October
9th 2010
From the Department of WTF?

Posted under: American history, Gender, students, women's history

Tenured Radical has a really nice post about the value of single-sex education for women over at her place.  Go read that whole thing, but here’s a sample:

[H]aving attended a school outside Philadelphia, founded in 1888 to prepare women for Bryn Mawr College, let me tell you I was educated to expect prizes. At my all-women’ secondary school, I had the astonishing good luck to be taught by feminists who never told me that I couldn’t, or shouldn’t, do anything because I was a woman. I had science teachers who responded to questions by creating research projects outside class; a Latin teacher who signed us up for citywide translation contests to make us work harder; a chemistry teacher who wouldn’t let us stop working on the problem sets until they were right; and history teachers who expected that all papers would contain primary research.

Back in the 1960s and 1970s being told, as a woman, that anything was within your grasp if you only tried, was a big deal. It happened only at private school and at the prestigious public Girls High in Philadelphia. Part of how the message of gender equality was conveyed was through rigorous competition and not being permitted to take refuge in any notion of female inferiority or weakness. I remember one moment, famous at our school, when a parent went to the headmistress to complain about an athletic contest played in the rain – something boys did routinely at their schools. It is said that this mother was asked firmly and politely in return: “Are you under the impression that young women melt?”

What I remember most about a single sex education was the assumption that we all would go on to do something significant. The ethic of our school was that women were entitled to labs, and languages, all the spots on the editorial board, all the parts in the play, as much math and science as we could learn, all the class offices and team captaincies, and the best colleges we could get into. The school’s web page says today: “Girls enjoy not just equal opportunity but every opportunity.”

But, the commenters over at TR only want to talk about the “class privilege” of women’s colleges, because apparently women’s colleges are the only expensive private colleges around!  (I bet you didn’t realize that Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Princeton, Boston College, Amherst, Reed, Morehouse, Notre Dame, Grinnell, and Holy Cross were totally affordable and are in no way about “class privilege!”)   Amazing.

Read the thread–jump in over there, or leave your thoughts here.

32 Comments »

32 Responses to “From the Department of WTF?

  1. Emma on 09 Oct 2010 at 10:43 am #

    I went to a small, private, expensive and formerly all-women’s college on loans, Pell grants, scholarships, and money from the Marine Corps. I graduated with very little debt.

    It was a formative and wonderful experience. What made it possible was four years in the military and government assistance and a scholarship from the school. Because of these things, class differences were leveled sufficiently for me to recieve a superior education and experience.

    None of this was true for law school. I graduated from the U of Michigan in 1995. I’m still nowhere near paying off my debt.

    Instead of focusing on how “elitist” schools are, focus on how we can level the class barriers through, for example, public funding of education. Elevate public colleges and universities and provide true financial assistance, i.e. NOT loans, to students.

    But of course, it’s much more fun to bash women for taking something we believe we’re entitled to.

  2. truffula on 09 Oct 2010 at 11:02 am #

    It wasn’t until a couple of years ago, when my mother and I started talking about what hadn’t changed since she attended big state U in the early 50s, that I finally understood why she had so wanted me to take the offer from Bryn Mawr, even though it would have been hard, financially.

  3. Historiann on 09 Oct 2010 at 12:12 pm #

    Preach it, Emma: ” it’s much more fun to bash women for taking something we believe we’re entitled to.”

    I agree that class privilege is a HUGE issue in higher education. It’s just that it’s an issue in higher ed across the board and esp. in private institutions–not just in certain kinds of private colleges.

    truffula: Back in my day (20-24 years ago), Bryn Mawr was out of reach for my family, but for the scholarships, loans, and grants I was forutnate enough to cobble together. My parents never paid more than 1/2 of the bill IIRC, and usually closer to 1/3. I graduated with something like only $10K in debt, which seemed like a lot at the time but it paled in comparison to some of my friends’ debts (esp. w/r/t professional school debt, as Emma suggests.) At the time, Bryn Mawr had need-blind admissions, and something like 70 or 80% of all students had some kind of financial aid from the college.

