Feminism | Posted by Julie Z on 04/30/2012

The Women’s College Experience

Over the past few weeks, there has been an influx of accepted students on Barnard’s campus. I’ve tried to talk to as many as possible, successfully resisting the urge to desperately grab them and urge them to get as much sleep as possible before Fall, and instead asking them if they have any questions about what it’s like to go to Barnard. Time and time again, these prospective students mentioned their trepidation about the idea of attending a women’s college — which is something I totally understand.

When I initially began the college application process, I had absolutely no interest in attending a single sex institution. In fact, I knew exactly what I wanted in a school. I wanted to go to a small liberal arts school in New York City that was full of intelligent, impassioned and driven students, dedicated professors who would take a personal interest in their students rather than put them on the backburner in favor of their own research or hand them over to T.A.’s, an amazing alumni network with plentiful internship opportunities, an excellent women’s studies department and an emphasis on writing across the board. And that school is Barnard College – a school that also happens to be single sex.

Now there have always been those who like to defame women’s colleges as sexist, outdated institutions – especially some vocal ones in the recent past. Much like feminism itself, most people seem to believe that we currently live in a society of complete equality and that the idea of a college just for women is simply unnecessary and unneeded. In fact, before I started applying to schools, I was one, to some extent. But now that I have a full year of a women’s college education under my belt, I have to say I’d be willing to defend my experience against the staunchest of opponents.

In fact, to be fair, I actually understand where some people are coming from when they say women’s colleges are sexist. It does seem at least a little hypocritical for women to denounce all-male institutions and demand they become co-ed (like we did with Ivy League schools, for example) and yet insist on maintaining women’s colleges. But here’s the thing: despite many an ardent attempt on the part of some to convince the world we are post-feminism, we still live in a society that is overwhelmingly patriarchal and male-favoring. And while men are still in control, while only 12 Fortune 500 Companies are currently run by women, and women make up only about 17% of the United States Congress, it’s clear that we need to do something to counteract this reality and work towards a world of gender equality.

This is where women’s colleges come in. Women’s colleges prioritize the education of strong, motivated women and encourage them to be the leaders of tomorrow. While it’s true that successful, powerful women do (obviously) graduate from co-ed universities as well, that goal is not prioritized or promoted in the same way at those institutions. And sometimes, female students have the potential to be leaders, to achieve great things, but need an extra push. The effect of attending a school that constantly holds up this standard for its students should not be underestimated – in fact, it’s effectiveness is reflected in the statistics of women’s college graduates.

But beyond the debate over whether a single-sex education is sexist, many of my high school friends were more preoccupied with the idea of me isolating myself from men. Wouldn’t I get sick of girls? Didn’t I want a boyfriend? Or was I actually just a closeted lesbian, hoping to explore my sexuality (one of the many women’s college stereotypes)? And besides, they figured, the world is co-ed: how was separating myself from men helping me?

The truth is, I have met plenty of guys at both Columbia and NYU and live in a city that is full of guys – and Barnard is not the only women’s college near other co-ed colleges. In my opinion, the women’s college experience isn’t about isolating yourself from men as much as it is about really working on female relationships and women-based communities– something I think we could use a lot more of in this society. Young women today are encouraged to completely tear apart other girls. We’re told we must compare ourselves to other girls constantly and compete with them – the effects of which are none too healthy. But at a women’s college, that sense of competition is slowly stripped away. Female friendships are more authentic and we’re free to be ourselves and explore who we really are, the effects of which last a lifetime, even when we’re back in a co-ed world. As for the sexuality point, my sexuality did not factor into my decision to attend a women’s college in any way (nor did it for any of my friends here, as far as I know). I attend school with women who are straight, gay, bisexual and undecided. But I’m pretty sure that’s the case at any college in this country.

I totally recognize that a single-sex education is probably not right for everybody. It’s a very specific experience, and one that should be chosen with careful consideration. But the fact is that on an individual level, attending a women’s college was one of the best decisions I’ve made for myself as a student and as a woman, and it’s something I’ll always be happy to defend.

Originally posted on The Frisky

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  • rain @ at 6:51 pm, April 30th, 2012

    I’ve been visiting colleges (not applying yet though) and I thought many of the things you said your friends asked of Barnard (the world being co-ed, missing men, etc). What you’ve said here was really encouraging about women’s colleges.

