisterhood: upper-class women leave home and enter the workforce, creating domestic jobs for other women to fill.

The postindustrial economy is indifferent to men’s size and strength. The attributes that are most valuable today—social intelligence, open communication, the ability to sit still and focus—are, at a minimum, not predominantly male. In fact, the opposite may be true. Women in poor parts of India are learning English faster than men to meet the demands of new global call centers. Women own more than 40 percent of private businesses in China, where a red Ferrari is the new status symbol for female entrepreneurs. Last year, Iceland elected Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir, the world’s first openly lesbian head of state, who campaigned explicitly against the male elite she claimed had destroyed the nation’s banking system, and who vowed to end the “age of testosterone.”

Yes, the U.S. still has a wage gap, one that can be convincingly explained—at least in part—by discrimination. Yes, women still do most of the child care. And yes, the upper reaches of society are still dominated by men. But given the power of the forces pushing at the economy, this setup feels like the last gasp of a dying age rather than the permanent establishment. Dozens of college women I interviewed for this story assumed that they very well might be the ones working while their husbands stayed at home, either looking for work or minding the children. Guys, one senior remarked to me, “are the new ball and chain.” It may be happening slowly and unevenly, but it’s unmistakably happening: in the long view, the modern economy is becoming a place where women hold the cards.

In his final book, The Bachelors’ Ball, published in 2007, the sociologist Pierre Bourdieu describes the changing gender dynamics of Béarn, the region in southwestern France where he grew up. The eldest sons once held the privileges of patrimonial loyalty and filial inheritance in Béarn. But over the decades, changing economic forces turned those privileges into curses. Although the land no longer produced the impressive income it once had, the men felt obligated to tend it. Meanwhile, modern women shunned farm life, lured away by jobs and adventure in the city. They occasionally returned for the traditional balls, but the men who awaited them had lost their prestige and become unmarriageable. This is the image that keeps recurring to me, one that Bourdieu describes in his book: at the bachelors’ ball, the men, self-conscious about their diminished status, stand stiffly, their hands by their sides, as the women twirl away.

The role reversal that’s under way between American men and women shows up most obviously and painfully in the working class. In recent years, male support groups have sprung up throughout the Rust Belt and in other places where the postindustrial economy has turned traditional family roles upside down. Some groups help men cope with unemployment, and others help them reconnect with their alienated families. Mustafaa El-Scari, a teacher and social worker, leads some of these groups in Kansas City. El-Scari has studied the sociology of men and boys set adrift, and he considers it his special gift to get them to open up and reflect on their new condition. The day I visited one of his classes, earlier this year, he was facing a particularly resistant crowd.

None of the 30 or so men sitting in a classroom at a downtown Kansas City school have come for voluntary adult enrichment. Having failed to pay their child support, they were given the choice by a judge to go to jail or attend a weekly class on fathering, which to them seemed the better deal. This week’s lesson, from a workbook called Quenching the Father Thirst, was supposed to involve writing a letter to a hypothetical estranged 14-year-old daughter named Crystal, whose father left her when she was a baby. But El-Scari has his own idea about how to get through to this barely awake, skeptical crew, and letters to Crystal have nothing to do with it.
Like them, he explains, he grew up watching Bill Cosby living behind his metaphorical “white picket fence”—one man, one woman, and a bunch of happy kids. “Well, that check bounced a long time ago,” he says. “Let’s see,” he continues, reading from a worksheet. What are the four kinds of paternal authority? Moral, emotional, social, and physical. “But you ain’t none of those in that house. All you are is a paycheck, and now you ain’t even that. And if you try to exercise your authority, she’ll call 911. How does that make you feel? You’re supposed to be the authority, and she says, ‘Get out of the house, bitch.’ She’s calling you ‘bitch’!”

