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Can Men’s Centers Reverse the Gender Gap on Campus?

photograph of empty lecture hall

Within the past couple decades, the gender ratio of students entering college has been experiencing a great reversal from the pre-1970s college admission rates. Today, college’s student populations are made up of almost 60 percent of women and 40 percent of men, a number that is only expected to rise. Millions fewer men are even stepping foot on campus. And even once in college, women are graduating at higher levels than men across the four-year, five-year, and six-year rates. After a year of online classes due to COVID-19, 75 percent of those who dropped out of college were male students.

This may not seem like it would be a big issue to many people — after all, it took many decades of fighting by women to force colleges to even accept them into their programs. Now, they’re achieving at far greater levels than their male counterparts. Unfortunately, in the global context, millions of girls and women still have no access to education, or their education is lacking in the quality that boys and men receive. Meanwhile, in the professional world, men still dominate elite and upper level positions, while women are still trying to break the glass ceiling. Despite the significance of these larger trends, the gender gap in college enrollment will also have an important impact on society and the economy for generations to come. Yet, many people, administrations, and institutions are struggling to understand and explain this phenomenon.

While there are mostly likely a combination of factors that result in this trend, some have offered speculative explanations that might provide educators a way to prevent a continuing decline. One such theory suggests that the widening gap is simply an extension of the behavioral trends witnessed in child development. Historically, women and girls have been doing better with their education throughout their childhoods and into adulthood. Even at the elementary level, girls perform better at school with higher grades and improved behavior in the classroom. By the high school age, more girls are graduating with degrees and then applying to college, than boys, who continue to lag behind. The fact that this starts at such a young age could suggest biological factors, but could also speak to larger sociological factors. By the time children are entering school they are well aware of their gender and, while they are not explicitly aware, express behavior that conforms to the societal expectations of that gender. So, if 75 percent of public school teachers are women, then boys in those classrooms may internalize the idea that the educational field is a female-dominated field and not want to pursue higher education later in life. Or, a lack of male role models in school, or at home, could also push boys away from trying to excel in school.

Another historical factor could be that men have been skipping higher education for labor-intensive work for almost a century. Given the high cost of college tuition, it can be tempting to go straight from high school into the workforce for financial reasons. Women, on the other hand, have fewer opportunities outside of college (or marriage) to earn enough money to have a financially stable life.

But even when men do make it onto college campuses, they still are not graduating at comparable rates to women. Some have speculated that it has to do with the current culture and climate on college campuses. First, initial imbalances have a tendency to snowball; if a college’s student body starts becoming overwhelmingly female, then the school begins to lose more and more admissions. In an attempt to counter these shifts, colleges have been prioritizing admitting male students in hopes to shorten the gap because a more equal balance creates a more attractive campus for both male and female students.  Another (seemingly politically-motivated) theory is that college campuses are making men feel unwelcome on campus by focusing their efforts and attention on different student populations. These commentators claim that continued criticism of white male privilege has turned this audience off, and that we shouldn’t be shocked by their disinterest in the academy. Whether this is a factor that can be, or even should be, addressed is another question altogether.

One innovative way that colleges have been trying to address men struggling during college is with Men’s centers on campus. Most people are probably already familiar with Women’s centers on college campuses, which offer a safe place for people to visit to discuss or gather information on topics relating to women’s issues. Men’s centers, on the other hand, would work on issues directly relating to men, whose consequences are often the focus in Women’s Centers. For example, The University of Massachusetts Amherst has their own Men and Masculinities Center that takes a male-positive approach to their mission. By teaching men to focus on changing for the better, this mindset “rejects the idea that men are somehow intrinsically emotionless, violent or sexist.” It is a tragic and historical idea that men cannot feel or cry, which only results in men finding other, often violent, ways to express their emotions, particularly against women. In terms of mental health, this positive mindset could greatly affect the staggering numbers of suicide among men compared to women. For college students across genders, suicide is the second leading cause of death with over 1,000 suicides on college campuses per year. When evaluating the numbers by genders, in 2019 men were over three times as likely to die by suicide than women. Creating a Men’s center on campuses could potentially encourage men to speak with professionals or each other about their feelings and mental health. Even if campuses provide counselors, men might be deterred from seeking out help or visiting for fear of not living up to the image of a “true man” that society has depicted as cold and tough. While these are only a few issues that Men’s Centers could address for men in college, they could have a profound impact on the performance of men in college. Eventually, if more men graduate with college degrees, then more and more might start applying to college in the first place as well.