    Since then, I’ve heard that Bryn Mawr (like a number of elite colleges) quietly dropped its “need-blind” admissions policy, something I think is much to be regretted.

  4. knitting clio on 09 Oct 2010 at 12:16 pm #

    I didn’t use the term “class privilege” over at Tenured Radical, but the following remarks I made there did prompt that comment from an anonymous user. Here’s what I said:

    “This is a good argument but most women can’t afford to attend a private women’s college (and many can’t even afford a state university like mine). I wanted to go to Smith very badly but couldn’t afford it. So, I went to the state university (Vermont). I had great feminist mentors there (some of them men) and at the coeducational graduate school I attended.”

    I didn’t mention private coeducational (formerly male) colleges because I was talking about my experience and it seemed obvious that a private coeducational college was beyond my means too.

  5. Historiann on 09 Oct 2010 at 12:22 pm #

    KC–I thought you made a good point about the possibility and importance of feminist mentorship outside of single-sex colleges.

    I am familiar with the derailment of conversations on feminist blogs–I was just surprised that none of the initial three commenters (you included) wanted to address TR’s main point, which was to talk about the value of a single-sex education for women. Instead, the first comments were all about the “class privilege” of women’s colleges or the terrible unfairness that TR didn’t address colleges for teh poor poor menz.

    My initial comment was intended to steer the focus of the conversation back to TR’s points, but in that I apparently failed! (Or, as one commenter claims, I “took the bait” of a troll, so the derailment is all my fault.)

    It sure would help if people stopped leaving comments as “Anonymous” over there, because it’s hard to know which “Anonymous” is which.

  6. quixote on 09 Oct 2010 at 12:41 pm #

    (I’m getting a surfeit of stupid comments, so I can’t bear to read the threads at TR’s and I’ll participate here. My apologies to TR!)

    I had the same experience of school as she did, and I can strongly second her assessment of what that does to one’s outlook.It took me years to understand the self-doubts holding some of my friends back. (Which gives you some idea of what good people they were and are, since they put up with me anyway.) That’s a huge gift, a priceless gift.

    As for only the privileged receiving it? Pfft. That’s the mentality of the old-style Communists showing through. We should all be equally poor, instead of all being rich. The point isn’t the privilege. The point is what’s possible. And that we need to see to it that we all get it.

  7. knitting clio on 09 Oct 2010 at 1:18 pm #

    Well, I did say that TR made a good argument! ;-)

  8. Comrade PhysioProf on 09 Oct 2010 at 2:29 pm #

    But, the commenters over at TR only want to talk about the “class privilege” of women’s colleges, because apparently women’s colleges are the only expensive private colleges around!

    How *dare* you wealthy imperialist bitchez even *talk* about which so-called “college” you were able to afford, when there are children RIGHT HERE IN THE UNITED STATES WHO DON’T HAVE ENOUGH TO EAT!?!?!?!?

  9. Historiann on 09 Oct 2010 at 2:49 pm #

    HEE-hee.

    In case you can’t tell, he’s being sarcastic.

  10. JackDanielsBlack on 09 Oct 2010 at 3:07 pm #

    If he’s not being sarcastic, Comrade PhysioProf’s remark seems to me to be offensive to women. If he is being sarcastic, what’s so funny about making light of hungry children? I guess some folks have a more “sophisticated” sense of humor than I do.

  11. Comrade PhysioProf on 09 Oct 2010 at 3:24 pm #

    Dude, sometimes when you fail to understand text you read, it’s because the text is neither directed at, nor designed to be understandable by, someone who lacks sufficient context. If you do want to achieve understanding, the first step is for you to grasp that this is not a text problem: it’s a you problem.

  12. JackDanielsBlack on 09 Oct 2010 at 3:29 pm #

    Comrade PhysioProf, forgive me but your response is typical obscurantist bullshit. I don’t need to achieve understanding–your comment speaks for itself.