The men are black and white, their ages ranging from about 20 to 40. A couple look like they might have spent a night or two on the streets, but the rest look like they work, or used to. Now they have put down their sodas, and El-Scari has their attention, so he gets a little more philosophical. “Who’s doing what?” he asks them. “What is our role? Everyone’s telling us we’re supposed to be the head of a nuclear family, so you feel like you got robbed. It’s toxic, and poisonous, and it’s setting us up for failure.” He writes on the board: $85,000. “This is her salary.” Then: $12,000. “This is your salary. Who’s the damn man? Who’s the man now?” A murmur rises. “That’s right. She’s the man.”

Judging by the men I spoke with afterward, El-Scari seemed to have pegged his audience perfectly. Darren Henderson was making $33 an hour laying sheet metal, until the real-estate crisis hit and he lost his job. Then he lost his duplex—“there’s my little piece of the American dream”—then his car. And then he fell behind on his child-support payments. “They make it like I’m just sitting around,” he said, “but I’m not.” As proof of his efforts, he took out a new commercial driver’s permit and a bartending license, and then threw them down on the ground like jokers, for all the use they’d been. His daughter’s mother had a $50,000-a-year job and was getting her master’s degree in social work. He’d just signed up for food stamps, which is just about the only social-welfare program a man can easily access. Recently she’d seen him waiting at the bus stop. “Looked me in the eye,” he recalled, “and just drove on by.”

The men in that room, almost without exception, were casualties of the end of the manufacturing era. Most of them had continued to work with their hands even as demand for manual labor was declining. Since 2000, manufacturing has lost almost 6 million jobs, more than a third of its total workforce, and has taken in few young workers. The housing bubble masked this new reality for a while, creating work in construction and related industries. Many of the men I spoke with had worked as electricians or builders; one had been a successful real-estate agent. Now those jobs are gone too. Henderson spent his days shuttling between unemployment offices and job interviews, wondering what his daughter might be doing at any given moment. In 1950, roughly one in 20 men of prime working age, like Henderson, was not working; today that ratio is about one in five, the highest ever recorded.

Men dominate just two of the 15 job categories projected to grow the most over the next decade: janitor and computer engineer. Women have everything else—nursing, home health assistance, child care, food preparation. Many of the new jobs, says Heather Boushey of the Center for American Progress, “replace the things that women used to do in the home for free.” None is especially high-paying. But the steady accumulation of these jobs adds up to an economy that, for the working class, has become more amenable to women than to men.

The list of growing jobs is heavy on nurturing professions, in which women, ironically, seem to benefit from old stereotypes and habits. Theoretically, there is no reason men should not be qualified. But they have proved remarkably unable to adapt. Over the course of the past century, feminism has pushed women to do things once considered against their nature—first enter the workforce as singles, then continue to work while married, then work even with small children at home. Many professions that started out as the province of men are now filled mostly with women—secretary and teacher come to mind. Yet I’m not aware of any that have gone the opposite way. Nursing schools have tried hard to recruit men in the past few years, with minimal success. Teaching schools, eager to recruit male role models, are having a similarly hard time. The range of acceptable masculine roles has changed comparatively little, and has perhaps even narrowed as men have shied away from some careers women have entered. As Jessica Grose wrote in Slate, men seem “fixed in cultural aspic.” And with each passing day, they lag further behind.

As we recover from the Great Recession, some traditionally male jobs will return—men are almost always harder-hit than women in economic downturns because construction and manufacturing are more cyclical than service industries—but that won’t change the long-term trend. When we look back on this period, argues Jamie Ladge, a business professor at Northeastern University, we will see it as a “turning point for women in the workforce.”

The economic and cultural power shift from men to women would be hugely significant even if it never extended beyond working-class America. But women are also starting to dominate middle management, and a surprising number of professional careers as well. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women now hold 51.4 percent of managerial and professional jobs—up from 26.1 percent in 1980. They make up 54 percent of all accountants and hold about half of all banking and insurance jobs. About a third of America’s physicians are now women, as are 45 percent of associates in law firms—and both those percentages are rising fast. A white-collar economy values raw intellectual horsepower, which men and women have in equal amounts. It also requires communication skills and social intelligence, areas in which women, according to many studies, have a slight edge. Perhaps most important—for better or worse—it increasingly requires formal education credentials, which women are more prone to acquire, particularly early in adulthood. Just about the only professions in which women still make up a relatively small minority of newly minted workers are engineering and those calling on a hard-science background, and even in those areas, women have made strong gains since the 1970s.

