This, friends, is my concluding post in the series on why i chose a women’s college. It has been a most illuminating ride, and i have very much enjoyed hearing your insights – be they uplifting or critical, you keep me growing. Thank you.
In this blog series i have mentioned the fact that i have male friends, professors, and live in a valley of five universities (three of which are co-ed). By this, i’d like to commence this argument by declaring that i do not think that men are subordinate, terrible, sex-driven maniacs. I also do not think men are the only perpetrators of sexism. They are some of my best friends and greatest educators.
However, in my first post in the series, i spoke about the relevance of women’s-only education. Essentially, women’s colleges like Mount Holyoke are still important, critical, and have endured because they exist as spaces with the express purpose of combatting sexism in its many manifestations. I stand by this resolution.
I also mentioned that women’s colleges are not necessarily only for women; there are a number of gender-queer folk attending the college full time, and more pertinent to what i wish to address today, men from Amherst, UMass Amherst, and Hampshire are welcome to take classes at Mount Holyoke should they so desire. Therefore, i have had a number of seminars and lectures with male students present.
In one particular class, the semester commenced with approximately 50 students, 2 of whom were men from neighboring schools. Unfazed, i wasn’t worried or in fear that they, by nature of being men and being in my class, wold ruin my academic experience or hinder my education in any way. What was curious, however, was the amount they spoke in class discussion. For, in the first two weeks of the semester, perhaps from intimidation or lack of comfort level, only about five of us 50 piped up in conversation.
I’m sure you’re not surprised i was one of those five (being a tad overly-outspoken). But what was interesting to me, most especially, that the two aforementioned gentlemen also were in the top-five-most-commenting few of the lecture.
And before you angrily spell out that, by nature of being a man-hating feminist, i automatically noticed a slant in the conversation, let me make a disclaimer: i have been in several classes with men, and in some cases the one or two guys were either too intimidated or uninterested or shy (or [insert totally valid reason here]) to ever speak up. Understandably so – i was petrified to speak in class the first two weeks of college because i was utterly overwhelmed by the brilliance of my fellow women. And i don’t think that because these two were men that they should not, can not, or do not deserve to ask clarifying questions, contest the professor’s statement, or otherwise enhance the conversation. Quite the contrary, in fact.
I just believe that when ten percent of the class are the only ones talking, that ten percent should represent the demographic of the class. As the men only comprised 4% of the class gender breakdown, i don’t think that their comments should comprise 40% of the conversation.
And i get it: just because i’m a teacher-pet-loudmouth doesn’t mean everyone should be. Some people prefer to listen, to add occasional comments, or to get acquainted with the teaching style of the professor before jabbering away. These are totally valid things. But this trend of men speaking out, and women being afraid to say what’s on their mind, is more than one class at one school.
In conversations with my fellow Mount Holyoke women i am often unsurprised to find many of them never spoke out – or more importantly, were never heard – in co-ed classrooms, be they in high school or previous colleges. Some say the guys were too boisterous and loud for their comments to be heard. A friend told me, “I have plenty of opinions, I just wasn’t loud enough to talk over the boys in high school…[At Mount Holyoke] I know when I raise my hand to make a comment, no one is going to speak over me. I’m not the kind of person who yells my opinion across the room.” Still others have divulged that they were too self-conscious to say what they were thinking in class for fear of looking unfeminine, too smart, too dumb, or otherwise ridiculous when in co-ed situations. Some of these women have said so much in class conversations at MHC – and many of them now speak freely and openly in seminar discussions. Mount Holyoke, as a safe and empowering space for the thoughts of every one of its students, has given attention and time to these invaluable voices.
Truly, I am not making the claim that all the women here were docile, letting guys dominate the conversation (be it because they were loud or the ladies self-conscious). I’m sure you are, once more, shocked to learn i’ve never been the quiet type in terms of class chats. And, as another friend declared, “at some point, you just have to yell.”
At some point, you just have to yell. To stomp and holler, to turn and say “No, i’m not just pointing out that the textbook is slanted because i’m a girl, i’m saying it is a male perspective on the founding fathers because it was written by a male historian focusing exclusively on the men who were formative in creating America.” Mount Holyoke doesn’t let us be ladylike and demure – it is a time for all of us, the outspoken, the shy, the observers, the ENFJs and the ISTPs to equally learn how best to utilize their voices. Because sexism still is a real issue – one need only watch two minutes of any television show, commercial, or news broadcast to see this. It is not always overt (though sometimes it certainly can be!)- it can be in the tilt of a camera angle, the choice of words for a female character, the stylized fonts and colors for male vs. female products that fill the same function (think: deodorant, razors, shampoo…). Sexism can be encountered when a women seeks to purchase a car, or when a man is shopping for diapers or cooking ware.
In my 50-person class, one man has since dropped out, and the other attends somewhat infrequently. Since they left, and with the semester having thoroughly settled in, i find many more women speaking out, debating, and participating in classroom dialogue. This conversation is far more representative of the class, as there are (a) more than ten percent of the people speaking, and (b) the percentage of the people speaking isn’t 40% dominated by a demographic group comprising only 2% of the class.
I’m not attributing this pattern explicitly to the male presence – but i do believe there is a similar pattern in society worthy of our close examination.
And me saying this does not make me a man-hating, bra-burning freak. It makes me a smart, and aware, feminist. Which, by the way, i think men can be feminists too* – and, in line with the arguments of Jackson Katz, a safe space to deconstruct false notions of masculinity is crucial to the movement to gender equality. But in this very vein i believe is the exact reason why those two men speaking out – while most of the women stayed silent – is a validation proffered up by society in desperate need of demolition. Men and women deserve equal voices. Society, at present, does not support this notion. In wage inequality, media representations, textbooks, in lessons taught to little girls and boys by films and books and television and their parents – there exists a horrific sexism.
And i am a product of this: of course i am sexist. I was born into a sexist society – it is everywhere i look, in everything i read.
But in my choosing to go to a place like Mount Holyoke – place built to eradicate this detrimental notion, i am working day by day to remove the sexism within me by recognizing it. And dealing with it. And trying to live my life in a way that, chip by chip, block by block, will tear those barriers down.
I absolutely cannot do this alone – i stand on the shoulders of billions of women who came before me paving the way. I am a blip in the fight, a small moment in a massive struggle i think will go on long after my time is done. But, with my Mount Holyoke Education (which transcends the diploma) in tow, i hope to make that blip a good one.
current jam: ‘haven’t met you yet’ michael bublé
best thing in my life right now: peanut butter oatmeal homemade cookies!
*this is another blog post that, should you be interested, i’ve been thinking about expounding upon. in the meantime, i encourage you all to check out the good men project, an online anti-sexist blog magazine that is a fantastic resource for information, conversation, and general anti-sexist stuff!