Men’s centers can’t address all of the issues that men face while pursuing their higher education, but they have the potential to create successful experiences for more men on campus. It would take time, but the ratio could slide back towards a more equal rate if boys see more and more examples of the benefits of higher education. As mentioned earlier, however, many of the factors can be attributed to starting at a young age for boys, so more will need to be done at the earlier stages of education to get at the root of the problem, rather than reaching the percent that make it onto college campuses.

The Pink Tax (And Why It’s Time Women Opt for the Blue Razors)

Photo of three pink razors in a diagonal line on a white background

Paying significantly more money for a product based almost exclusively upon its pink color seems ridiculous. However, many women are unaware that they are doing exactly that on their weekly trips to the grocery store. In fact, the physical separation of men’s and women’s products in many stores often prevents both sexes from ever noticing the price difference between products. Awareness of the “pink tax” and the ethical debate associated with gender-based pricing has risen significantly in recent years. In fact, both New York and California have made gender-based pricing against the law and many consumers are calling for more states to do the same.

In order to grasp just how widespread and significant this issue is becoming a study was published in New York City called “From Cradle to Crane: The cost of being a female consumer”, which was research conducted to encourage government action. The study, as referenced on an NPR broadcast, illustrated that on average women are paying 7-8 percent more than what men were paying for comparable products in departments such as clothing. However, personal care products are the items most notorious for blatant price discrepancies, being on average 13 percent more expensive for women across a variety of products including deodorant, shampoo, shaving cream, and particularly razors.

In fact, many news outlets including NPR, NBC, and CNN have investigated these price differences at drugstores and grocery stores across the country to understand how this discrimination plays into female consumers’ everyday lives. Karen Duffin from NPR went to a Walgreens in Times Square and found one packet of the same basic razors from the women’s section and the other from the men’s. The brand and quantity for both packets remained the same, however, the men’s razors were priced at 59.9 cents per razor, whereas the same razors for women were doubled at $1.25 per razor. Also, price differences are not exclusive to retailers. Investigative reporting on The Today Show actually depicted gender-based pricing in services such as dry cleaning as well. A male and female reporter both bought the same white button-down shirt from the same department store in men’s and women’s aisles and took them to a dry cleaning store. The male reporter’s total bill totaled only $2.50 while the female reporter’s bill totaled $5.00. When asked about the price difference, the manager explained that the machines used to press the shirts were only made in sizes suitable for men’s clothing, women’s smaller shirts are unable to fit in these machines and thus must be hand-pressed. This difference in pricing between genders introduces the ethical issue of why services such as dry cleaning are designed for male consumers while not acknowledging the needs of female consumers. In other words, why can we not begin to standardize these sorts of businesses so that one sex is not charged more for the same service than the other.

Although a few dollars here and there may not seem like a significant issue for female consumers, these slight differences in pricing for comparable products result in women paying an annual “gender tax” of approximately $1,351 extra annually compared to men, according to the Study of Gender Pricing in NYC. The difficulty in addressing this issue, however, is because it is difficult to determine exactly where in the supply chain the price hikes are added to feminized products, as trade lawyer Michael Cone explains to CNN Money. Cone is convinced that price gouging is occurring on women’s products. The study elaborates on the example of women’s shirts:

“[S]hirts with buttons on the right side (for men)…were taxed a couple percentage points less than shirts with buttons on the left side (for women). He brought both examples to the federal court claiming that US import tariffs discriminate based on gender, however both of his claims were dismissed.” (Sebastian, 2016)

Higher taxes on women’s products, (for example, shoes: the tax on men’s shoes is set at 8.5 percent whereas women shoes are taxed 10 percent) have been under research for over 15 years. The United States is also not the only country becoming increasingly aware of the implications associated with gender-based pricing. In Britain, the issue has been brought to Parliament as women “could be paying up to twice as much as men for what appeared to be identical products” (Sebastian, 2016).

Another important ethical question is if perhaps these price differences are not discrimination at all, and are simply due to legitimate contrast in the ingredients and formulas between men’s and women’s products. However, the New York City study brings up a counterargument that these higher prices are difficult for women to avoid and that “individual consumers do not have control over the textiles or ingredients used in the products marketed towards them, and must make purchasing choices based only upon what is available in the marketplace.” As a result the choices made by marketers and manufacturers place a substantially higher financial burden upon female consumers in comparison to males.

This discrimination deserves more media attention, which is why many of these studies are becoming a call to action for women to become aware of price discrimination in products they buy. This awareness also has the potential to encourage women to compare products marketed to either men or women in a variety of categories, and base their product choices upon unit price instead of merely packaging. Eventually, if women begin utilizing this knowledge to put pressure on companies, more state governments would be willing to introduce a ban on gender-based pricing. In the meantime, it may be worth walking a few aisles further and picking up that blue razor.