Office work has been steadily adapting to women—and in turn being reshaped by them—for 30 years or more. Joel Garreau picks up on this phenomenon in his 1991 book, Edge City, which explores the rise of suburbs that are home to giant swaths of office space along with the usual houses and malls. Companies began moving out of the city in search not only of lower rent but also of the “best educated, most conscientious, most stable workers.” They found their brightest prospects among “underemployed females living in middle-class communities on the fringe of the old urban areas.” As Garreau chronicles the rise of suburban office parks, he places special emphasis on 1978, the peak year for women entering the workforce. When brawn was off the list of job requirements, women often measured up better than men. They were smart, dutiful, and, as long as employers could make the jobs more convenient for them, more reliable. The 1999 movie Office Space was maybe the first to capture how alien and dispiriting the office park can be for men. Disgusted by their jobs and their boss, Peter and his two friends embezzle money and start sleeping through their alarm clocks. At the movie’s end, a male co-worker burns down the office park, and Peter abandons desk work for a job in construction.

Near the top of the jobs pyramid, of course, the upward march of women stalls. Prominent female CEOs, past and present, are so rare that they count as minor celebrities, and most of us can tick off their names just from occasionally reading the business pages: Meg Whitman at eBay, Carly Fiorina at Hewlett-Packard, Anne Mulcahy and Ursula Burns at Xerox, Indra Nooyi at PepsiCo; the accomplishment is considered so extraordinary that Whitman and Fiorina are using it as the basis for political campaigns. Only 3 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are women, and the number has never risen much above that.

But even the way this issue is now framed reveals that men’s hold on power in elite circles may be loosening. In business circles, the lack of women at the top is described as a “brain drain” and a crisis of “talent retention.” And while female CEOs may be rare in America’s largest companies, they are highly prized: last year, they outearned their male counterparts by 43 percent, on average, and received bigger raises.

Even around the delicate question of working mothers, the terms of the conversation are shifting. Last year, in a story about breast-feeding, I complained about how the early years of child rearing keep women out of power positions. But the term mommy track is slowly morphing into the gender-neutral flex time, reflecting changes in the workforce. For recent college graduates of both sexes, flexible arrangements are at the top of the list of workplace demands, according to a study published last year in the Harvard Business Review. And companies eager to attract and retain talented workers and managers are responding. The consulting firm Deloitte, for instance, started what’s now considered the model program, called Mass Career Customization, which allows employees to adjust their hours depending on their life stage. The program, Deloitte’s Web site explains, solves “a complex issue—one that can no longer be classified as a woman’s issue.”

“Women are knocking on the door of leadership at the very moment when their talents are especially well matched with the requirements of the day,” writes David Gergen in the introduction to Enlightened Power: How Women Are Transforming the Practice of Leadership. What are these talents? Once it was thought that leaders should be aggressive and competitive, and that men are naturally more of both. But psychological research has complicated this picture. In lab studies that simulate negotiations, men and women are just about equally assertive and competitive, with slight variations. Men tend to assert themselves in a controlling manner, while women tend to take into account the rights of others, but both styles are equally effective, write the psychologists Alice Eagly and Linda Carli, in their 2007 book, Through the Labyrinth.

Over the years, researchers have sometimes exaggerated these differences and described the particular talents of women in crude gender stereotypes: women as more empathetic, as better consensus-seekers and better lateral thinkers; women as bringing a superior moral sensibility to bear on a cutthroat business world. In the ’90s, this field of feminist business theory seemed to be forcing the point. But after the latest financial crisis, these ideas have more resonance. Researchers have started looking into the relationship between testosterone and excessive risk, and wondering if groups of men, in some basic hormonal way, spur each other to make reckless decisions. The picture emerging is a mirror image of the traditional gender map: men and markets on the side of the irrational and overemotional, and women on the side of the cool and levelheaded.

