Empowering women, failing men

When we first began having grandchildren, they were roughly evenly divided between boys and girls. But the past 14 in a row have been girls. What are the odds?

In the general population, boys are born slightly more often than girls. I put the probability of our recent streak at something like .488 to the 14th power, or .00004343876 – in other words, very unlikely.

Here is something even more surprising. In law school, students who do exceptionally well in their first year are elected to be editors of the law review. This is a great honor, and an entree to clerkships and law firm jobs after graduation. Students who distinguish themselves in their service on the law review are elected after their second year to be officers. The most prestigious among these is the editor in chief.

This year, the editor in chief at every one of the top 16 law schools in the country was a woman. Harvard University, Yale University, Stanford University, University of Chicago, Columbia University, University of Pennsylvania, Duke University, University of California, Berkeley … you get the idea. What are the odds?

This is harder to figure. A generation ago, I would have said it was far less likely than our string of granddaughters. In my class of 550 at Harvard, there was just one woman on the Harvard Law Review. But these days, women outnumber men in law school and in college. They get higher marks in college and in high school. (Boys still hold a slight edge in SAT and ACT math scores.)

There is something to celebrate here. Some of the credit goes to Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. That law forbids discrimination on the basis of sex in any education program or activity that gets federal money. It opened the doors to women in science, math, engineering and other typically “male” subjects.

It also had the unanticipated effect of revolutionizing women’s athletics. Grade schools, high schools and colleges began investing in women’s sports in an effort to bring them to parity with men’s. The results were evident at the 2016 Olympic games. Nobody won more medals in Rio, or more gold, than U.S. women. They won 61 medals in all; U.S. men won 55. In 1972, the U.S. men won 71 medals; women won 23.

Our own three girls played soccer and swam. None was a serious candidate for the Olympic team. But they were unafraid to get knocked down, and the experience of competition was useful training that carried over to school and the rest of life.

I think we are doing a better job of raising girls than we used to. They are bright, strong and ambitious. But the surprising thing is not the success of our young women. It’s the failure of our young men.

They now do less well in school. They are more likely than young women to live with their parents well into their 20s. They are significantly more likely than young women to have problems with substance abuse. Why is this?

I think boys, like girls, will emulate the models we hold up for them, and our culture is uncomfortable settling on a model of manhood. Try to think of a Disney movie in the past few decades with a male hero you’d want your boys to imitate. There’s no one like Moana, Elsa, Merida, Rapunzel, Tiana, Mulan or Pocahontas.

Perhaps we’re afraid to highlight male virtues, lest we undermine our effort to promote women. In its extreme form, this concern leads us to portray men as crude, drunken, ill-tempered and stupid, like Homer Simpson, the better to show off Marge’s virtues.

I think this is a mistake. It reminds me of an old New Yorker cartoon by Leo Cullum. Two dogs are sitting at a bar, and one says to the other, “It’s not enough that we succeed. Cats must also fail.”

Garvey is president of The Catholic University of America in Washington. Catholic University’s website is

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