Education Minister’s Task Force Indifferent to Boys and Men

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Concerned that the tbird-level education sector is ‘flawed’ if it lacks what she refers to as ‘the female perspective’, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, the Minister of State at the Department of Education with special responsibility for Higher Education, has announced ‘the establishment of a task force… one of whose central objectives will be to examine the potential implementation of gender quotas across all areas of the sector.’

In response to this announcement, Men’s Voices Ireland has written an Open Letter (see below) to the Minister, in which they: draw attention to the selectiveness of the Minister’s expressed interest and concern; and ask her for a clear statement justifying the selectiveness of this focus.

Dear Minister Mitchell O’Connor,

You recently expressed the view that “the latest data regarding the gender gap in our third-level institutions confirms we have a gender problem in this sector.” (21% of professors are female, less than a third of senior academic positions in universities and IT’s are women.)

You declare further that, “The system is flawed if the female perspective is missing at all level…” and continue, “With this in mind, I am announcing the establishment of a task force to examine any and all potential solutions to this issue… one of whose central objectives will be to examine the potential implementation of gender quotas across all areas of the sector”

In response to this announcement, Men’s Voices wishes to draw attention to:

  • The selective bias of the Minister’s concern; and
  • To ask certain questions of the Minister – with a view to achieving clarity on issues relevant to her drive to establish this task force.

The selectiveness of the Minister’s concern

The Minister proposes action only relating to areas in the education system where there is a lesser representation of women; at the same time, she makes no reference to the striking under-representation of males in a large number of areas – a reality which, in some instances has a highly negative impact on boys and men and, therefore, does constitute an actual ‘problem’.

Question A: As an essential part of its brief to identify a ‘potential solution’ to ‘gender gaps’ in the system, why has the Minister not instructed her task force to investigate the many glaring gaps involving a low ratio of men; particularly, as these have, to date, (unlike areas of low female ratios) been all but ignored?

1  The Gender Gap in those attaining 3rd level qualifications
53% of women aged 25-34 having a third-level qualification, whereas only 39% of men in this bracket have a third level qualification: a 14% difference. (CSO Women and Men in Ireland Report: Tables 3.8, 4.1, 4.2 and 4.4 (Link below).

2  The Gender Gap in university attendance
The ever-increasing gap between the numbers of males and females attending our universities now stands at 55% female to 45% male. If such figures were the other way around, it would be regarded as a national crisis.

3  The Gender Gap existing in the majority of third level subjects
It is repeatedly lamented that men are a majority in STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics); and there are a number of well-funded initiatives in place whose brief is to ‘correct’ this situation. Never lamented is the reality that it is women who dominate, sometimes overwhelmingly, in the majority of university subjects:

education table
Irish third-level graduates by gender and subject 2016

Question B: Would the Minister regard the enormous gender disparities in these areas, and the consequent lack of ‘male perspective’, to be as serious a problem as the disparities she decries in senior positions, and in the STEM subjects, so constantly drawn attention to?

4  The Gender Gap in Gender Studies
We felt the enormity of the Gender Gap in the subject of Gender Studies warranted its own separate section. One would naturally deem that in a department dedicated to studying ‘gender’, that having both a male and female ‘perspective’ represented would be considered bottom-line essential.

However, to take one example from our country’s no fewer than five Gender and Women’s Studies departments, in Trinity’s Centre for Gender and Women’s Studies, a large majority of the teachers is female; there are almost no male students; no courses on any male issues; almost no student dissertations over the years to do with male concerns; and on their recommended reading list, amongst the enormous number of titles on women’s issues, the number of texts on issues to do with men (most of which are dated) can almost be counted using only one’s fingers.

Question C: Will the Minister initiate urgent intervention to establish equality in all Gender Studies Departments by the ‘implementation’ of gender quotas? If not, can she explain why she feels in this area, the lack of parity of male and female perspectives is not ‘a gender problem’?

5  The Gender Gap in the IUA Equality Network
The Equality Network comprises one representative from each of our seven universities – usually the Equality Officer. Six of these are female. Male representation:14%. Expressed in the terms used to justify the Minister’s task force:

At the heart of the mechanism constituted by our state to bring about gender equality in our higher education institutions ‘We have a gender problem. It is flawed. The male perspective is missing’.

Question D: Will the Minister move to remedy this ‘problem’? If not, can she explain why she does not regard the gender disparity, and consequent imbalance of male and female perspectives in our University’s Equality Network, as warranting the state’s concern and intervention?

