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    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

Career Coach: Still More on Gender Balance
November 22, 2009 - 5:38pm

As usual, I was fascinated by the responses to last week’s column. I am still looking for the place where I wrote, as “Anonymous” charges, that I “didn't like and continue not to like the fact that [my] alma mater went mixed.” I actually had no desire to attend a women’s college—that was my parents’ idea. I had a brother and no sisters, and two out of my four closest friends in high school were smart, decent, kindhearted boys. I enjoyed male energy, as I continue to do (fortunately, since I live with two men). But my parents, who were paying all the bills not covered by loans and my minimum-wage jobs, did not believe in higher education for women in the first place, and they were anxious about the “free love” that was sweeping the country (I entered college in 1970). When I refused to attend secretarial school, and a number of my teachers lobbied on my behalf, they caved — but allowed me to apply to only three schools, all traditionally female, all in the South. I got into all three, and they chose the least expensive one.

There were huge advantages to attending a mostly-women’s college, but I didn’t discover these fully until later, and didn’t completely appreciate them until after graduation. (More on this in a later post.) At the time, I was just relieved and grateful to be going to college at all, and as long as the academics were good and the people were friendly, I didn’t much care which one. If anything, I was relieved that there would be some guys around.

It wasn’t the presence of men, in other words, that upset me. It was the double standard that was obviously applied in admissions and in the enforcement of rules. My cousin, a smart, nice person and a good student, was rejected by this school, as were a number of my classmates’ equally qualified female friends and relatives. I would have thus assumed that I’d be surrounded by even smarter, more literate people, and this was true of many of the women I met, and, as I said, of some of the men. But hardly most of them.

I wondered, based on Libby’s speculation, whether there might be some “anecdotal exaggeration” to my recollection of the out-of-control behavior in the men’s dorm. It was a long time ago, and I do tend to unconsciously edit my memories to make a better story. So I checked with my good friend Randy Moomaw, whom I met during our first year there, and who actually lived in the men’s dorm in question. Here is his recollection: “[The dorm] was like a backwoods Animal House in many ways. I actually used to keep my door "hooked" so no one could come bounding in.”

Folks, Randy is no shrinking violet. It really was that bad.

As to why — I have to say, I agree with both JD and EF, even though they think they disagree with each other. I think the education system as a whole does a disservice to boys, and part of that disservice consists of inculcating them with privilege over mere girls. But that’s another post, too.

In the meantime I’m still puzzling out the requirement that the expression of ideas and recollection of experiences be “attractive.” Is this something men have to worry about, too, or is it, like lipstick, expected only of women?


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