  13. Comrade PhysioProf on 09 Oct 2010 at 3:45 pm #

    Dude, it’s only obscure to you. The vast majority of the readers of this blogge understood my comment very clearly as the totally fucken hilarious bon mot that it was.

    Think about it this way, holmes: Does a little child’s failure to understand an adult joke reflect a deficiency in the adult joke, or the lack of development of the child’s intellect?

  14. JackDanielsBlack on 09 Oct 2010 at 3:49 pm #

    Comrade, not being a little child myself, I’ll let you answer your own question.

  15. Historiann on 09 Oct 2010 at 3:49 pm #

    And some people think feminists have no sense of humor!

    Jack, CPP enjoys leaving mocking comments and only rarely drops his schtick to be serious. He comments over at Tenured Radical too, so you should know his bag. (His last comment was actually pretty much on the square, from what I can tell.)

  16. JackDanielsBlack on 09 Oct 2010 at 4:25 pm #

    Historiann, growing up in Mississippi in the 1940s and 50s I heard a lot of ugly comments that folks forgave on the basis of their “context”. I didn’t accept them then, and I don’t accept them now. When somebody says something ugly, they should be called on it, whether or not they have a secret “get out of jail free” card, and “sorry, just kiddin’” isn’t a sufficient excuse for ugliness. I am sure that I am not the only one who doesn’t appreciate this type of comment.

  17. Historiann on 09 Oct 2010 at 4:42 pm #

    Well, you’re the only complaint so far. You’re free not to read and comment here if you don’t like the others in the peanut gallery.

  18. Western Dave on 09 Oct 2010 at 6:17 pm #

    More importantly, it’s gossip time! Did TR attend Shipley, Agnes Irwin, or Baldwin? Or was it the Mount? Since she said outside Philadelphia, I’m assuming my school is out as we are in the city. Shipley went co-ed so I bet that would have been mentioned in the piece. I’m betting Baldwin.

  19. Susie Madrak on 09 Oct 2010 at 9:08 pm #

    This may surprise some of you, but what TR describes was pretty much my experience at a Philadelphia Catholic girls’ high school — in fact, an old friend and I were just talking about it yesterday. Most of our teachers had PhDs and expected us to excel academically, and we took a full load of AP classes. When our public school friends described dumbing themselves down so boys would like them, we were astounded. “Why would you do that?”

    We were strongly feminist, as were many of the nuns. And because we wore uniforms, we didn’t have any pressure to spend money on clothes. In fact, most of us wore Army jackets over our uniforms. (1968-72.) And there was a strong social justice component to the religion curriculum.

    There was still gender discrimination — for instance, we couldn’t study German or Russian, which they had at the boys school. And the nuns still officially disavowed abortion. But on the whole, it was a surprisingly good feminist experience that prepared me to stand up and speak out.

  20. knitting clio on 10 Oct 2010 at 6:44 am #

    I’m going to agree with JackDanielsBlack here. I think it’s Melissa McEwan at Shakesville who critiques “hipster sexism” — i.e. the notion that it’s okay to use sexist language if one is trying to be cool or ironic. In my opinion, Comrade Physioprof’s comments are an example of hipster sexism. Just sayin’.

  21. anna on 10 Oct 2010 at 8:17 am #

    Can’t we try to make coed schools more feminist, instead of assuming that of course they can never encourage girls as much as all-girls schools?

    But of course, I went to Drew University (which you’ve never heard of, because it basically sucks, and so did my high school grades) so I’ve no business commenting I guess.

  22. Matt L on 10 Oct 2010 at 9:12 am #

    As someone who went to a single sex school, I think gender segregation is good for both young men and young women at the secondary level. If you want to be egalitarian about it, then make it an option for public high schools. But I also think school uniforms are a good idea too. So maybe I am just a crank.

    I haven’t read TRs post, but I will head right over and check it out.

  23. knitting clio on 10 Oct 2010 at 9:24 am #

    Anna — that’s what I’m trying to say.

