Why Can’t We Celebrate Women’s Success in Higher Education?

We live in a culture that celebrates victimhood and feeds on a narrative of oppression.

Earlier this week we “celebrated” International Women’s Day. I was thumbing my way through Twitter and came across a post from an anonymous account commenting to the effect that universities have “systematically” failed women. Have they? In response to this tweet, I posted the following chart compiled by Mark Perry at the American Enterprise Institute, prefaced by “I celebrate IWD because I love the women in my life, but on this particular matter …”

The fact is that women are increasingly excelling in higher education (the context of the original tweet). Interestingly, these data could be read (1) as a celebration of women’s achievements in that space, or (2) as a form of “whataboutery” vis-à-vis the sorry state of men these days. One would think that International Women’s Day would be a time for celebrating progress. Well, one would be wrong. Dead wrong.

I was swiftly excoriated by the Twitter mob for daring to post facts about women’s progress on International Women’s Day.

The fact that women are excelling in education does not mean that they face no problems as a collective. Women are subject to far higher levels of domestic violence than men. Women are subject to far higher levels of sexual harassment than men. Women are demographically under-represented in leadership positions compared to men. The list could go on. Women’s success in one realm does not negate their problems in another, but the same is true of men. In fact, it is true of all people.

“Women’s success in one realm does not negate their problems in another, but the same is true of men. In fact, it is true of all people.”

Putting my analytic hat on, the first problem, in my view, is that far too many people (or perhaps especially too many people on Twitter!) are beholden to a “black or white” worldview. Women are oppressed. Men are oppressors. The reality, however, is mostly gray. Each individual faces a unique set of constraints.

The second problem is that we now live in a culture that appears to celebrate victimhood over achievement. This culture creates—even encourages—a “victim mentality” in which our legitimacy as persons depends on the oppression to which we are subject. This mentality also enables us to outsource our problems to the “system” rather than exploiting our own agency to overcome them.

I want (especially young) people to know that life will be variously fair and unfair. When it is unfair, you can wallow in self-pity and seethe over the unfairness of it all, or you can accept that you face some obstacles that others don’t and work to overcome them. The choice is yours. Choose wisely, my friends.

Professor Andrew R. Timming

This article is published under a Creative Commons 4.0 License.

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