Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Let the Guys Win One

So pleads John Tierney. In this female-dominated culture, can't we let the guys keep their sports scholarships and easier access to colleges? The gals are winning in everything else, you know. He makes this whining into one laced with contempt towards women, as is usual in his columns:

When Title IX was enacted in 1972, women were a minority on college campuses, and it sounded reasonable to fight any discrimination against them. But now men are the underachieving minority on campus, as a series by The Times has been documenting. So why is it so important to cling to the myth behind Title IX: that women need sports as much as men do?

Yes, some women are dedicated athletes, and they should be encouraged with every opportunity. But a lot of others have better things to do, like study or work on other extracurricular activities that will be more useful to their careers. For decades, athletic directors have been creating women's sports teams and dangling scholarships and hoping to match the men's numbers, but they've learned that not even the Department of Education can eradicate gender differences.

At the University of Maryland, the women's lacrosse team won national championships year after year but still had a hard time getting 40 players to turn out for the team. The men's team had no such trouble, because guys were more than willing to warm the bench even if they weren't getting a scholarship, but the coach had to cut the extra ones to maintain the gender balance. The school satisfied Title IX, but to no one's benefit.

On or off campus, men play more team sports and watch more team sports. Besides enjoying the testosterone rushes, they have a better chance of glory — and of impressing the opposite sex. Thirty-four years after Title IX, most women's games still attract sparse audiences. Both sexes would still rather watch men play games, especially football.

Where to begin with this one? Should I start by noting that I just can't imagine anyone ever pleading "Let the Gals Win One"? It just would not happen, because gals are not supposed to win anything. And that is the real undercurrent in Tierney's whole piece. It's the guys who are supposed to win, who are supposed to rule and if that can't be arranged in a way that looks justified, well, let's just give it to them unjustified. Who cares about the gals? They are good for the bedroom and for cleaning and washing clothes, but other than that?

Or should I point out how odd it is that the male advantage in sports is seen as biological and inherent, but that the supposed female advantage in doing well in college is not? The latter, for this confirmed wingnut believer in innate gender differences is not innate at all!

Or should I start with a long piece about the oddly American idea that sports are an important part of the college experience, and not the sports that everyone can do but the elite sports which are there really just for show? And should I then point out that in order to explain the presence of such sports as a determinant for college success, both for students and for colleges themselves, one must somehow transform this bread&circuses entertainment into an educational module? For example, one can argue that sports teach students about leadership and determination and team work. Yes, that's a good one. Now we can justify spending so much money on sports.

The problem then is how to justify that it's only men who benefit from leadership and determination and team work, as taught by college sports. Somehow women students don't need these sports, but all students must pay for them in colleges where the sports teams don't make money. Must think about that one. - I got it! Let's just say that it's one of those ineradicable gender differences! Men need all this stuff to thrive, women not so much.

There isn't much of a step from that one to argue that men need all sorts of stuff that women don't, including getting into colleges more easily, because of something one suspects are innate gender differences. And then it's time to abolish all those silly Titles which tried to make the world more equal. Yeah, that's the ticket.

Men need to win, women not so much. And it's ok to use affirmative action to make men win. Affirmative action is only bad if it makes it easier for women to win. Used in its proper role, as sports-linked, it's just fine and dandy. And it has been defended that way for decades now, totally unlinked to any fear that boys are falling behind in education in general. Which they are not. It's just that girls, and especially poor and black girls, know that they will not make a good living without a college degree and work very hard towards that goal. The average earnings of a college educated woman equal those of a man with just a high school education, and that is probably the main reason for the gender differences in educational achievements.

Tierney is a bad influence on me. He makes me play the games he sets up, the games of a battle of the sexes, because that's how he sees the world. That makes me forget how the real problem with men's success in college is with the racial minorities and with the poor men, and these are the groups he'd see on sports scholarships, training eight hours a day and not having much time for studying. This would be no real solution, but Tierney doesn't care about real solutions. He cares about a society in which he can be happy that at least he was not born female. Then he can be the one playing in the field and he can still hear the female voices cheering for him in the stands.