Higher Education

Jennifer Roback Morse | May 1, 2007

Destructive Dogmas

Jennifer Roback Morse

There is no legitimate reason why the taxpayers of Oklahoma should support an academic program -- the Women's Studies program at the University of Oklahoma -- devoted to women and the promotion of the feminist ideology.

As an academic matter, it is completely unnecessary. Serious scholars currently located in the OU Women's Studies program could become parts of other departments such as English, psychology, anthropology, or sociology. In fact, many of them already have joint appointments in other departments. If the faculty members in the Women's Studies program are doing good research, it should survive the scrutiny of other scholars in their primary discipline. If it cannot, there is certainly no reason to support it within a separate department.

Women students do not need special support in today's academic world. The fields in which women continue to be under-represented are fields in which women are already being heavily recruited and courted. Many schools and companies have outreach programs specifically designed to attract more women into science and engineering. Yet despite these outreach efforts, the fields remain stubbornly male.

Besides, who among us is willing to sacrifice their own natural interests in order to "win one for the girls"? I spent my academic career in economics, a male-dominated field. I found myself attracted to the more humanistic parts of the discipline. I would have had to distort my own intellect and interests to force myself into the extreme male mold that would have been required to succeed in the more mathematical areas of economics. I was unwilling to do that for myself. I can not in good conscience encourage other people to cram themselves into academic slots that don't really fit them.

Overall in the United States, women outnumber men among undergraduates. For undergraduates of the traditional college age-that is, under 25-a clear female majority emerged a decade ago. The male share of undergraduates dropped from 49 percent in 1995-96 to 46 percent in 2003-04. Among undergraduates who are aged 25 and older, women outnumber men almost two to one. The largest gender gap is among African-American undergraduates, where males make up a mere 40 percent of the under-25 aged students. This is hardly evidence of an oppressed minority who needs a continual hand-up from the establishment.

In fact, this gender imbalance in higher education is becoming a social problem for women themselves. Educated women, particularly African-American women, are having a hard time finding suitable marriage partners. There are simply not enough educated men to go around. As a result, some educated women are giving up on marriage completely and choosing single motherhood, with all its accompanying problems and risks, simply by default.

How About a Men's Studies Department?

Therefore, we do not need Women's Studies departments to give women students additional encouragement and support. If anything, we need a Men's Studies department that would ask why men are retreating from higher education. We should have a Men's Center on campus to encourage them to invest in themselves, for their own benefit and the benefit of the wider society.

There are other very interesting topics for the Men's Studies department to study. For instance, why do men commit suicide so much more often than women? Men in general commit suicide at four times the rate that women do. Married men are only half as likely as bachelors and about one-third as likely as divorced men to take their own lives. In other words, getting married cuts a man's suicide risk in half. Getting divorced triples his probability of suicide. And a man whose wife dies is about ten times more likely to commit suicide than a wife whose husband dies.

Furthermore, a Men's Studies department might ask why children do better with single fathers than with single mothers. Even when income is held constant, children who live with their fathers full-time had higher self-esteem and less anxiety, less depression, and fewer problem behaviors than children who were with their mothers full-time. Children in father custody have the advantage of maintaining a more positive relationship with the mother than do children in mother custody. The greater income of the father is not the source of the benefit to the children, but an additional benefit.

And while we're on the subject of divorce, scholars of Men's Studies might ask whether it is really true that divorced men have "abandoned" their families, when two-thirds to three-quarters of divorces are initiated by women. The vast majority of these divorces do not involve anything remotely like domestic violence.

One survey of 256 people who had been divorced at one time or another asked "what was the principal reason you got a divorce?" Sixteen percent reported drug or alcohol problems as the principal reason, while only five percent reported abuse as the principal reason. Fully 47 percent listed "basic personality differences or incompatibility" as the principal reason for their divorce, while 17 percent listed marital infidelity and 10 percent reported disputes about money or children.

Students more interested in activism than in scholarship might want to fight the injustice so frequently perpetrated by divorce courts, which enforce non-custodial fathers' obligations to pay financial support much more strenuously than their rights to visit their children. Governmental agencies take a dim view of fathers who fail to pay. But these same agencies appear to be much more tolerant of women who actively interfere with their children's rights to have relationships with their father.

Men's Studies scholars could also investigate why little boys are so much more emotionally vulnerable than little girls. For instance, a study examining the impact of maternal depression on the cognitive development of children found no affect on girls. But the boys of depressed mothers scored a full standard deviation lower on standardized intelligence tests than boys whose mothers were not depressed. Developmental differences between girls and boys are so commonly found that child development experts more or less take them for granted. In this particular study of maternal depression, the researchers suggest that "because infant boys as a group are already developmentally delayed compared with girls, their abilities to regulate their attention and emotions and find order in the world are particularly in need of help from a sensitive healthy caregiver."

Here's another question: Why are men over-represented in the "death professions"? Of the deaths that occur in the workplace, 92 percent occur to men. Jobs like timber cutters and fishers, pilots and navigators, roofers, cab drivers, truck drivers, and construction laborers have among the highest risks of death. These have traditionally been male-dominated occupations.

