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  • Mama PhD

    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

What Cat Fight?
March 18, 2012 - 6:53pm

I was deeply disturbed by Jonathan Zimmerman's recent Christian Science Monitor article on the reaction of Columbia students to President Obama's decision to deliver the commencement address at Barnard:

"In March of 1968, The New York Times ran a story about a student at Barnard – the women’s college next to Columbia – who was living off-campus with her boyfriend. The news sparked a firestorm of bad publicity for Barnard, which one angry letter-writer called “Prostitute U.”

Today, though, the people calling Barnard students prostitutes – and worse – aren’t outraged alumna[sic] or other old-timers. Instead, they’re students at Columbia, right across the street. And they’re women.

You can find them on Columbia’s student blogs, which have lit up with vitriol since the March 3 announcement that President Obama will speak at Barnard’s commencement ceremonies in May. Part of the anger was directed at Mr. Obama, who graduated from Columbia but has never given an address there. But the major target was Barnard itself. Its students are promiscuous gold-diggers, posters wrote, stealing Columbia men from – yes – Columbia women.

And that speaks to an unexpected – and deeply upsetting – consequence of the biggest story in American education: At every level, women are outpacing men. They get better grades in high school, so they’re over-represented in colleges. At last count, 57 percent of American undergraduates were female. But that also puts them in a bitter competition with each other, for an ever-shrinking pool of college men."

In response, I started formulating a ranty post about how in my day, women attended competitive colleges to get an education, for goodness' sake, not to fight over men. Not to mention the fact that my (straight) friends and I found plenty of men to date even while attending a fairly rural college where the female/male ratio was something like 2500:12. There were always mixers with men's schools. Our roommates had brothers and boyfriends who had friends. For a while I went out with the brilliant manager of a local bookstore. Surely in NYC the pool is much greater?

But then I went to the two sites Zimmerman cited as sources, the Columbia Spectator and Bwog, the Columbia blog.

I found the two woman-bashing-women comments he references, but I had to slog through over 1000 comments in total in a futile search for more.

Many of the comments are offensive. Some are blatantly misogynistic, but those are apparently written by men or by women who, for some reason, are posting as men (on the Internet it is hard to tell, but the term "feminazis" and the statements that all women belong in the kitchen or the bedroom are probably tip-offs). There is also a huge dust-up about whether Barnard students "deserve" to claim Columbia student status, since Barnard's admission rates are higher, which to this graduate of a public college, with a child slated for the same path (and both of us grateful for the privilege) seemed like a weird one-percent controversy. But they're kids, so whatever.

What I didn't find were masses of women turning on each other because of some perceived man shortage. It just wasn't happening.

So when Zimmerman asks, "Forty years after the feminist revolution, could it really be true that young women are defining their lives and selves in terms of relationships with men? And on Morningside Heights, no less, where the likes of Margaret Mead and Mirra Komarovsky urged women to look for more?" I would have to say, "Doesn't look that way."



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