A Lady in the Classroom, but a Freak at the Frat?*

The most thought-provoking article in today’s New York Times was not in the front page, nor even in the front section. It was in the Style section.

In “After Class, Skimpy Equality”, Lisa Belkin elucidates the baffling gender dynamics that characterize the American college campus – and proves that even the ivy-clad walls of universities like Princeton and Yale house less than idyllic relations between today’s collegiate men and women:

“The women I met were outspoken, self-confident and unapologetic about running rings around their male cohorts in the classroom. That was a marked change from my day, when there were nearly two men to one woman on campus, and we felt a little like guests in the boys’ club treehouse.

I wasn’t surprised by the progress, though… What stunned me was what was happening outside class, where women seemed not to have budged in decades.  In social settings and in relationships, men set the pace, made the rules and acted as they had in the days when women were still ‘less than.’ It might as well have been the 1950s, but with skimpier clothing, fewer inhibitions and better birth control.”

It’s no secret that female college students now outnumber their male counterparts. During my four years at college, I noticed that the girls were just as likely to command the classroom as the guys. (To be honest, I can recall countless type-A alpha females who dominated class discussions, who put on a show demonstrating how oh-so-full of gravitas they were, yet only one infamously annoying male classmate who also had an unhealthy desire to hear his own endless philosophizing about Jürgen Habermas.)

image from 123rf.com

But, come Thursday night (the unofficial start to the weekend for many), the dynamic changes. After class, girls spend hours straightening their hair, lining their eyes, and squeezing themselves into skinny jeans and skimpy tops. (And that’s not even mentioning the agonizing “UGH! I don’t have ANYTHING to wear!” moments where you inevitably turn away from your jam-packed closet and take your roommate up on her offer of borrowing her sparkly halter top so that you wont have to wear the same top you wore on a night out earlier this month.)

image from stopbeingaloser.org

The guys? From what I can tell, most of them just watch movies before heading out to a party – or, on a night that they want to impress, they might shower. (Please, guys, tell me if I’m wrong!)

Oh, no, wait. The guys generally go out and buy the beer as well. Let’s give credit where it’s due!

I happened to read this article while at my grandmother’s apartment. After reading a piece in Interview about Gloria Steinem by Maria Shriver (pre-Arnold’s cheating scandal, I believe). While my younger college-aged brother was visiting.

After reading the piece herself, my grandmother looked over at us and said incredulously, “Is that really what goes on?”

“Psh, YEAH!” was basically our response. “Haven’t you seen Mean Girls?”

Well, she hadn’t seen the movie. And was appalled at what the article claimed.

Thinking about this later, I almost feel bad that this gender dynamic had never appalled me, or even surprised me. In fact, I went along with it without question (I’ll admit that I’ve suffered through my fair share of straightening iron burns and purchased countless primping products that I’ll probably never use). As an unassuming freshman with few expectations, I probably just saw how it was and unquestioningly accepted it then, over the next four years, it felt normal. Unfair for sure, but normal and unavoidable. I am even more ashamed to admit that I was surprised that there was an uproar after a frat sent out a Halloween party invitation that invited girls to dress like sluts (I mean, doesn’t a character in Mean Girls teach us that Halloween is the one night of the year a girl can dress like a slut and no other girl can criticize her for it?)

In a way, dressing in a provocative way that makes a girl feel attractive makes her feel powerful. In the world of college parties, attractiveness is a girl’s currency. And the recent phenomenon of the “slutwalk” as a form of feminist protest has demonstrated that many women today see dressing that way as a way of exercising their rights. But I do understand the argument made by many that this type of dressing seems exploitative and takes away from the progress women have made in the classrooms of these same universities.

image from c4rousel.blogspot.com

Whether wearing a miniskirt is a constructive form of self-expression and liberation or something that only hinders the women’s movement, I don’t know. (Same goes for Muslim women who wear the veil – is it an absolute symbol of patriarchy or a sign of a woman’s devotion to her religion?) It’s impossible to say. I was happy to read a piece that says it like it is, but I regret to report that it is the truth. Women may sometimes rule the classroom, but men still run the party.


*Title inspired by Usher’s “Yeah!” for all of you like me who remember all the lyrics to the songs that were in heavy rotation at middle school dances. And still love them without shame.

~ by freshinkblog on August 28, 2011.

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