It’s a new year, a new semester, and young people are generally back in person at colleges. But what demographics are represented these days in higher education? Studies show that the numbers have been skewing for years toward a greater number of young women than young men attending colleges. Some reveal the numbers are as high as 60% women and 40% men.

Why? In the past, I’ve thought it’s because momentum takes a while to build. It’s been some time since women gained access to higher education, but these things take time. Especially in recent years, women have gained acceptance in fields more commonly dominated by men, like business, the sciences, and politics. I thought this number demonstrated a surge of women who were interested in these areas and suddenly making a push to be more competitive, but that the numbers would eventually even out again.

But a student discussion from the WSJ indicates that the number of men applying to colleges has actually dropped even as the number of women applying has increased. Here’s an excerpt of what one young man cites as the reason:

“Calls for greater diversity have bled into a demonization of male leadership. So why should men willingly enter an environment where — while accruing massive debt — they’ll be discouraged at every turn?

Clubs such as “Society of Women Engineers” and “Women in Business” exist at Lehigh, but I would be tarred as a sexist if I formed a similar club for men. Unless opportunities are created specifically for men, and colleges can show that they support and value male students, the college-enrollment gender gap will continue to expand.”

—Ethan Moscot, Lehigh University, cognitive science 

When I first read this, I thought he had a good point, and I admired his courage, knowing he’d probably receive some pushback. Academia can be full of poisonous people, and when faced with such teachers, it’s easy to think women are trying to demonize male leadership when most really just want equal opportunities.

His point about clubs at first seemed legitimate. I looked up a list of national college organizations, and most of the once male-exclusive clubs are now co-ed, while there are a large number of new female-oriented organizations. But it’s not as though colleges are not still filled with prestigious fraternities and sports teams, who usually receive massive funding. The U.S. still abounds with gentlemen’s clubs and political and business organizations who are often made up of mostly male leadership. These places often offer mentorship opportunities for youth.

Young men do not have a shortage of opportunities. So, is it that male students have a harder time finding them on campus? Rather than walking down the quad and finding ten mini-gentlemen clubs, now they have to look up national organizations and work to find one? There’s nothing wrong with being disappointed by that. But to go so far as to not attend college because of it? It sounds like young men are saying unless I’m your number one focus, I don’t want to be involved. Unless I’m the priority, you’re actively hurting me.

Honestly, that sounds to me like an older sibling whose parents’ have a new baby. Suddenly, they’re not the center of attention anymore. They don’t have exclusive access to their parents’ funds and time. Sometimes adults have to prioritize the needs of the baby while they are still so vulnerable and haven’t gotten their feet under them yet. That may sound like an ad hominem attack, but as soon as I thought of this analogy, I actually gained much more compassion for this young man.

I’m the second oldest of seven children, so I understand the loneliness and loss that older children suffer when their parents are short on time. Our needs come last because we’re seen as more stable. It is hurtful, even as we understand that a new life is a beautiful and wonderful thing and that our parents don’t love us less, they just have less time and energy to show us that love.

So if these days more people talk about women's groups, offer them funding, and plan new startups, that is a loss for men. But is it a loss that should crush them? If you no longer have exclusive attention and affirmation, it is a loss, but do you need a monopoly on discussions and programs to feel supported at all?

If your mom made you a dozen cookies every weekend when you were an only child, but now you have to share them with your younger sibling – yes, that’s a technical loss. But did you really need twelve cookies, or will you do just fine with five or seven? Maybe sometimes you get a couple more, maybe sometimes your sibling does. Should it devastate you? Gender conversations often feel this petty. “But mom, last time he stole two of my cookies, so this time I should get two of his!” “I did not! “No, I should get three of his, because stealing is wrong!” 

Part of me thinks these young men need to grow up. Imagine if every American who wanted to pull themselves up from their bootstraps said to the world, “unless you encourage me and show me I’m valuable, why should I try? Affirm me, tell me I’m worth it, show me you care.” Fewer gentlemen’s clubs don’t mean you have no support - men are in fact still the majority in most industries and have a much easier time finding one-on-one mentors since men still make up a larger percentage of managers, CEOs and the like. Also, I didn’t realize this, but women have outnumbered men at colleges since 1980, so should you really blame 21st-century feminism?

But on the other hand, I perfectly understand what he means about it being difficult to pursue your dreams if you are not actively supported and valued.

Because that lack is what women have experienced for most of history. 

Do you know what would have been an incredibly powerful argument? If this young man had said, “now I understand why you have made such a push to have women-only groups and to actively celebrate women. Because when men don’t receive such things, it is crushing. It makes it hard to pursue dreams when we have no encouragement. I get it now. This is what you’ve been dealing with. Now, please, don’t do it to me in return.” And we should not! That’s just as wrong! 

But I don’t think he made the connection. Many still believe in a traditional view, which explains that the difference between male and female strengths has caused the gap in representation in certain workplaces. Contrary to liberal ideology, I do agree there are clear differences between men and women, which certainly can impact capacity for some jobs. But we are not so different that both genders are not equally affected by neglect. If the attendance of men at colleges has plummeted by 20% within one generation because of less encouragement and targeted support, is it any surprise that only 1% of women have been famous leaders, inventors, and artists throughout history? Since we not only received no encouragement but were actively discouraged and prevented from such pursuits?

I agree this young man should be able to form whatever male club he wants without being attacked (I mean, I wouldn’t recommend a Nazi group, but it’s a free country). Any time I hear a woman demonize men or male leadership, I push back against this attitude. I will not stand for a Femme French Revolution. It doesn’t work, folks. 

But I find it utterly ironic that I am willing to extend empathy to this young man, yet he shows no indication of empathizing with women who have experienced the same thing. Yes, it feels bad to be ignored, to be mocked, and to have to work harder than others to find opportunities, doesn’t it? But are we going to sit at the kitchen table with a ruler to make sure the contested cookies are divided exactly in half or are we going to show each other some reciprocal love and respect? Maybe when we see the other is down, we should give them our last cookie, rather than clutching on to every crumb we can get. Even Jesus argued that true generosity is not sharing when you can spare, but giving your last coin when you are but a poor widow. Perhaps if we spent less time griping about pronouns and Title IX funding, and more time asking what we could do for each other, we’d find more peace.

Caylah Coffeen is a Millennial in Huntsville, AL who knows how to think and speaks up for the sake of truth and a future as bright as the stars. Her column appears every Friday in 1819 News. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to [email protected].