6  The Gender Gaps in our Higher Education Authority
Almost beyond parody is the fact that in the HEA department dealing with the gender-sensitive area of ‘equity of access’ to higher education (The National Office for Equity of Access Policy), there is a 100% gender disparity. The department is staffed entirely by women.

There is, similarly, a 100% gender disparity in the department dealing with the gender-sensitive area of Policy and Strategic Planning and Research. The department is staffed entirely by women.

The full-time staff of the HEA is 13 female to only 5 male.

Question E: Will the Minister’s task force also investigate, then recommend practical steps to find a ‘solution’ to these egregious gender-disparities in our Authority dealing with 3rd level education?

7  The Gender Gap in the dropout rate for boys at secondary level
The causes of the falling numbers of men attending our universities (and universities worldwide) lie, to some extent, in boys’ earlier education:

In 2010, the dropout rate for girls at secondary level was 8.4%: for boys, it was 12.6%: a 50% higher rate for boys than for girls.

8  The Gender Gap amongst primary school teachers
At primary level, 85% of teachers are female. This has remained roughly the same since 2003. In their formative years, consequently, boys will have few, if any, male role models.

9  The Gender Gap amongst secondary school teachers
At secondary level, the percentage of male teachers has fallen steadily from 40% in 2003 to 31.7% in 2012.

At primary and secondary schools, boys, in the years when they are struggling to form their identity, are (in the Minister’s terms) exposed to a preponderance of ‘female perspective’ and a dearth of ‘male perspective’.

Question F: Does the Minister believe that this extreme dearth of males, and the consequent lack of ‘male perspective’, in our primary and secondary systems is an issue needing urgently to be addressed?

If not, will she provide us with her reasons?

‘The female perspective’

Justifying the establishment of the task force, is the assertion that our education system is ‘flawed’ and will continue to ‘suffer’ if it remains deprived of what the Minister refers to as the ‘female perspective’.

Question G: As the lack of ‘female perspective’ is what she asserts will be detrimental to our education system, can she provide us with a precise definition of what she holds to be ‘the female perspective’?

Question H: Can the Minister define for us precisely what benefits, currently lacking she believes such a ‘female perspective’ will bring to ‘all levels’ and across all sectors of the education establishment, including, for example, Mathematics, Physics and Engineering?

The negative outcomes of gender quotas

For good reasons of their own, many fewer women make the choice to take certain subjects, pursue certain occupations, or put themselves forward for senior positions. On the contrary, the ‘female perspective’ leads most women toward more socially-oriented subjects and careers; leads them away from technical subjects and occupations; leads them away from the heavier responsibilities and longer hours normally attending on senior positions.

Further, it is now well established that the more freedom of choice men and women have in their lives (as pertains in advanced Western societies), the more pronounced the differences between men and women become. The more pronounced are the differences between the choices they make.

Norway’s Equal Opportunities Commissioner, Ms. Kristin Mile, tells us that the measures introduced over the past 40 years in Norway to close the observed gender gaps by, for example, encouraging more men into nursing and more women into engineering, simply did not change things. She reports that, with each renewed initiative to close a gap, ‘You get a one or two-year effect and then it falls again…’ As was the case in the 80’s, there are still 4 female nurses to every male, and 4 male engineers to every female. Gender disparities in Norway, she assures us, are not, nor have ever been, the result of discrimination.

(Interview with the Minister in television documentary, ‘The Gender Paradox

In order to achieve more gender parity, therefore, less qualified, less suitable female candidates will have to be promoted; and better qualified, more suitable candidates will have to be discriminated against and held back purely on the basis that they are of the male gender.

Given this reality:

Question I: How does the Minister believe gender parity can be achieved:

– Without causing standards to drop, and the system to ‘suffer’?

– Without causing numbers of quota-selected women to feel undeserving and illegitimate in their posts, suspecting that their students and colleagues will always be asking: ‘How much better a colleague, teacher or professor might we have had if it hadn’t been for quotas?’; which many, with reason, will indeed be doing?

– Without sending out the condescending and disempowering message to women that if, in the form of the full weight of the State apparatus, Big Daddy or Big Mammy does not step forward to give them that extra leg-up, they really will not be able to scale that tree as well as the boys?

We look forward to your response to our letter, and to your answers to our questions.

Sincerely,

Men’s Voices Ireland