Friday, August 05, 2005

Why did I go to a women's college?

Meant to post this a couple days ago... just read "Tuesday" for "today."

AKMA links today to a site that seems to be the organizing focus for female bloggers, commentary on their recent BlogHer conference. I'd love it if the site had a clearer, more accessible "who we are and what we're about" summary, but I didn't log in here to critique I logged in here because this entry on BlogHer and this review of the conference fired me up.

"Women bloggers, how do you want the world to learn about what you're creating -- if at all? Do you want to play by today's rules or change the game?"

Why did I go to a women's college?

In all honestly, I went there just because it felt like the right place to be. I went there in spite of the single-sex factor, not because of it. But like any good Smithie, I can now quote you reason upon reason for why Smith is and must remain a women's college. I know what the studies say. I spent two years at Smith, one at the University of Hamburg, one more at Smith, one near Washington University in St. Louis, and one at Seabury-Western. I've seen the difference in how women act and are treated when men aren't in the room to insist that they know more or should talk more.

But those are the reasons why we need women's colleges, not why I went to one. I'll be the first to admit that the single-sex environment just doesn't seem to work for everyone. Personally, I never had a problem in high school with speaking up in class. I never noticed teachers treating me differently because I was female. It never occurred to me to be intimidated by my male colleagues. I didn't need a women's college education to give me that kind of confidence. Maybe because of Girl Scouts, maybe because of my family, but I grew up confident in that arena.

So why? Why did I go to a women's college? Reading the debate question on BlogHer, I realized something: I didn't go to a women's college so that I could quote men the rules of their own game. I didn't go to a women's college because it would teach me to compete with men on their terms. I didn't go to a women's college to learn how to succeed at the status quo.

I went to a women's college because I was attracted to a place where, as Halley experienced, "There was no one-upsMAN-ship, there were no egomaniacal rants, there were no pissing-contests, no penis-metrics, no Q&A hogs. The people in the room seemed to have two completely outlandish assumptions ... that everyone should have an equal voice and that we were actually there to LEARN SOMETHING, not to compete against one another."

Sure, Smith was a competitive place. But we were competitive on our own terms. We made the rules of the game. No one of us got to have things all her own way - that's not how life works in community. We still had to learn to give and take, when to compromise and when to hold our ground. We still struggled to decide what the rules should be, when they should change and how, and so forth. It still wasn't easy, and it still wasn't always pleasant. But women designed the game, and women wrote the rules - and when they stopped working for women, women rewrote them.

This is all to say that today, I realized that I don't want to spend the rest of my life proving that I can piss as far as a man can. I'm not a man. Pissing long distances is not my particular gift. Maybe that's why I went to a women's college - so I wouldn't have to pretend to be a man and could just live my life on my own terms instead. Terms defined in community with other women and men, hopefully in conversation with and obedience to God, to be sure, not just my own whims - but not just the terms handed to me by men, who received them from generations upon generations of men, isolated from women. I don't just want to rewrite the rules because I'm young, dumb, and rebellious. Truly, I can be all of those. But sometimes I need to rewrite the rules because the terms I've been offered just don't work. If women are to have a voice, if any group with a history of oppression is to have a voice, that voice has to include reworking the system and rewriting the rules. It can't just be choosing vanilla or chocolate from the same old ice cream machine.


Jeff said...

Beth, fantastic blog! I always feel guilty when we talk about men who "insist that they know more and should talk more." I know I am confident and express myself. I am glad to have friends like you, of the female persuasion, who has never had a problem speaking up.

I am happy play a game "women designed" and for which "women wrote the rules." I am glad for friends like you and bell hooks (ok, she is not really, a personal friend) who understand when men like me agree with you that rules are broken. Sometimes we are tired of the rules too.

Jennifer said...

I think that's way being in a sorority was so wonderful for me and helped me to find a good balance in my life during college. It was a sanctuary, a place set apart from the ultra-competitive world of Case, where we could work out who we wanted to be as individuals and as a group. To be sure, living with 24 women in one small building was occasionally insane.. and sometimes more than occasionally. But it was usually in the moments when the sky was falling that we discovered who we really were.

Maybe forming an identity within a supportive group of women allows us to understand the world and ourselves in a deeper way, so that we can recognize that the rules/norms can be rewritten in ways that work for everyone.