  24. Matt L on 10 Oct 2010 at 9:32 am #

    I am truly impressed by TR’s posts, both parts 1 and 2. I really liked the quotation from Mary Maples Dunn, “A women’s college is the place a woman can learn what gender equality really looks like [...]“

  25. truffula on 10 Oct 2010 at 9:52 am #

    I’m not a historian but I’ve been reading a lot lately about the history of women’s education. One of the major threads I see running through it all is that women are always in the process of finding alternatives to institutions that limit their opportunity and making the alternatives work. That doesn’t mean you stop trying to gain entry to Columbia but while you are wirking on that, you can also make Barnard a top-notch school in its own right. Girls schools were not, by and large, founded for the purpose of liberating women but women have transformed them into that.

    I think I can recognize the value in women’s colleges even if I didn’t attend one, ditto for girls schools. I’m not sure why I’d want to limit women’s options. I can work to improve the coeducational environment while also seeing value elsewhere.

  26. Emma on 10 Oct 2010 at 10:36 am #

    “Can’t we try to make coed schools more feminist, instead of assuming that of course they can never encourage girls as much as all-girls schools?”

    In the meantime, can’t we support and expand what already works? Are we incapable of taking more than one approach when it comes to women and girls?

    Assuming that co-ed schools, once sufficiently feminist, will meet everyone’s needs is as cookie-cutter an approach as assuming that only single-sex schools will work.

    Millions of kids = more than one approach, I would think.

  27. Emma on 10 Oct 2010 at 10:44 am #

    The basic fact is, everything that’s specifically good for women and girls is a threat to men and patriarchy so patriarchy has to oppose it.

  28. Perpetua on 10 Oct 2010 at 10:59 am #

    Just riffing off Emma’s comment – I would love to imagine a world in which co-ed universities and high schools offered women sufficiently feminist opportunities/ experiences, but frankly I don’t see that happening any time soon, no matter how much the leaders of the Poor Boyz movement likes to talk about the (implicitly over) achievement of girls. As long as the patriarchy persists, we’re going to need single-sex education for young women, just like until we’ve actually achieved something approaching racial equality, black colleges will still play really important roles in the African-American community. Integration – of women into men’s colleges and African-Americans into white schools – was a good thing, but it did come with a bit of a price (ie the loss of strong mentorship by people from one’s own gender/race). I wish I could remember this clearly, but I heard on npr a couple of weeks ago some statistics about the relative achievements of women who went to all-women’s colleges versus coed women (something like 50% of women who are fortune 500 CEOs went to all women’s colleges).

    I should say that I’ve never attended single-sex schools, and at my SLAC I received excellent mentorship by female faculty, some of which was explicitly feminist. I really liked being in a coed environment as an undergrad (even in a coed dorm) because it was the first time I’d had meaningful encounters with men as potential friends and fellow human beings, as opposed to love interests or oppositional other.

  29. The Rebel Lettriste on 10 Oct 2010 at 2:45 pm #

    I *heart* Comrade Physio Prof.

  30. FrauTech on 12 Oct 2010 at 8:44 am #

    CPP is hilarious.

    KC & Jack- this isn’t Shakesville. I don’t know that Melissa McEwan would want people surmising what she would say or think. But the environment here on this blog is not that of shakesville. I avoid commenting at shakesville because although I think their message is great, there’s a superiority to knocking down others for using “enablist” language or whatever, a holier-than-thou omg you used a wrong word we’re all going to draw a sword through you rather than a “this is what i think” or “this is how your comments make me feel.” CPP was being sarcastic, and hilariously so.

    I went to a public co-ed college and I’m still here, no one’s trying to exclude anyone from commenting, no one has to take their crayons and go home.

  31. liz on 12 Oct 2010 at 11:17 pm #

    Western Dave – Irwin’s was founded in 1869; it’s definitely Baldwin (“for brains”).

  32. Thoughts on Feminist Education in the 21st Century « Knitting Clio on 13 Oct 2010 at 5:47 am #

    [...] An anonymous commenter immediately tossed out the term “class privilege,” which led to a back and forth and the following comments by  Historiann: [...]

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