We don’t yet know with certainty whether testosterone strongly influences business decision-making. But the perception of the ideal business leader is starting to shift. The old model of command and control, with one leader holding all the decision-making power, is considered hidebound. The new model is sometimes called “post-heroic,” or “transformational” in the words of the historian and leadership expert James MacGregor Burns. The aim is to behave like a good coach, and channel your charisma to motivate others to be hardworking and creative. The model is not explicitly defined as feminist, but it echoes literature about male-female differences. A program at Columbia Business School, for example, teaches sensitive leadership and social intelligence, including better reading of facial expressions and body language. “We never explicitly say, ‘Develop your feminine side,’ but it’s clear that’s what we’re advocating,” says Jamie Ladge.

A 2008 study attempted to quantify the effect of this more-feminine management style. Researchers at Columbia Business School and the University of Maryland analyzed data on the top 1,500 U.S. companies from 1992 to 2006 to determine the relationship between firm performance and female participation in senior management. Firms that had women in top positions performed better, and this was especially true if the firm pursued what the researchers called an “innovation intensive strategy,” in which, they argued, “creativity and collaboration may be especially important”—an apt description of the future economy.

It could be that women boost corporate performance, or it could be that better-performing firms have the luxury of recruiting and keeping high-potential women. But the association is clear: innovative, successful firms are the ones that promote women. The same Columbia-Maryland study ranked America’s industries by the proportion of firms that employed female executives, and the bottom of the list reads like the ghosts of the economy past: shipbuilding, real estate, coal, steelworks, machinery.
IF YOU REALLY want to see where the world is headed, of course, looking at the current workforce can get you only so far. To see the future—of the workforce, the economy, and the culture—you need to spend some time at America’s colleges and professional schools, where a quiet revolution is under way. More than ever, college is the gateway to economic success, a necessary precondition for moving into the upper-middle class—and increasingly even the middle class. It’s this broad, striving middle class that defines our society. And demographically, we can see with absolute clarity that in the coming decades the middle class will be dominated by women.
We’ve all heard about the collegiate gender gap. But the implications of that gap have not yet been fully digested. Women now earn 60 percent of master’s degrees, about half of all law and medical degrees, and 42 percent of all M.B.A.s. Most important, women earn almost 60 percent of all bachelor’s degrees—the minimum requirement, in most cases, for an affluent life. In a stark reversal since the 1970s, men are now more likely than women to hold only a high-school diploma. “One would think that if men were acting in a rational way, they would be getting the education they need to get along out there,” says Tom Mortenson, a senior scholar at the Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education. “But they are just failing to adapt.”

This spring, I visited a few schools around Kansas City to get a feel for the gender dynamics of higher education. I started at the downtown campus of Metropolitan Community College. Metropolitan is the kind of place where people go to learn practical job skills and keep current with the changing economy, and as in most community colleges these days, men were conspicuously absent. One afternoon, in the basement cafeteria of a nearly windowless brick building, several women were trying to keep their eyes on their biology textbook and ignore the text messages from their babysitters. Another crew was outside the ladies’ room, braiding each other’s hair. One woman, still in her medical-assistant scrubs, looked like she was about to fall asleep in the elevator between the first and fourth floors.

When Bernard Franklin took over as campus president in 2005, he looked around and told his staff early on that their new priority was to “recruit more boys.” He set up mentoring programs and men-only study groups and student associations. He made a special effort to bond with male students, who liked to call him “Suit.” “It upset some of my feminists,” he recalls. Yet, a few years later, the tidal wave of women continues to wash through the school—they now make up about 70 percent of its students. They come to train to be nurses and teachers—African American women, usually a few years older than traditional college students, and lately, working-class white women from the suburbs seeking a cheap way to earn a credential. As for the men? Well, little has changed. “I recall one guy who was really smart,” one of the school’s counselors told me. “But he was reading at a sixth-grade level and felt embarrassed in front of the women. He had to hide his books from his friends, who would tease him when he studied. Then came the excuses. ‘It’s spring, gotta play ball.’ ‘It’s winter, too cold.’ He didn’t make it.”

