Head To Head: Is there a feminist issue in college enrollment? Obviously.


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?” Jacob Broyles argues it is a feminist issue, but one that underlines the hypocrisy of modern feminism.

Read Taylor Felts arguing the opposite here.

The gender enrollment gap is not a problem that only faces Transylvania University, but instead, it is a nationwide problem.  Roughly 58% of the students enrolled in college in the United States are female.  Is this an issue that should concern feminists?  A feminist issue is an issue that concerns feminists ideologically; what then is the ideology of feminism?

The most agreed upon definition of feminism is “the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities.”  Due to the universal and egalitarian nature of feminism’s goals, feminists have often involved themselves in other movements, such as the anti-slavery movement over one hundred years ago and the LGBT rights movement of today.  For the very same reasons that slavery and LGBT rights became feminist issues, the gender gap in college enrollment should be a feminist issue as well.  This is especially true considering this inequality is gendered, and feminists tend to focus on problems concerning the opportunities afforded to men and women.

Given that the seemingly appropriate response from the feminist perspective is to be concerned with the inequality posed by the disproportionate number of women that go to college and receive a higher level education, it is worth noting that this is not a topic feminists discuss often if at all.  This points to a key problem within the modern third-wave feminist movement.  It shows very little concern for true equality and instead picks and chooses what groups they will concern themselves with and the groups that they won’t.

Therefore, I would posit that feminism is no longer a true equality movement, but at the very least, a women’s advocacy movement.  I have no doubt in my mind that if there was a similar gap between men and women enrolled in college going the other way, it would be pointed to as an example of “The Patriarchy” systematically oppressing women.  This should clearly be an issue that would fall within the realm of stated concern that feminists have, but it does not.

But is the gendered enrollment gap really a problem? When dealing with problems like these, it is important not to confuse the concepts of inequality of outcome with inequality of opportunity.  Clearly, we have inequality in the outcome. Considerably more women than men are currently enrolled in college. But this is by no means the result of any sort of systemic discrimination.  There is actually no evidence at all that is the case.  Part of this could be attributed quite simply to the different choices men and women make after high school.  Men are more likely to choose to go into the military, learn a trade, or to just go directly into the workforce full-time after high school.  The case has also been made by some scholars that it is in part due to the value of college increasing for women faster than it did for men after barriers to entering the workforce broke down for women.  It is a complex issue, and the experts are still working to pin down precisely what causes this gap, but none of the reasons it may exist are even truly relevant here.

In the absence of another definite explanation that accounts for the enrollment gap, the default explanation is not—or should not be—discrimination or oppression.  This is another key mistake often made by feminists.  Unless it is determined for a fact that it is systemic discriminatory forces that are keeping men out of higher education, there is nothing to be rectified!

A couple key points in closing— for one, the solution to historical oppression is not to over-correct in the present or future and just accept a rising gap going the other way such as the gender enrollment gap. The fact that it took so long for women to be equally represented in higher education should not be used to justify present inequality. This is a regressive and counterproductive way of looking at things, and it is certainly no legitimate reason this topic should be excluded from those considered to be feminist issues. Second, to say that having an egalitarian environment at Transy is what is important misses the point. To determine if this is a feminist issue, we must examine the process by which feminists determine what they consider feminist issues. Only then can we determine if feminists must consider the enrollment gap a feminist issue in order to remain logically and ideologically consistent.

To do this, let’s take a look at one of the most prominent and widely discussed feminist issues, the wage gap, to try and understand how feminists apply their ideology in a real-world context. The wage gap has many similarities to the enrollment gap, but with one difference: the wage gap advantages men, and the enrollment gap advantages women.  It is a well-known fact that if you average the full-time earnings of all women and then compare them to that of men, women overall make roughly 76 cents for every dollar men make. There is no solid evidence whatsoever that this is the result of discrimination. In fact, the wage gap is the result of a complex combination of differences in the choices men and women make that almost entirely accounts for this disparity.  Despite this, even President Obama implied in his 2014 State of the Union Address that women are not paid equally for the same work on the basis of gender even though there are already laws on the books disallowing this.  The wage gap has very little, if anything, to do with a difference in the rights and opportunities afforded to men and women. But it is certainly a feminist issue.

Feminism mistakenly equates equality in outcome with equality in opportunity when making the assumption that the gender wage gap is the result of systemic discriminatory forces.  Looking at Transylvania University’s enrollment rates through this dogmatic and dishonest lens, women are clearly afforded more opportunities as a result of discrimination against men in academia.  So, by feminist standards, this is clearly a feminist issue.