Head To Head: Is there a feminist issue in college enrollment? Not really.


Each Wednesday, Taylor Felts and Jacob Broyles will tackle two sides of a contentious issue facing the Transy community. This week, we ask the question “Does the fact that 57% of the student population is female pose a feminist issue for Transy?”  Taylor Felts argues that there is not a feminist issue, and that there are more useful measures of feminism on campus.

Read Jacob Broyles arguing the opposite here.


Transy’s student ratio undoubtedly boasts more women than men. However, as to whether this is an area requiring rectification, much less a feminist issue, I would have to say no. All that one must do to ascertain that this is true is to take a look at the student body. One definition of feminism is that it is “the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men.” Are women at Transy not the equals of their male peers politically and socially? (As for economically— as most here are receiving moderate to considerable stipends from their families, we’ll omit that one from discussion.)

That answer is undoubtedly yes; there is no issue with feminine attendance. If anything, this evidenced reversal of the college gender gap is to be celebrated. In 1960, for every female graduating a four year college there were 1.6 men. However, data from the US Federal Education Department in the fall of 2014 showed that women constituted 55 percent of undergrads at four year colleges. Here at Transy, that is certainly the case, and no doubt this marks a commendable achievement in regard to the representation of women within institutions of furthered learning. Clearly, women in the United States, much less at Transy, are becoming more and more prolific on college campuses. But I suffer confusion in regard to how this becomes a feminist issue.

No doubt, for many women (and men) around the world, going to college is still largely unavailable, but here—at home—at Transy, there are plenty of women receiving degrees. The real issue with the disparity in Transy’s student body ratio is that there are 14 percent less men represented, and this is only a microcosm of what’s happening on a national scale. In the 2009-2010 academic year, women received a staggering 57.4% of all bachelor degrees in the US. Given this, there are clearly fewer men earning degrees from colleges and universities, and this would be a feminist issue, except that current study does not give clear causation for the reversal phenomenon, save our society’s stringent gender assumptions that dictate what men and women do and do not. It could be that these assumptions are what hinder men from applying for traditional “female” occupations, while females are simultaneously so relatively liberated as they are able to enjoy the possibility of engaging in a traditionally “masculine” field.

So should this be a feminist issue? Not yet. Why? We have to consider the history or college enrollment. Women and men only began attending colleges and universities in equal numbers in the 1980’s. This equity was a long time coming—150 years after Oberlin College was chartered in 1833 (Oberlin was the first college in the United States to admit women). Also of note concerning Oberlin: even though women were admitted to the university in 1833, they were not admitted to the standard baccalaureate program until 1837, instead recieving diplomas from the “Ladies Course,” where overwhelming emphasis was upon the arts of domesticity. It should also be considered that the first university in the United States (Harvard) was chartered in 1636; so if women did not begin to catch up to men until the 1980’s, not only were they were laughably outnumbered across campuses for 150 years, they were denied higher education for a period of almost 200 years before that. With this in mind, a small disparity favoring women now looks minuscule in comparison to the historical enrollment gap.

While the aims of feminism are, in fact, to promulgate equality for both sexes, this is not the most pressing issue. After almost 350 years of landmark struggle, first to be allowed within a college, and later to be equally represented alongside men, if a few decades later we’re seeing a five to ten percent disparity between men and women enrolled in US colleges, well, this is certainly to be looked into, but also certainly not as pressing as other ongoing issues of inequity within the United States. There are issues of racial and ethnic inequality and discrimination, violence against the LGBTQ community, etc that require more attention.

As for whether a feminist cry should be sounded about Transy for the lack of men on campus, I think the more important issue is whether both men and women within Transylvania feel that their environment is egalitarian. There is no specifically feminist critique that I would be able to apply to the variation in boy/girl attendance and enrollment, nor to the university as a whole. Keep in mind the goals of feminism: to eradicate inequality between men and women. We recognize the harmful potential in enforcing our society’s imposed gender norms and unfair expectations. We should not be concerned about which gender is more represented on campus. We should instead seek to bolster and respect all members of the student body—for their individualism and for their personal identity, and not the one that is assumed by society.