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A woman's world beckons

Jonathan Jansen | 2012-04-19 00:29:12.0
Prof Jonathan Jansen. File photo
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We are running out of educated men. This is very serious because it impacts on the kind of futures we stand to inherit. And to be blunt, "the future is no longer what it used to be", as the saying goes.

A strong and consistent trend has been unfolding under our noses, and nobody's watching.

More women, compared to men, are graduating from high school and from university, with dire sociological consequences for our still patriarchal society.

Take the schools' data, for example. At the end of last year 230846 male students wrote the Grade 12 examination and 166057 of them passed.

Female students, by contrast, delivered 265244 students into examination rooms and 182060 passed. This means, of course, that many more girls wrote (34398) and passed (16003) than boys.

Now, given that this is a trend, multiply these numbers over a five-to 10-year period and the seriousness of the problem begins to hit home.

Attended a university graduation ceremony recently?

Across the disciplines - not only in physiotherapy, teaching and nursing - many more women than men line up to get their degrees. The top performers are women.

The other day I called together all the 2011 matriculants who achieved six As and higher in last year's NSC examination. Of the nearly 200 students who showed up, I had enough fingers to count the guys.

Of course we should celebrate the fact that more girls and women do well in schools and universities than before; that is a good thing. But gender equity is not about men dropping out of school and failing to graduate in larger numbers; it is about correcting historical injustices in terms of equity of access to school and university education for women. There are serious social problems and cultural conflicts ahead.

With more women with higher degrees and good jobs than men, this will surely have an impact on marriages. Ralph Banks, a law professor at Stanford, examines this kind of data among African-Americans in his new book, Is Marriage For White People?

He found that, as black women made economic and educational progress, black men lagged further behind. So much so that almost twice as many black women graduate from university as black men every year. Many black women then remain unmarried rather than marry men with less money and less education (from the book's summary on Amazon.com).

So here's the question for South Africa, where these trends seem to be taking a similar trajectory to what is happening in the US.

Will well-educated women marry poorly-educated men? And if they do, what will be the impact on marital relationships?

South African men have been thoroughly socialised into thinking of themselves as the performers, as the head of the family, as the main if not only income generator. For centuries in this country, men carried the social and economic status in the family, aided and abetted by scriptural authority: the man is the head of the home and, in some version of the faith, intercedes on their behalf directly with the Almighty. In the church where I had my roots, the women were not allowed to speak in public worship, to this day.

In the future, this will change dramatically. I predict tension and violence in many homes as men struggle to come to terms with their changed status. Many women might choose not to marry, even as they choose to have children. More and more men will remain out of school, on the streets, and in prison - a decidedly unattractive scenario for social stability and family cohesion.

I suspect that, because of this demographic pressure, women and men might marry outside of their primordial affiliations (race, language, religion, country and so on) simply because there are not enough educated men in their traditional social groups. This is not a bad idea at all, given our rigidity around these inherited identities.

Still, I predict problems for men in making this adjustment. In the future I see more and more housefathers (remember housewives?) increasing among that small proportion of men who swallow their pride and adjust to reality. I see competition among the marrying kind for that small group of educated men. I imagine more and more of these emasculated men following their role models into politics, where in this country you need neither a degree nor any limits on your appetites for the intimate.

The Department of Labour can relax its employment equity targets: women will gradually assume leadership in corporate boardrooms and university senates. The Department of Correctional Services needs to brace itself for a growing intake of men.

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