It makes some economic sense that women attend community colleges—and in fact, all colleges—in greater numbers than men. Women ages 25 to 34 with only a high-school diploma currently have a median income of $25,474, while men in the same position earn $32,469. But it makes sense only up to a point. The well-paid lifetime union job has been disappearing for at least 30 years. Kansas City, for example, has shifted from steel manufacturing to pharmaceuticals and information technologies. “The economy isn’t as friendly to men as it once was,” says Jacqueline King, of the American Council on Education. “You would think men and women would go to these colleges at the same rate.” But they don’t.

In 2005, King’s group conducted a survey of lower-income adults in college. Men, it turned out, had a harder time committing to school, even when they desperately needed to retool. They tended to start out behind academically, and many felt intimidated by the schoolwork. They reported feeling isolated and were much worse at seeking out fellow students, study groups, or counselors to help them adjust. Mothers going back to school described themselves as good role models for their children. Fathers worried that they were abrogating their responsibilities as breadwinner.

The student gender gap started to feel like a crisis to some people in higher-education circles in the mid-2000s, when it began showing up not just in community and liberal-arts colleges but in the flagship public universities—the UCs and the SUNYs and the UNCs. Like many of those schools, the University of Missouri at Kansas City, a full research university with more than 13,000 students, is now tipping toward 60 percent women, a level many admissions officers worry could permanently shift the atmosphere and reputation of a school. In February, I visited with Ashley Burress, UMKC’s student-body president. (The other three student-government officers this school year were also women.) Burress, a cute, short, African American 24-year-old grad student who is getting a doctor-of-pharmacy degree, had many of the same complaints I heard from other young women. Guys high-five each other when they get a C, while girls beat themselves up over a B-minus. Guys play video games in each other’s rooms, while girls crowd the study hall. Girls get their degrees with no drama, while guys seem always in danger of drifting away. “In 2012, I will be Dr. Burress,” she said. “Will I have to deal with guys who don’t even have a bachelor’s degree? I would like to date, but I’m putting myself in a really small pool.”

UMKC is a working- and middle-class school—the kind of place where traditional sex roles might not be anathema. Yet as I talked to students this spring, I realized how much the basic expectations for men and women had shifted. Many of the women’s mothers had established their careers later in life, sometimes after a divorce, and they had urged their daughters to get to their own careers more quickly. They would be a campus of Tracy Flicks, except that they seemed neither especially brittle nor secretly falling apart.

Victoria, Michelle, and Erin are sorority sisters. Victoria’s mom is a part-time bartender at a hotel. Victoria is a biology major and wants to be a surgeon; soon she’ll apply to a bunch of medical schools. She doesn’t want kids for a while, because she knows she’ll “be at the hospital, like, 100 hours a week,” and when she does have kids, well, she’ll “be the hotshot surgeon, and he”—a nameless he—“will be at home playing with the kiddies.”

Michelle, a self-described “perfectionist,” also has her life mapped out. She’s a psychology major and wants to be a family therapist. After college, she will apply to grad school and look for internships. She is well aware of the career-counseling resources on campus. And her fiancé?
MICHELLE: He’s changed majors, like, 16 times. Last week he wanted to be a dentist. This week it’s environmental science.

ERIN: Did he switch again this week? When you guys have kids, he’ll definitely stay home. Seriously, what does he want to do?

