Why the “New Math” of No Men on Campuses Doesn’t Add Up
As soon as I saw the headline in the New York Times, I knew I wasn’t going to like this article from last week’s Sunday Styles. And indeed, there are so many problems with this article that in the interest of kindness, I’m going to start with the one true statement: yes, in general, there are more women than men on college campuses (although this is not true for the school that I attend). That is objectively, statistically correct.
But the direction that Alex Williams, the author of the article, takes the story, is so ridiculously full of stereotypes about both men and women, so heteronormative, and so just plain wrong that I’m not sure how to begin taking it apart here. As a college student, I can say that students do seem generally upset about the lack of a dating culture, although this is something that I’ve heard from both men and women. Others find the culture of casual sex to be appealing, others dislike it, and many don’t think that this culture exists in the first place. But the idea – perpetuated by Williams – that women are clawing at each other in a desperate search for the perfect man – is actually laughable. The problem is that most people don’t know that. If it’s being published in the NYT, people are probably going to assume that it’s true.
So I’m going to go this article’s assumptions, step by step, as a junior at another fairly elite (private, gender-balanced) school, and provide a college student’s perspective. I’m not pretending to speak for all students, but after Williams’ article (which apparently even the interviewees feel did not represent them fairly), it seems necessary.
1) Women find it harder to find a date on a Saturday night. This is something that I think is true of most college students, not just women. Dating culture is something that is changing, and seems to be centered more around “hanging out” than going out for dinner and a movie. The lack of formal dating doesn’t seem to be something that most people mind, at least in my experience. And the assumption that all women want to be dating men is incredibly heteronormative – something that this article kind of revels in. Why mention the fact that significant numbers of people don’t want to date others of the opposite sex? Clearly, that’s an unimportant detail.
2) There is a small number of eligible bachelors, and women are brawling over who gets to date them. This is just absurd. The idea that there is a single “dating pool” on a college campus of thousands is something that I think any student would laugh at. Different men look “eligible” to different people. And most of the women I know have better things to do than to fight with their friends over the men they’re interested in.
3) Women must assert themselves romantically, or find themselves alone on Valentine’s day with a romantic comedy and a box of pizza. First of all, there’s nothing wrong with women asserting themselves romantically. Second of all, there are alternatives to being with someone and being stereotypically depressed on Valentine’s Day. I know many, many women who are single because they choose to be.
4) Women want more than a “hookup.” Dividing the tendency toward casual physical encounters along gendered lines is fallacious and problematic. Some women like to hook up, some don’t. The same goes for men. When women are told over and over by the media that they want more than a “hookup,” it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy – the same goes for men.
Some people will meet in college and marry. Some won’t date at all in college. But to try to document these patterns by saying that too many women on a campus will leave them lonely and desperate is reductive in the extreme. What happened when gender balances were skewed the other way, forty or fifty years ago? Did men sit around bemoaning their lack of dates? No, they studied – and dated – and had a normal college experience, whatever that meant to them. Why women aren’t allowed to do the same, frankly, boggles my mind.
Photo from Glenn Harper's Flickr photostream.