Reducing men’s participation to the level of women’s interest

Thanks to some links by Jay, I’ve found some of the original writings of Christina Hoff Sommers, and while it’s interesting reading, it does tend to raise some questions in my mind. For example, just clicking around the AEI website, I came across one of her articles entitled “The Gender-Equity Hammer Comes Out.” She’s making the argument that it will be harmful to apply Title IX standards to academic science because, well, look what it’s done to sports.

Although Title IX has contributed to the progress of women’s athletics, it has done serious harm to men’s sports. Over the years, judges, federal officials, and college administrators have interpreted it to mean that women are entitled to “statistical proportionality.” That is to say, if a college’s student body is 60 percent female, then 60 percent of the athletes should be female–even if far fewer women than men are interested in playing sports at that college. But many athletic directors have been unable to attract the same proportions of women as men. So, to avoid government harassment, loss of funding, and lawsuits, educational institutions have eliminated men’s teams–in effect, reducing men’s participation to the level of women’s interest. That kind of regulatory calibration–call it reductio ad feminem–would wreak havoc in fields that drive the economy such as math, physics and computer science.

I don’t have time right now to address the larger context in which this quote appears, but I would like to look at some of the assumptions she’s making in her choice of example. The big one, of course, is the assumption that this is an example of Title IX having a bad impact on something. Our institutions of higher education should be focused primarily on men’s sports, regardless of the degree to which this interests the female members of the student population. This elevation of men’s interests above women’s interests is the correct emphasis, and by cutting back on programs designed to benefit male athletes, and diverting the money into other things (like, oh, I don’t know, education?) Title IX is doing something wrong and harmful.

To me, this argument seems both to reinforce and to depend on sexist standards. The men’s athletic program at most institutions is already getting preferential treatment and funding over “lesser” concerns like academic facilities and teaching staff. I notice, too, that the justification for ignoring women’s interests is that women aren’t really as keen as the men on participating in the female equivalent of men’s sports (e.g. women’s basketball, women’s softball, etc.) And maybe they aren’t. Maybe they’re interested in other things. How hard did these institutions look into what women are interested in, before giving up? Who knows, maybe women who attend colleges and universities are more interested in education than in playing games.

Anyway, I’ll keep reading Sommers, but so far she’s not making a terribly good impression. We’ll see what else she has to say.


  1. Hunt says

    Yes, I agree. This is one place where the fundamental definition of feminism, that women are and should be treated as human beings, with the same status as men, really hits home. There are so many people who think, well, equality is okay, so long as it doesn’t impact anything in the status quo, particularly if this is classified as some form of “freedom” to do something or to get something, while they wouldn’t even hesitate to shift priorities within one subgroup, say male athletics. They wouldn’t bat an eye when forced to manage resources there. The terminally idiotic apotheosis of this is those people so backward that they think female suffrage is a bad thing because there have been social structures and safety nets established post-suffrage that they interpret as a loss of civil freedom. Yes, these people actually exist in significant numbers.

  2. iknklast says

    Maybe if they pare men’s athletics back to the level of women’s interest, schools like OU will quit cancelling classes on game day. Yes, that’s right – OU v. UT, classes cancelled so students can drive to Dallas for the big game.

    And who says women aren’t interested in sports? I see women getting really involved in sports, but for so long they haven’t been encouraged to play. Oh, women aren’t good at that – go into that corner and knit (I’m a woman – not interested in sports OR knitting, but I do my share of hiking and backpacking – and science).

    It’s the same old story. Man is default human; woman is somewhat degraded version of more perfected man.

  3. says

    I’m not sure the argument is as much “Our institutions of higher education should be focused primarily on men’s sports” as it is that men shouldn’t be losing options (or be punished) because women aren’t participating in the options made available to them.

    But even when the argument is restated this way, it still has the same flaws mentioned.

  4. Brian M says

    I can claim no research or facts, but the premise that men’s sports have been cut back in significant ways seems suspect to me. Maybe “minor” sports that have little interest among men? Does anyone know how common these cutbacks really are? Or is this another “anecdote to prove my political point” argument?

  5. mck9 says

    –call it reductio ad feminem–

    No, call it reductio ad feminam.

    Femina is first declension; singular accusative is feminam.

    Homo is third declension; singular accusative is hominem.

    Really, there’s no need to listen to anyone who can’t do simple Latin declensions properly.

