Gender Imbalance in Humanities: SLS English Classes Lack Male Students

Michael Pizzani '19

If you’re enrolled in an honors level English class at St. Luke’s, chances are you’re a girl – about an 80% chance, to be exact. While the school’s student body is nearly 50/50 in terms of the distribution of male and female students, SLS English classes are noticeably female-dominated.

According to Mr. Flachsbart, who chairs the Upper School English Department, male participation in honors level English courses has followed a downward trend. This year’s senior class is seemingly the epitome of this reality.

Only two senior boys took an honors elective last semester, causing Ms. Doran to replace her beloved Honors Shakespeare Class with an Honors Feminist Literature course.

One of the few male seniors who has stayed on the honors English track recalled being one of three boys in his sophomore year honors class, one of two in his AP Literature class, and now the only boy in his honors elective.

Mr. Flachsbart believes that the general pattern may be due to increased pressure for students to determine their area of study in high school. This anxiety, coupled with an outdated notion that men must act as their families’ primary breadwinner, may explain why male students aren’t prioritizing humanities.

Traditionally, a STEM or finance career is viewed as more lucrative. Thus, it is not simply a coincidence that boys tend to be more involved in the STEM or business fields, but rather a pressure from society to pursue a lucrative job, as soon as possible.

A 2015 report published by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce reveals that the median earnings for English majors between the ages of 25-59 is $53,000. This is noticeably less than the $83,000 median income for engineering majors and the $65,000 median earnings for those who study business.

However, humanities majors have the same unemployment rates as those who study computer science and math (about 9%). They are also less likely to have their job replaced by a machine. This is a common and valid fear among many workers in today’s economy, and a focus on humanities may ultimately offer protection.

Future jobs will likely arise from tasks computers are unable to complete, such as those that require human-based interaction. Having a skillset that encompasses empathy, sociability, writing, analyzing, or reacting – characteristics which are more likely to be acquired through a study of humanities – may be the key to employment in the future.

It seems that boys at St. Luke’s are already forging their money-making paths, but whether their perception of humanities is misguided or legitimate is not the only cause for concern. What’s concerning is that the archaic notion that men must be the sole providers of economic security has seemingly prevailed in the minds of St. Luke’s boys. Not only that, but they feel pressure to take action now, neglecting any room for trial and error, or exploration of topics that may seem foreign or impractical.

Still, there is a deeper societal element that deters boys from humanities: they are raised to devalue the qualities that literature celebrates and explores. From an early age, boys are taught to suppress emotions. They’re told that “boys don’t cry” and reminded that they must “man up,” as if they must earn their masculinity. For boys, vulnerability is taught to be embarrassing, causing them to constantly present themselves in a state of emotional stability. If they’re upset, boys are taught to forego sadness and instead become angry.

Stanford University defines humanities as “the study of how people process and document the human experience” – and emotion has always been the central facet of the human experience. How are boys expected to succeed in a course centered around something that they have been taught to ignore?

A lack of boys in humanities isn’t caused by a disinterest as much as it is influenced by social pressures and gender norms. The normalized belief that boys will one day be the primary provider for their families, along with the harmful expectation that boys must conceal their emotions, are what drive boys to push that honors level English class to the side and pick up an extra science or math class to fill its place.

The SLS freshman class, however, just may be reversing this trend. Upwards of 30% of students in Honors Literary Genres are male.

Hopefully future St. Luke’s students, regardless of gender or grade, will make a conscious effort to prioritize interest over pressure.

This article was written with the help of the following sources:

Aleem, Zeeshan, “Here’s Which Humanities Major Makes the Most Money After College,” Mic Network.

Nisen, Max, “11 Reasons to Ignore the Haters and Major in the Humanities,” Business Insider.

“What are the humanities?,” Stanford Humanities Center.