CHAPEL HILL, N.C.
Another ladies’ night, not by choice.
After midnight on a rainy night last week in Chapel Hill, N.C., a large group of sorority women at the University of North Carolina squeezed into the corner booth of a gritty basement bar. Bathed in a neon glow, they splashed beer from pitchers, traded jokes and belted out lyrics to a Taylor Swift heartache anthem thundering overhead. As a night out, it had everything — except guys.
“This is so typical, like all nights, 10 out of 10,” said Kate Andrew, a senior from Albemarle, N.C. The experience has grown tiresome: they slip on tight-fitting tops, hair sculpted, makeup just so, all for the benefit of one another, Ms. Andrew said, “because there are no guys.”
North Carolina, with a student body that is nearly 60 percent female, is just one of many large universities that at times feel eerily like women’s colleges. Women have represented about 57 percent of enrollments at American colleges since at least 2000, according to a recent report by the American Council on Education. Researchers there cite several reasons: women tend to have higher grades; men tend to drop out in disproportionate numbers; and female enrollment skews higher among older students, low-income students, and black and Hispanic students.
In terms of academic advancement, this is hardly the worst news for women — hoist a mug for female achievement. And certainly, women are primarily in college not because they are looking for men, but because they want to earn a degree.
But surrounded by so many other successful women, they often find it harder than expected to find a date on a Friday night.
“My parents think there is something wrong with me because I don’t have a boyfriend, and I don’t hang out with a lot of guys,” said Ms. Andrew, who had a large circle of male friends in high school.
Jayne Dallas, a senior studying advertising who was seated across the table, grumbled that the population of male undergraduates was even smaller when you looked at it as a dating pool. “Out of that 40 percent, there are maybe 20 percent that we would consider, and out of those 20, 10 have girlfriends, so all the girls are fighting over that other 10 percent,” she said.
Needless to say, this puts guys in a position to play the field, and tends to mean that even the ones willing to make a commitment come with storied romantic histories. Rachel Sasser, a senior history major at the table, said that before she and her boyfriend started dating, he had “hooked up with a least five of my friends in my sorority — that I know of.”
These sorts of romantic complications are hardly confined to North Carolina, an academically rigorous school where most students spend more time studying than socializing. The gender imbalance is also pronounced at some private colleges, such as New York University and Lewis & Clark in Portland, Ore., and large public universities in states like California, Florida and Georgia. The College of Charleston, a public liberal arts college in South Carolina, is 66 percent female. Some women at the University of Vermont, with an undergraduate body that is 55 percent female, sardonically refer to their college town, Burlington, as “Girlington.”
The gender gap is not universal. The Ivy League schools are largely equal in gender, and some still tilt male. But at some schools, efforts to balance the numbers have been met with complaints that less-qualified men are being admitted over more-qualified women. In December, the United States Commission on Civil Rights moved to subpoena admissions data from 19 public and private colleges to look at whether they were discriminating against qualified female applicants.
Leaving aside complaints about “affirmative action for boys,” less attention has been focused on the social ramifications.
Thanks to simple laws of supply and demand, it is often the women who must assert themselves romantically or be left alone on Valentine’s Day, staring down a George Clooney movie over a half-empty pizza box. lol wut
“I was talking to a friend at a bar, and this girl just came up out of nowhere, grabbed him by the wrist, spun him around and took him out to the dance floor and started grinding,” said Kelly Lynch, a junior at North Carolina, recalling a recent experience.
Students interviewed here said they believed their mating rituals reflected those of college students anywhere. But many of them — men and women alike — said that the lopsided population tends to skew behavior.
“A lot of my friends will meet someone and go home for the night and just hope for the best the next morning,” Ms. Lynch said. “They’ll text them and say: ‘I had a great time. Want to hang out next week?’ And they don’t respond.”
Even worse, “Girls feel pressured to do more than they’re comfortable with, to lock it down,” Ms. Lynch said.
As for a man’s cheating, “that’s a thing that girls let slide, because you have to,” said Emily Kennard, a junior at North Carolina. “If you don’t let it slide, you don’t have a boyfriend.”
Faculty members and administrators are well aware of the situation. Stephen M. Farmer, North Carolina’s director of admissions, said that the university has a high female presence in part because it does not have an engineering school, which at most schools tend to be heavily male. Also, he said, more young men than women in the state opt to enter the military or the work force directly out of high school.
And the university feels obligated to admit the most qualified applicants, regardless of gender, Mr. Farmer said. “I wouldn’t want any young woman here to think that there’s somebody we’d rather have here than her,” he said.
