Last week I described some of the advantages of attending a mostly women’s college. Here are some ways in which I feel that my peers who attended more mixed institutions were better off:
--Prestige: It was no secret that my college was considered a "poor relation" to our brother school, "the University." Our budget was proportionately smaller, and those professors who taught at both schools listed the University as their affiliation on articles and CVs. Naturally, we felt this.
--Harassment: To a certain type of male, "women’s college" is synonymous with "hunting ground." These men imagine that women who choose to attend such an institution are desperate for male attention. When my friends and I walked off-campus, we were often followed by at least one slow-moving vehicle occupied by local men shouting lascivious remarks. We were seldom able to go out for a beer without our table being taken over by guys who assumed our sole purpose in being there was to pick up men. (Of course, sometimes we actually were there to pick up men. But often we just wanted to unwind, and it was hard to get them to believe this.) Date rape was, unfortunately, not uncommon.
--Othering: We certainly knew men who were nothing like the predators described above. We had wonderful teachers; some of our male schoolmates were delightful; and many of us had brothers, friends, and boyfriends we introduced to our friends. We recruited men from town to act in plays, and many of them became friends as well. For the most part, though, our deep friendships were with women. This was a good thing in many ways: those of us who had believed, consciously or not, that men were smarter, more capable, and/or more interesting than women were forced to reexamine those beliefs and, in the end, trash them. But men began to seem marginal, “other,” good for dates and sex if you happened to be heterosexual, but not necessarily people with whom to relate honestly and with trust, as we did to each other. In this way, I began to live out the words of the ladylike alumna that had filled me with dread: "At a certain age, it’s appropriate to stop thinking of boys as playmates and start relating to them as dates and potential husbands." It wasn’t appropriate at all, but it happened, with some long-lasting effects.
Next week: Long-term ramifications of a four-year experience (last in the series, I promise).