Reality and Sexism
Here is an absolutely incredible piece by Megan Petersen about attending Scripps College, a women’s college. It’s like someone climbed into my head and pulled out all the reasons I love going here. If you don’t want to read it, the rest of my blog post will still make sense, but I still highly recommend it.
So here’s a little context for Petersen’s blog. In December, a Scripps College student, Elizabeth Pfeiffer, wrote an article for The Huffington Post entitled Don’t Like the Gender Gap? Women’s Colleges Might Just Be the Answer. In it, she talks about how Scripps helped her develop into a stronger leader and student. She in no way shames co-ed colleges, nor really says anything negative about them at all. She simply expounds upon the merits of Scripps, trying to break down some of the negative stereotypes and preconceived notions that surround women’s colleges, refraining from denigrating a co-ed educational style.
In February, a Claremont McKenna (co-ed) College student, Shannon Miller, wrote a response article for the CMCForum called Don’t Like the Gender Gap? Don’t Encourage It. In it, she directly attacks each of Pfeiffer’s arguments. Pfeiffer believes that being surrounded by strong women helps her develop leadership skills? Miller believes that being faced with ‘the practical challenges that women face (culturally embedded gender roles, male dominance, etc.)’ will allow the women of CMC to challenge ‘those notions by giving women the opportunity to work directly alongside men in prototypical boys’ clubs—something uniquely unavailable at a women’s college’
I think The Golden Antlers, a CMC satirical news source, summed up the argument most effectively in a series of photos with captions, my favorite of which is:
So is real world sexism really necessary for stronger leaders? I believe that there are many, many benefits to a co-ed education, but Miller doesn’t tend to argue anything beyond ‘we mirror the real world in terms of gender gap and sexist practices’ (obviously not a direct quote).
This is where Megan Petersen comes in with her own personal blog response to Miller’s article. Petersen argues that Scripps isn’t important because it mirrors the real world, but rather because it teaches us the language to dismantle the sexism in the real world, and helps ‘me put these constructions (and their dismantling) at the top of my priority list’. She recognizes that she’s ‘going to be hit head-on with all the patriarchal bull shit’ once she exists Scripps, but now ‘I’m armed. I can identify the subversive tactics typical of the patriarchal structure. I can articulate not only that something is “sexist,” but I can make a point about the discourses surrounding it and propose alternatives.’
Surprisingly enough, the rest of this blog post isn’t going to argue that women’s colleges in general make better or more leaders, just that they make different ones (I’ll leave it to professionals to argue the better/more with facts and figures).
First of all, and I say this many times over to people in real life, just because I go to a women’s college doesn’t mean when I face sexism I collapse crying to the floor. There is a difference between a college being a Bubble of Ignorance and a Bubble of Protection. My high school was a Bubble of Ignorance. I attended an elite private high school where although we were taught much of academics, very little was taught to us of social justice, privilege, sexism, racism, or homophobia. We lived in our little bubble world where we all focused on getting into college, and although we were aware all these other issues existed, we very rarely analyzed them unless they were included in thesis such as ‘Shakespeare was misogynistic. Explain how.’ I knew so little about anyone else’s experiences in the U.S., and attended a high school with students who were so much like me (or were silenced), that I never really thought about what the world was like for people who didn’t have my privilege, or that privilege even existed.
Now, I’m not saying you can’t learn about privilege and social injustice and social structures at co-ed colleges. What I am saying is that I did learn these things at a women’s college, even though it is a type of bubble. The difference is it’s a Bubble of Protection and Education. I am aware that men exist outside of Scripps. I know sexism exists. I know the patriarchy exists, and as Petersen says, ‘I’m armed’. I can work around the structure as well as dismantle it, unlike my high school, where I was unaware the structure even existed. College is not some strange development oven, where women need to be ‘cooked’ by misogyny until they are done. We do not need to be exposed to a certain amount of hate and hurt before we are ready. We need to be armed and prepared with the language to explain why what is happening to us is wrong, and to borrow Petersen’s voice again (she’s just so articulate), it allows us to find ‘the words to describe the experiences that used to be nasty memories, knots in my stomach’, and Scripps does just that.
Scripps is a college where deconstructing the patriarchal structures and analyzing gender relations permeates much of our learning, and I happen to enjoy that. I enjoy it in the same way an environmental activist might enjoy a school with a focus on being greener, or someone interested in science might enjoy a tech college. Does the environmentalist cry when she leaves her green college and realizes how much waste and pollution exists in the real world? No, she fights to bring her green practices to all of America, not just the haven she graduated from. Does the Scrippsie faint when she experiences sexism in the real world? No, she fights to bring gender equality to all spaces, not just Scripps. This isn’t to say that Scripps doesn’t have many other wonderful academic strengths, but many of those strengths can be found at other elite colleges. What makes Scripps special to me is that it constantly teaches me to be a leader aware of structures (and not just the patriarchy), and arms me with very specific tools for fighting it. I may have learned these tools in a protected space, but they will be just as applicable to the sexism of reality. I’m about to make a unprovable claim, but I believe that if I were to have attended a co-ed college, I would not have felt nearly as comfortable identifying as a feminist, would not so readily speak up against what I perceive as injustice, nor would I have learned to defend my positions as strongly. I don’t know if it’s made me a better leader, but I can honestly say I believe that as a safe space it has allowed me to develop a stronger voice.
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Posted on April 8, 2013, in Claremont, Gender/Sexuality, Growing Up, Opinion and tagged Claremont Colleges, Claremont McKenna, Claremont McKenna College, College, Feminism, Feminist, Scripps, Scripps College, Sexism, Student, Women's College, Women's Colleges. Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.