MICHELLE: It depends on the day of the week. Remember last year? It was bio. It really is a joke. But it’s not. It’s funny, but it’s not.
Among traditional college students from the highest-income families, the gender gap pretty much disappears. But the story is not so simple. Wealthier students tend to go to elite private schools, and elite private schools live by their own rules. Quietly, they’ve been opening up a new frontier in affirmative action, with boys playing the role of the underprivileged applicants needing an extra boost. In 2003, a study by the economists Sandy Baum and Eban Goodstein found that among selective liberal-arts schools, being male raises the chance of college acceptance by 6.5 to 9 percentage points. Now the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has voted to investigate what some academics have described as the “open secret” that private schools “are discriminating in admissions in order to maintain what they regard as an appropriate gender balance.”

Jennifer Delahunty, the dean of admissions and financial aid at Kenyon College, in Ohio, let this secret out in a 2006 New York Times op-ed. Gender balance, she wrote back then, is the elephant in the room. And today, she told me, the problem hasn’t gone away. A typical female applicant, she said, manages the process herself—lines up the interviews, sets up a campus visit, requests a visit with faculty members. But the college has seen more than one male applicant “sit back on the couch, sometimes with their eyes closed, while their mom tells them where to go and what to do. Sometimes we say, ‘What a nice essay his mom wrote,’” she said, in that funny-but-not vein.
To avoid crossing the dreaded 60 percent threshold, admissions officers have created a language to explain away the boys’ deficits: “Brain hasn’t kicked in yet.” “Slow to cook.” “Hasn’t quite peaked.” “Holistic picture.” At times Delahunty has become so worried about “overeducated females” and “undereducated males” that she jokes she is getting conspiratorial. She once called her sister, a pediatrician, to vet her latest theory: “Maybe these boys are genetically like canaries in a coal mine, absorbing so many toxins and bad things in the environment that their DNA is shifting. Maybe they’re like those frogs—they’re more vulnerable or something, so they’ve gotten deformed.”

Clearly, some percentage of boys are just temperamentally unsuited to college, at least at age 18 or 20, but without it, they have a harder time finding their place these days. “Forty years ago, 30 years ago, if you were one of the fairly constant fraction of boys who wasn’t ready to learn in high school, there were ways for you to enter the mainstream economy,” says Henry Farber, an economist at Princeton. “When you woke up, there were jobs. There were good industrial jobs, so you could have a good industrial, blue-collar career. Now those jobs are gone.”

Since the 1980s, as women have flooded colleges, male enrollment has grown far more slowly. And the disparities start before college. Throughout the ’90s, various authors and researchers agonized over why boys seemed to be failing at every level of education, from elementary school on up, and identified various culprits: a misguided feminism that treated normal boys as incipient harassers (Christina Hoff Sommers); different brain chemistry (Michael Gurian); a demanding, verbally focused curriculum that ignored boys’ interests (Richard Whitmire). But again, it’s not all that clear that boys have become more dysfunctional—or have changed in any way. What’s clear is that schools, like the economy, now value the self-control, focus, and verbal aptitude that seem to come more easily to young girls.

Researchers have suggested any number of solutions. A movement is growing for more all-boys schools and classes, and for respecting the individual learning styles of boys. Some people think that boys should be able to walk around in class, or take more time on tests, or have tests and books that cater to their interests. In their desperation to reach out to boys, some colleges have formed football teams and started engineering programs. Most of these special accommodations sound very much like the kind of affirmative action proposed for women over the years—which in itself is an alarming flip.

Whether boys have changed or not, we are well past the time to start trying some experiments. It is fabulous to see girls and young women poised for success in the coming years. But allowing generations of boys to grow up feeling rootless and obsolete is not a recipe for a peaceful future. Men have few natural support groups and little access to social welfare; the men’s-rights groups that do exist in the U.S. are taking on an angry, antiwoman edge. Marriages fall apart or never happen at all, and children are raised with no fathers. Far from being celebrated, women’s rising power is perceived as a threat.