We might also ask ourselves why those women who do work in dangerous occupations are so much less likely to die at work than are men. For instance, of the deaths in Iraq, less than 2.6 percent have been female, at a time when women comprised 10 percent of the forces deployed in Iraq. In other words, women who serve in Iraq will get equal pay with men, with only about one-fourth the chance of being killed compared with men.

In addition to a Men's Studies department to balance the Women's Studies department, we should also have a Life Studies department to balance the pro-abortion ideology of Women's Studies departments. The interdisciplinary Life Studies department would prepare young women and men for careers of activism and service within the pro-life movement. Women could receive the professional training they need to run a crisis pregnancy center, or to do fundraising for pro-life foundations, or to be office managers for medical clinics that deliver babies free of charge, or to be hospice workers.

The Life Studies program might also have classes crossed-listed in embryology, to explain what the "blob of tissue" really is. These courses could explain that the "product of conception" is a human life, not from the time of "quickening" as medieval thinkers believed, not from the time of implantation in the womb, but from the moment of conception.

The Life Studies program could also offer courses that explain what pro-life leaders actually believe, as opposed to the caricatures of their views so often presented in other classes. Students might learn about Norma McCorvey, who was the original Jane Roe of Roe v. Wade, how she felt exploited by her pro-abortion attorneys, and why she eventually had a change of heart and converted to Catholicism. One has to admit in all candor that students are not likely to hear this kind of information in any other classes on campus.

Has Feminism Made People Happy?

But enough about other academic departments. What about feminism itself? Has feminism made people happy? I fully recognize that feminists disagree amongst themselves on many crucial issues. Instead of trying to unravel those Byzantine threads, I will analyze the form of feminism that has filtered down in the mainstream culture. Feminism means roughly this: women and men are the same, except that women are better. So my question is this: has the systematic denial of genuine gender differences made people happy?

I would argue that, on the contrary, this has been a disaster for men and women alike. Differences between the sexes appear at birth. As we mature, everything that has to do with sex or reproduction affects men and women differently. Men and women react to the sex act itself differently. Women frequently are more eager to get married and to start families earlier than men are. If they have trouble conceiving, they each experience infertility very differently. If they do have a child, they will react to the woman's pregnancy differently, they will treat the baby differently, and the baby will treat them differently. As their child grows up, mothers and fathers have different approaches to parenting.

If a couple cannot admit these most basic differences, they are headed for conflict and grief. They will expect the other person to feel what they feel, see things as they do, and then feel cheated when they don't. The demand for equal sharing of household chores runs into this same problem: men and women are sensitive to different needs within the household.

This is why sociologists have so often found that gender equality ideology is correlated with marital dissatisfaction among wives. Women who cling to the feminist ideology continually feel cheated. By contrast, wives who feel appreciated by their husbands for her contributions report higher levels of marital satisfaction. This is even true among wives who do the lion's share of the housework. Even more interesting is the finding that women are happiest when they feel their husbands are emotionally engaged with them, regardless of the division of household chores. The feminist attempt to overlook or explain away systematic differences between men and women has made people miserable.

Feminism has taken the personal relationship that is the most important to most people, namely marriage, and injected poison into it. As the relationship between mothers and fathers, marriage is also the most basic unit of social cooperation. When marriage breaks down, the substitutes for it are crude and ineffective and intrusive.

No university needs a department devoted solely to the study of women and the promotion of this socially destructive ideology. The intellectual life of the University of Oklahoma will go along just fine without a Women's Studies program. Oklahoma taxpayers should stop paying for the promotion of feminism.

Jennifer Roback Morse (Ph.D., University of Rochester) taught economics for 15 years at Yale University and George Mason University. In a recent debate at the University of Virginia, sponsored by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, Dr. Morse argued against the necessity of women's studies departments. Dr. Morse has served as a research fellow for Stanford University's Hoover Institution and as a John M. Olin visiting scholar at the Cornell Law School. She is now a research fellow at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty. Her public-policy articles have appeared in Forbes, Fortune, The Wall Street Journal, Policy Review, The American Enterprise, Reason, and Vital Speeches. Her scholarly articles have appeared in the Journal of Political Economy, the University of Chicago Law Review, and the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy. Her latest book is Smart Sex: Finding Life-long Love in a Hook-up World (Spence, 2005).

Here are some of the courses offered in the OU Women's Studies program.

  • Contemporary Feminist Thought
  • Feminist Anthropology
  • Women Creating Social Change
  • Early Modern Witch-hunt
  • Lesbian Literature
  • Sociology of Family
  • Human Sexuality
  • Human Sexuality II
  • Women's Health
  • Varieties of Radical Dissent
  • Food and Power
  • You've Come a Long Way Baby: How Female Athletes Arrived
  • Women and Religion
  • Sociology of Gender
  • Health and Gender
  • Women and Gender Relations
  • Race, Gender and the Media
  • Music and Gender
  • Gender in East Asia
  • European Women and Gender Relations
  • Gender and Cross-Cultural Issues in Eastern European Women's Writing
  • Women, Minorities, Mathematics and Achievement
  • Southern African Women Writers
  • Women and World Politics
  • African Women and Religion
  • Women and Development in Latin America


Jennifer Roback Morse

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