  6. Brad says

    I’ve heard nonspecific tales of people wanting to form a team and not being able to get sponsorship from the school until there was also a new womens’ team of something sponsor. Those always sounded more like the administrators had it wrong though.

  7. says

    Uh, colleges are ACADEMIC institutions, and should, therefore, be focused on — and I know, this is crazy, man — but they should be focused on ACADEMICS, and not sport. If there’s enough interest, students could form their own sport-specific clubs, absent school sponsorship.

    I have the same complaint about Middle- and High-schools — MORE ACADEMICS, LESS SPORT!

  8. Nepenthe says

    Has anyone in the real world actually suggested cutting funding to and/or eliminating physics and math departments? No? Is that remotely possible? No? Then why are we having this conversation?

    • Nepenthe says

      (And I don’t mean that as in “Why are you, Duncan Deacon, discussing this?” but as in “Why is CHS spending time writing about this and can we expect her piece on the invasion of the lizard men anytime soon?”)

  9. lorn says

    The sight of female coaches fanning out across the campus and dragooning girls for their teams, often at gunpoint, has been an outrage. On the other hand seeing the players on the woman’s basketball, volleyball and softball teams exhibit athletic prowess, despite the presence of chains and irons, has been an inspiration to us all and proof of the determination of female athletes to play well under any conditions.

    I have great confidence that the ability of women to undertake any project will shine through even if they are shanghaied into the research laboratory. They are just that good.

      • Anonymous Atheist says

        I think it was an unclear attempt at sarcasm saying that even though women are supposedly so uninterested in sports that they’d need to be forced to play them, they somehow still manage to play quite well, so if the next step would be to force supposedly uninterested women to participate in science, maybe they’d manage to do well at that too despite being under duress.

  10. says

    Actually I think part of the issue that female-oriented sports are not always considered “sports”. For example, there is controversy over whether or not dance teams should be considered a sport’s team. How can competitive dance NOT be a sport?! – or *competitive* cheer leading for that matter?

    I get pretty annoyed about anti-title IX’ers that point at harm toward the men. Of course they mention that Title IX has been beneficial to women’s sports, but that benefit is treated as an aside. It’s just unimportant.

    Any inconvenience to the men – generally born out of extremely well-funded football teams – is the real sin.

    It’s like my experience doesn’t matter or didn’t even happen. I was interested in gymnastics and wrestling. We didn’t have a gymnastics team. I (and several other girls) wanted to go out for wrestling. We even showed up with our gear. We were told that they decided that only boys could participate.

    I don’t think it’s fair to say that Sommers thinks that men’s sports SHOULD dominate. Sommers just doesn’t realize that it doesn’t HAVE to. Sommers also doesn’t seem to understand how Title IX compliance is assessed.

    Here is the short-version from the wiki:
    ” Compliance can be assessed in any one of three ways:[22]

    Providing athletic participation opportunities that are substantially proportionate to the student enrollment. This prong of the test is satisfied when participation opportunities for men and women are “substantially proportionate” to their respective undergraduate enrollment.
    Demonstrating a continual expansion of athletic opportunities for the underrepresented sex. This prong of the test is satisfied when an institution has a history and continuing practice of program expansion that is responsive to the developing interests and abilities of the underrepresented sex (typically female).
    Accommodating the interest and ability of underrepresented sex. This prong of the test is satisfied when an institution is meeting the interests and abilities of its female students even where there are disproportionately fewer females than males participating in sports.”

    The school only has to satisfy ONE of those tests.

    • Miles says

      Wrestling? Geez Melby, what part of separate but equal do you not understand? You have your own sport you can participate in, so what are you whining about? Now get to the back of the bu-I mean cheerleading squad!

  11. Tracey says

    I went to the red-headed stepchild branch of my state’s university system. Although we paid HUGE bucks in atheltic fees, the teams we were forcibly supporting were not the ones on our campus, but on the overblown-sports-all-the-time main campus. Ironically, we also weren’t allowed to attend any games at the main campus as students.

    Without the all-men’s-sports focus, our little campus had a number of intramural, dorm-type sports teams. We played baseball and rugby and basketball (and possibly some others, but those are the teams I was directly on and thus remember) intramurally, male and female students on the same teams.

    IMO, this is how sports should be handled on EVERY campus. We all had a lot of fun and made friends and all that good stuff–even the “non-stars” who would get laughed off the field in a for-profit sports school. Univertsities are now just free farm teams for professional sports, which is really a waste of everyone’s money.

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