Friday, October 1, 2010

Newsflash: Bryn Mawr Making Strides for Women Worldwide

Although there are many recent news stories relevant to Intro to Women’s Studies, I found the review of the discussion between Jacques Steinberg, a New York Times education writer, and Jane Dammen McAuliffe, the president of Bryn Mawr College, particularly interesting and relevant. “The Choice” is a blog-like venue, on which writers from the New York Times discuss all things college related, and readers are strongly encouraged to comment. As a female senior here at Colgate, gender/sex issues are quite obvious to me. As a beginner to the world of feminism, I am fascinated by what steps other colleges are taking regarding gender differences and stereotypes and how they are exploring women’s studies. Bryn Mawr College has made a name for itself as a progressive and powerful institution, one which looks to educate and raise consciousness about important issues, including the fight for women’s rights and equality. Bryn Mawr’s accomplishments, open-mindedness and general ambitiousness in facing towards the future place it, despite being 66 years younger than Colgate, a much more progessive and sophisticated institution and perhaps one that we can learn from.

This question and answer session, which took place on September 22nd, 2010, specifically addresses the celebration Bryn Mawr will be holding in honor of their 125th birthday. The conference, beginning on September 23rd, explored the role of women’s colleges in helping to improve women’s lives all around the world. One topic that was addressed was a response to the fact that Bryn Mawr College believes and looks to “prepare students to respond to the abuses and violence that many women endure, not just here in the United States but abroad”. President McAuliffe reiterated that it is disconcerting that even in the world today, in the 21st century, women still suffer from oppression, prejudice, and violence, just for being female. As Anne Fausto-Sterling wrote in “Sexing the Body”, “in some parts of the world, we have even altered the sex ratio by selectively aborting female fetuses…” (page 54). It is amazing that females are “less desired” in our world, especially considering that we are the ones who are vital to population growth and making families. It is disconcerting that some of our newer medical technologies such as fetal ultrasound and amniocentesis can be used for gender selection and could work against making the world a more equal place. As McAuliffe said, “young women are still forced into sexual slavery, subjected to genital mutilation and murdered to save the family ‘honor’. It is astonishing that these practices continue on today. The fact that in some underdeveloped countries, women still “die in childbirth at rates that rival those in the Middle Ages,” suggests that not enough resources are being spent to preserve and ensure women’s health; perhaps this is because women are not considered a priority.

Despite this, Bryn Mawr feels that their role as one of the leading women’s colleges, one that has been empowering women for so long, is beginning to move things in the right direction. With a heavy emphasis on “service learning”, a diverse student body, and a larger selection of “Fields of Study” than even Colgate offers (including “Gender and Sexuality” as a major:, McAuliffe feels that conferences like this are important to bring about partnerships, awareness, and progress. She feels that her students “can be agents of change in addressing this worldwide challenge of women’s oppression… whether they become doctors, lawyers, chemists, artists, or C.E.O’s”. It appears to me that the students and faculty of Bryn Mawr College are looking to make an impact on the lives of women worldwide, and to me their efforts seem more respectable that they do not have the benefit of millions of dollars or, per se, a nationally televised television show.

As someone who vehemently refused to consider attending an all women’s college, I can’t help but marvel at the advances women’s colleges have contributed to our society and their hope to continue that in the future. McAuliffe states while there are only approximately 60 exclusively women’s colleges, the alumni of these schools are often more qualified and excel at a higher level after their undergraduate years, pursue graduate school degrees more frequently, and in science, technology, mathematics and engineering, surpass those women who attended co-ed universities. These facts highlight why “women’s colleges remain a vitally important part of our higher education system”. Bryn Mawr’s president also feels encouraged that women’s colleges are developing all around the world. New institutions created exclusively for women include Asian University for Women in Bangladesh, Effat College in Saudi Arabia, Kiriri Women’s University in Kenya, among others.

As McAuliffe reiterates how positive the existence and contributions of these institutions are, it makes me reflect about some of my experiences here at Colgate. At the brown bag lunches I have attended, I noticed that the number of males in the room was, as expected, incredibly small. Our women’s studies class is comprised of around 20 females and just 2 males. In the Western Traditions course that I took sophomore year, I felt that my male teacher displayed unfair favoritism towards the male students, almost uncomfortably. I unfortunately feel that if such a conference were held here, highlighting and activating for the betterment of women’s lives worldwide, it would (generally) not be received positively. The students and faculty of Bryn Mawr College are proud, powerful, and ambitious. As a Colgate student for the past three years, I have observed my fair share of less than positive experiences and attitudes towards women in general. I sense an overall expectation of females here at Colgate, and regrettably, many go along with and propagate it. Women at Colgate are expected to be smart, but not too smart, etc. At Colgate, we have a college gossip website, where students can write in about a variety of subjects, and others can comment. On this website, one girl, ‘anonymous’ writes, “what can we do as girls to show guys that we want more than just a one night stand?” A boy also named ‘anonymous’ replied, “Don't be prude. Have fun, but don't be a whore… Make an effort to look good all the time, not just when going out…” To me this illustrates the negative attitude the Colgate men have of women here. I find it embarrassing, that at a respected place of higher education like Colgate, a bridge still exists between the attitudes of males and females. Both the male and female students at Colgate needed to have demonstrated high intelligence and well-rounded personality skills in order to be accepted at this school. Now that we are all here, it is time that the men of Colgate treat the women students with more equality and respect.


Bryn Mawr College.

Douglas, Susan J. Enlightened Sexism. Copyright 2010. Times Books.

Fausto-Sterling, Anne. Sexing the Body. Copyright 2000. Best Books.

Steinberg, Jacques. “A Women’s College That Wants to Change the World”. September 22, 2010. New York Times Online.

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