Pollitt takes a swipe at the "war on boys"

The Nation columnist sounds off at critics who would hide their sons from gangs of educated women.

Published January 19, 2006 11:26PM (EST)

Two months ago, it was the "war on Christmas." Now it's the "war on boys." Am I the only one who thinks this whole hoopla is just some diversionary tactic designed to get people's minds off of spying and roadside bombs in Iraq? I can see it now: a Fox News banner of a boy in a dunce cap getting the crap beaten out of him by a bespectacled girl with a graphing calculator.

But I digress. According to social critics like John Tierney, Kate O'Beirne, Michael Gurian, Christina Hoff Sommers and Laura Bush, the "war on boys" is very real, and it's being waged in America's schools -- where the ratio of male to female students, historically tilted far in favor of the boys, has now begun shifting uncomfortably in favor of the girls. Apparently, boys are being held back, pushed down and smacked around by a new gang of hypereducated females.

This so-called war on boys has been simmering for some time; Hoff Sommers even wrote a book about it in 2000. But it hit a crescendo a few weeks back with a screed by Tierney in the New York Times, in which he reminded readers that boys don't make passes at girls who wear glasses by mashing together figures about how women outnumber men in colleges with research about how ladies don't marry down -- only to conclude that we better watch out or all these educated babes will die alone, having lived sexless, loveless lives with only their cats and dissertations on Milton to keep them warm at night. Or something like that.

Unsurprisingly, Broadsheet friend and Nation columnist Katha Pollitt was not impressed by Tierney's ejaculations on the subject, and last week decided to explain why.

As an undergraduate at Radcliffe when the ratio of women to men was one to four, Pollitt points out in last week's column that she didn't remember "worrying about the boys' social lives, or whether they would find anyone to marry." So it's funny now that with the scales tilted in the other direction and 57 percent of college students female, suddenly the big concern has become "Who will all those educated women marry?"

Pollitt also takes on George Gilder's specious claim in the National Review that the challenges men face in education are the result of institutions that "have flounced through the last forty years fashioning a fluffy pink playpen of feminist studies and agitprop 'herstory,' taught amid a green goo of eco-motherism and anti-industrial phobia." (Gilder clearly did not go to school with me at Northwestern University in the mid-1990s, where there was not so much a "fluffy pink playpen" as there was "a purple and black football obsession.") Apparently, he also did not go to school with Pollitt's daughter, who, Pollitt reports, was asked to read a total of four books by women throughout middle school and high school ("Their Eyes Were Watching God," "Mrs. Dalloway," "Beloved" and "Uncle Tom's Cabin"). "Four books in seven years: Is that what we're arguing about here?" asks Pollitt wearily.

"If the mating game worked fine when women were ignorant and helpless and breaks down when they smarten up, that certainly tells us something about marriage," Pollitt continues. But she's not sure she agrees that the dating scene today truly consists of "women who love Woolf and men who love Grand Theft Auto." Colleges, she writes, have become more like trade schools at which kids get credentialed for careers, and "because of the sexist nature of the labor market, women need those credentials more than men." Pollitt lists a number of lucrative and predominantly male professions that don't require diplomas, wondering if maybe "boys focus less on school because they think they'll come out ahead anyway. What solid, stable jobs with a future are there for women without at least some higher ed?"

"People's ideas about life often lag behind reality -- some boys haven't gotten the message about the decline of high-paying blue-collar work, or the unlikeliness of rap or sports stardom, the way some girls haven't gotten the message that it is foolish, just really incredibly stupid, to rely on being supported by a man," Pollitt writes in conclusion. "Most of them, however, have read the memo about having, if not a career exactly, career skills. Their mothers, so many of them divorced and struggling, made sure of that. As for the boys, maybe they will just have to learn to learn in a room full of smart females."

We could not have said it better ourselves.

By Rebecca Traister

Rebecca Traister writes for Salon. She is the author of "Big Girls Don't Cry: The Election that Changed Everything for American Women" (Free Press). Follow @rtraister on Twitter.

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