  • Taneisha @ at 8:09 pm, April 30th, 2012

    I’ll actually be attending an all women’s school (Cottey) this fall, so to read this article was very uplifting for me.

  • Velouria @ at 8:47 pm, April 30th, 2012

    Julie, are you in my head or something?!? After much angst, I put in my deposit at a women’s college today. I’m still unsure about the single-sex aspect, but, like you, I decided to give it a go because of how much I like the school itself. Thank you so much for this article. It was so reassuring. And you have perfect timing. :)

  • Sarah @ at 6:16 am, May 1st, 2012

    I’m getting ready to graduate this year from a Hollins University, a small, liberal arts women’s institution. I was waiting for you to say where you go to school because I thought maybe I had a class with you! ;)

    I love this post and feel as if it could have been written by any of 100 of my friends at school. It seems like everyone is nervous when they start and by the time they leave they would never have it any other way.

    The only thing I have to add, as a counterpoint, is that in an all women’s school sometimes I think the lack of competition is somewhat detrimental. We are really “feel good” about our work and it’s up to the professors to push us really hard to be better. :)

  • p'odMummy @ at 1:58 pm, May 7th, 2012

    BAD PARENTING… Father of Barnard student is my nominee for father of the year (Big eye roll here!)Read his commentary on the link below to the Christian Science Monitor.

    http://www.csmonitor.com/Commentary/Opinion/2012/0314/Barnard-College-flap-Competition-among-women-shouldn-t-be-over-men

    The Christian Science monitor published this bullshit opinion piece this past week!
    Sounds like his research was basically hearsay blog comments and his freshman daughter.
    From this in-depth information he is able to determine that women are still just going to college to husband-hunt!
    He makes a non-story into a Barnard College women vs Columbia College women “cat fight” over the available men on campus.
    BULLSHIT!

    My response;
    Dear Mr Zimmerman,

    You have reduced the women of Columbia University and Barnard College to “silly girls” who are engaged in a fierce “cat-fight” for Columbia men. How very demeaning.

    Methinks you doth assume too much.

    Yes, . yes, I read it, I read it ….. you highlight Margaret Mead and bla bla bla… feminism…women’s rights…. yada yada heard it before… But the fact is that MEN still run the country and women are still discriminated against and you insist on quoting this gossip-shit as the “real story”.

    I suppose that using your freshman daughter’s comments and blog postings are the definitive proof that all of this crap this is true? (big eye roll here). Are those barnyard girls really Whores!!!??? Are Columbia boys all just geeks who go to college with the hope of finally getting laid (check out the odds!)? Do Columbia women give the best oral gratification!!!??? Go to Myspace or Facebook or silly blogs for the answers? Are you kidding?!

    WHO GIVES A SHIT about this idle talk…
    Obviously you.
    You have actually made the idle talk into the story.
    Did you by any chance get your views of women from watching TV? (I dare you to find me a sitcom that doesn’t ogle or demean women) Young women are themselves taught to objectify and sexualize themselves! It takes education and real life experience to undo such damage (if indeed it can even be undone).
    And here comes Jonathan Zimmerman to shore up all of that bullshit with the written word bolstered by a highly respected news outlet.

    Shame on you (say it like I’m your mother), perpetuating the ‘college student as husband hunter’ stereotype by repeating it.
    Putting these fecal thoughts into a published opinion that so many people will read is profoundly (read it with Gingrich-like ferocity) irresponsible.

    I, too, have a daughter. She will be graduating next month from Barnard College. If I were any prouder of her, I would need a bigger bra. She has matured over these last four years into a woman of great substance and worth. She doesn’t seem, even slightly, concerned with ‘nailing’ down a man (she wants a job, not a penis).

    Hopefully, your daughter too, will mature over the next few years and will be able to form new opinions of her own, based on knowledge that she will have acquired at such a fine institution for learning as Columbia is. There is an enormous difference between an 18 year old freshman and a 22 year old senior. College is among other things, supposed to inspire students to introspection, reasoning, new perspectives and logic. Barnard has done that for my daughter. I wish the same for yours.
    How unfortunate that both of our daughters will be released into the real world to find the instant discrimination that is pervasive in the work place.
    You should widen your net when procuring information for your next article . I have been told that there is a treasure trove of the written word on the stalls of the men’s room in John Jay. Go for it!

    Mummy

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