WHAT WOULD A SOCIETY in which women are on top look like? We already have an inkling. This is the first time that the cohort of Americans ages 30 to 44 has more college-educated women than college-educated men, and the effects are upsetting the traditional Cleaver-family dynamics. In 1970, women contributed 2 to 6 percent of the family income. Now the typical working wife brings home 42.2 percent, and four in 10 mothers—many of them single mothers—are the primary breadwinners in their families. The whole question of whether mothers should work is moot, argues Heather Boushey of the Center for American Progress, “because they just do. This idealized family—he works, she stays home—hardly exists anymore.”

The terms of marriage have changed radically since 1970. Typically, women’s income has been the main factor in determining whether a family moves up the class ladder or stays stagnant. And increasing numbers of women—unable to find men with a similar income and education—are forgoing marriage altogether. In 1970, 84 percent of women ages 30 to 44 were married; now 60 percent are. In 2007, among American women without a high-school diploma, 43 percent were married. And yet, for all the hand-wringing over the lonely spinster, the real loser in society—the only one to have made just slight financial gains since the 1970s—is the single man, whether poor or rich, college-educated or not. Hens rejoice; it’s the bachelor party that’s over.

The sociologist Kathryn Edin spent five years talking with low-income mothers in the inner suburbs of Philadelphia. Many of these neighborhoods, she found, had turned into matriarchies, with women making all the decisions and dictating what the men should and should not do. “I think something feminists have missed,” Edin told me, “is how much power women have” when they’re not bound by marriage. The women, she explained, “make every important decision”—whether to have a baby, how to raise it, where to live. “It’s definitely ‘my way or the highway,’” she said. “Thirty years ago, cultural norms were such that the fathers might have said, ‘Great, catch me if you can.’ Now they are desperate to father, but they are pessimistic about whether they can meet her expectations.” The women don’t want them as husbands, and they have no steady income to provide. So what do they have?

“Nothing,” Edin says. “They have nothing. The men were just annihilated in the recession of the ’90s, and things never got better. Now it’s just awful.”
The situation today is not, as Edin likes to say, a “feminist nirvana.” The phenomenon of children being born to unmarried parents “has spread to barrios and trailer parks and rural areas and small towns,” Edin says, and it is creeping up the class ladder. After staying steady for a while, the portion of American children born to unmarried parents jumped to 40 percent in the past few years. Many of their mothers are struggling financially; the most successful are working and going to school and hustling to feed the children, and then falling asleep in the elevator of the community college.

Still, they are in charge. “The family changes over the past four decades have been bad for men and bad for kids, but it’s not clear they are bad for women,” says W. Bradford Wilcox, the head of the University of Virginia’s National Marriage Project.

Over the years, researchers have proposed different theories to explain the erosion of marriage in the lower classes: the rise of welfare, or the disappearance of work and thus of marriageable men. But Edin thinks the most compelling theory is that marriage has disappeared because women are setting the terms—and setting them too high for the men around them to reach. “I want that white-picket-fence dream,” one woman told Edin, and the men she knew just didn’t measure up, so she had become her own one-woman mother/father/nurturer/provider. The whole country’s future could look much as the present does for many lower-class African Americans: the mothers pull themselves up, but the men don’t follow. First-generation college-educated white women may join their black counterparts in a new kind of middle class, where marriage is increasingly rare.

As the traditional order has been upended, signs of the profound disruption have popped up in odd places. Japan is in a national panic over the rise of the “herbivores,” the cohort of young men who are rejecting the hard-drinking salaryman life of their fathers and are instead gardening, organizing dessert parties, acting cartoonishly feminine, and declining to have sex. The generational young-women counterparts are known in Japan as the “carnivores,” or sometimes the “hunters.”
American pop culture keeps producing endless variations on the omega male, who ranks even below the beta in the wolf pack. This often-unemployed, romantically challenged loser can show up as a perpetual adolescent (in Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up or The 40-Year-Old Virgin), or a charmless misanthrope (in Noah Baumbach’s Greenberg), or a happy couch potato (in a Bud Light commercial). He can be sweet, bitter, nostalgic, or cynical, but he cannot figure out how to be a man. “We call each other ‘man,’” says Ben Stiller’s character in Greenberg, “but it’s a joke. It’s like imitating other people.” The American male novelist, meanwhile, has lost his mojo and entirely given up on sex as a way for his characters to assert macho dominance, Katie Roiphe explains in her essay “The Naked and the Conflicted.” Instead, she writes, “the current sexual style is more childlike; innocence is more fashionable than virility, the cuddle preferable to sex.”