The phenomenon has also been an area of academic inquiry, formally and informally. “On college campuses where there are far more women than men, men have all the power to control the intensity of sexual and romantic relationships,” Kathleen A. Bogle, a sociologist at La Salle University in Philadelphia, wrote in an e-mail message. Her book, “Hooking Up: Sex, Dating, and Relationships on Campus,” was published in 2008.
“Women do not want to get left out in the cold, so they are competing for men on men’s terms,” she wrote. “This results in more casual hook-up encounters that do not end up leading to more serious romantic relationships. Since college women say they generally want ‘something more’ than just a casual hook-up, women end up losing out.”
W. Keith Campbell, a psychology professor at the University of Georgia, which is 57 percent female, put it this way: “When men have the social power, they create a man’s ideal of relationships,” he said. Translation: more partners, more sex. Commitment? A good first step would be his returning a woman’s Facebook message.
Women on gender-imbalanced campuses are paying a social price for success and, to a degree, are being victimized by men precisely because they have outperformed them, Professor Campbell said. In this way, some colleges mirror retirement communities, where women often find that the reward for outliving their husbands is competing with other widows for the attentions of the few surviving bachelors.
“If a guy is not getting what he wants, he can quickly and abruptly go to the next one, because there are so many of us,” said Katie Deray, a senior at the University of Georgia, who said that it is common to see six provocatively clad women hovering around one or two guys at a party or a bar.
Since that is not her style, Ms. Deray said, she has still not had a long-term relationship in college. As a fashion merchandising major, she said, she can only hope the odds improve when she graduates and moves to New York.
At colleges in big cities, women do have more options. “By my sophomore year, I just had the feeling that there is nobody in this school that I could date,” said Ashley Crisostomo, a senior at Fordham University in New York, which is 55 percent female. She has tended to date older professionals in the city.
But in a classic college town, the social life is usually limited to fraternity parties, local bars or coffeehouses. And college men — not usually known for their debonair ways — can be particularly unmannerly when the numbers are in their favor.
“A lot of guys know that they can go out and put minimal effort into their appearance and not treat girls to drinks or flatter them, and girls will still flirt with them,” said Felicite Fallon, a senior at Florida State University, which is 56 percent female.
Several male students acknowledged that the math skewed pleasantly in their favor. “You don’t have to work that hard,” said Matt Garofalo, a senior at North Carolina. “You meet a girl at a late-night restaurant, she’s texting you the next day.”
But it’s not as if the imbalance leads to ceaseless bed-hopping, said Austin Ivey, who graduated from North Carolina last year but was hanging out in a bar near campus last week. “Guys tend to overshoot themselves and find a really beautiful girlfriend they couldn’t date otherwise, but can, thanks to the ratio,” he said.
Mr. Ivey himself said that his own college relationship lasted three years. “She didn’t think she would meet another guy, I didn’t think I would meet another girl as attractive as her,” he said.
Several male students from female-heavy schools took pains to note that they were not thrilled with the status quo.
“It’s awesome being a guy,” admitted Garret Jones, another North Carolina senior, but he also lamented a culture that fostered hook-ups over relationships. This year, he said, he finally found a serious girlfriend.
Indeed, there are a fair number of Mr. Lonelyhearts on campus. “Even though there’s this huge imbalance between the sexes, it still doesn’t change the fact of guys sitting around, bemoaning their single status,” said Patrick Hooper, a Georgia senior. “It’s the same as high school, but the women are even more enchanting and beautiful.” poetry.
And perhaps still elusive. Many women eagerly hit the library on Saturday night. And most would prefer to go out with friends, rather than date a campus brute.
But still. “It causes girls to overanalyze everything — text messages, sideways glances, conversations,” said Margaret Cheatham Williams, a junior at North Carolina. “Girls will sit there with their friends for 15 minutes trying to figure out what punctuation to use in a text message.”
The loneliness can be made all the more bitter by the knowledge that it wasn’t always this way.
“My roommate’s parents met here,” said Mitali Dayal, a freshman at North Carolina. “She has this nice little picture of them in their Carolina sweatshirts. Must be nice.”
okay, so it's not exactly political, but it does bring up some interesting questions about the dating dynamic on college campuses (well, to me at least). i go to college in north carolina and my university is 67% female. girls everywhere. so...this isn't really news to me.
college ontd_p-ers: do you notice these things on your college campuses? how does this make you feel~