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William J. Bennett: Heavens to Murgatroyd and Hell in a Handbasket

October 6, 2011

BillBennett5-580x545American men are at their nadir, according to Reagan-era Secretary of Education William J. Bennett.

And from whence comes the challenge?  Is it from an increasingly competitive China and developing world?  Is it from ultra-partisan “no-compromise” policy gridlock in Washington?  Is it from the most unequal wealth distribution that the United States has ever seen?  Is it from the fact that almost 20% of the nation’s children are in poverty?

No according to Bennett, the real danger is American women snapping (or rather, “snipping”) at American masculinity.  What is Bennett’s solution?  Get men to church and marry them off.

Bennett recites statistics to bolster his point:

In 1970, men earned 60% of all college degrees. In 1980, the figure fell to 50%, by 2006 it was 43%. Women now surpass men in college degrees by almost three to two.

Bennett’s statistics conveniently ignore the issue of what women are studying.  A 2010 report by the AAUW put it directly:  “Among first-year college students, women are much less likely than men to say that they intend to major in science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM).  By graduation, men outnumber women in nearly every science and engineering field, and in some, such as physics, engineering, and computer science, the difference is dramatic, with women earning only 20 percent of bachelor’s degrees.”  While women may earn more college degrees than men, they are essentially forced out of science and technology studies, and ghetto-ized.

Women’s earnings grew 44% in real dollars from 1970 to 2007, compared with 6% growth for men.

The statistics are clear enough. Full-time working average women’s wages per capita went from earning 59.4% of men’s in 1970 to 77.8% in 2007 (and have since dropped to 77.4% in the most recent figures). Had wages increased at the same rate, then a woman would only be 3/5ths of a man, rather than 3/4s of a man. (Question:  Where have you seen the fraction “3/5ths of a man” before?)

In 1950, 5% of men at the prime working age were unemployed. As of last year, 20% were not working, the highest ever recorded.

Apparently, Bill Bennett has not heard that we are in the midst of a recession.  Bennett then leaps to a non-sequitur conclusion:  “Men still maintain a majority of the highest paid and most powerful occupations, but women are catching them and will soon be passing them if this trend continues.”  Undoubtedly this is true.  When a group goes from zero representation to a tiny percentage, that represents an advance.  By Bennett’s logic, since we have gone from having 0% black US Presidents to 2.1% black Presidents after two centuries, we could say that “if this trend continues” then within a mere ten thousand years, all US Presidents will be black.

Men are also less religious than ever before. According to Gallup polling, 39% of men reported attending church regularly in 2010, compared to 47% of women.

The celebrated gender differences in church attendance have been commented on at least since Lenski’s study in 1953.  See for example Argyle and Beit-Hallahmi’s 1975 classic, The Social Psychology of Religion.  I am having trouble understanding why Bennett believes that this generation has seen a change – his assertions are unsupported by statistics.

Bennett has some “constitutional” advice for young men:

The Founding Fathers believed, and the evidence still shows, that industriousness, marriage and religion are a very important basis for male empowerment and achievement. We may need to say to a number of our twenty-something men, “Get off the video games five hours a day, get yourself together, get a challenging job and get married.” It’s time for men to man up.

You know, it is funny – I don’t remember reading anything by the founding “Fathers” on this subject in the Federalist Papers.  What I do remember reading in the Federalist Papers is a lengthy defense of slavery and how much they count as persons – sympathetically quoting a hypothetical member of “our Southern brethren”:

In being compelled to labor, not for himself, but for a master; in being vendible by one master to another master; and in being subject at all times to be restrained in his liberty and chastised in his body, by the capricious will of another, the slave may appear to be degraded from the human rank, and classed with those irrational animals which fall under the legal denomination of property.

What is Bennett’s real agenda here?  Bennett seems to be stating, between the lines, that women ultimately aren’t going to be fulfilled by their many successes – that they are really en masse on a husband hunt:

If you don’t believe the numbers, just ask young women about men today. You will find them talking about prolonged adolescence and men who refuse to grow up. I’ve heard too many young women asking, “Where are the decent single men?” There is a maturity deficit among men out there, and men are falling behind.

Bill Bennett’s article claims to be about the emasculation of American men and the need to “empower” them.  But clearly, his ultimate motivation has to do more with the domestication of American women.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 7, 2011 9:42 am

    Wow, Theophrastus! This is one of the best (feminist) critiques of a public figure’s sexism that I’ve ever read. Thank you.

    [Comment update – at another blog, I’ve posted on a similarly brilliant critique of “women vs. men” social research data, by MaryAnn Baenninger, President of the College of St. Benedict. Curiously, the statistics Bennett quotes don’t square with the evidence that Bainniger rebuts.]

  2. October 7, 2011 2:50 pm

    Kurk, thanks. It was not until I saw your post that I realized that Bennett was out promo-ing a new book (published by Thomas Nelson, no less.) I somehow ignored the italicized paragraph beginning the article.

    Bennett manages to mix so many cliches in such a short space (church, marriage, get a job, Founding Fathers, etc.) that his article reads almost like a parody of itself.

    I am afraid that I will not be reading his longer book on the subject.

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