At the same time, a new kind of alpha female has appeared, stirring up anxiety and, occasionally, fear. The cougar trope started out as a joke about desperate older women. Now it’s gone mainstream, even in Hollywood, home to the 50-something producer with a starlet on his arm. Susan Sarandon and Demi Moore have boy toys, and Aaron Johnson, the 19-year-old star of Kick-Ass, is a proud boy toy for a woman 24 years his senior. The New York Times columnist Gail Collins recently wrote that the cougar phenomenon is beginning to look like it’s not about desperate women at all but about “desperate young American men who are latching on to an older woman who’s a good earner.” Up in the Air, a movie set against the backdrop of recession-era layoffs, hammers home its point about the shattered ego of the American man. A character played by George Clooney is called too old to be attractive by his younger female colleague and is later rejected by an older woman whom he falls in love with after she sleeps with him—and who turns out to be married. George Clooney! If the sexiest man alive can get twice rejected (and sexually played) in a movie, what hope is there for anyone else? The message to American men is summarized by the title of a recent offering from the romantic-comedy mill: She’s Out of My League.

In fact, the more women dominate, the more they behave, fittingly, like the dominant sex. Rates of violence committed by middle-aged women have skyrocketed since the 1980s, and no one knows why. High-profile female killers have been showing up regularly in the news: Amy Bishop, the homicidal Alabama professor; Jihad Jane and her sidekick, Jihad Jamie; the latest generation of Black Widows, responsible for suicide bombings in Russia. In Roman Polanski’s The Ghost Writer, the traditional political wife is rewritten as a cold-blooded killer at the heart of an evil conspiracy. In her recent video Telephone, Lady Gaga, with her infallible radar for the cultural edge, rewrites Thelma and Louise as a story not about elusive female empowerment but about sheer, ruthless power. Instead of killing themselves, she and her girlfriend (played by Beyoncé) kill a bad boyfriend and random others in a homicidal spree and then escape in their yellow pickup truck, Gaga bragging, “We did it, Honey B.”

The Marlboro Man, meanwhile, master of wild beast and wild country, seems too far-fetched and preposterous even for advertising. His modern equivalents are the stunted men in the Dodge Charger ad that ran during this year’s Super Bowl in February. Of all the days in the year, one might think, Super Bowl Sunday should be the one most dedicated to the cinematic celebration of macho. The men in Super Bowl ads should be throwing balls and racing motorcycles and doing whatever it is men imagine they could do all day if only women were not around to restrain them.

Instead, four men stare into the camera, unsmiling, not moving except for tiny blinks and sways. They look like they’ve been tranquilized, like they can barely hold themselves up against the breeze. Their lips do not move, but a voice-over explains their predicament—how they’ve been beaten silent by the demands of tedious employers and enviro-fascists and women. Especially women. “I will put the seat down, I will separate the recycling, I will carry your lip balm.” This last one—lip balm—is expressed with the mildest spit of emotion, the only hint of the suppressed rage against the dominatrix. Then the commercial abruptly cuts to the fantasy, a Dodge Charger vrooming toward the camera punctuated by bold all caps: MAN’S LAST STAND. But the motto is unconvincing. After that display of muteness and passivity, you can only imagine a woman—one with shiny lips—steering the beast.

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The Fall 2011 Semester Approaches!

It is getting extremely close to the beginning of a new school year & semester. I should have something really philosophical to say about higher education and gender studies, but nothing is coming to mind. So, I leave you this from xkcd.com:

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