I found this lovely image on my Pinterest homepage a few moments ago. How ironic. At this point in time, this ad is 111 years old– and yet I still hear negative comments about women in college. When I tell people I am a Sociology and Philosophy major, they automatically assume I will become an elementary school teacher. Notice how my areas of concentration do not mention teacher training or end in receiving a teacher’s license. Even more baffling, I also am often told “Well, you could always get a Nursing degree”.
Now let’s put all of these factors together: teaching children and caring for the sick are given the label of being nurturing practices, nurturing is described as a stereotypically feminine quality, and I am a female. It is clear to me that when someone is speaking to me about my college career, they do not hear me, they only see me.
And I know I am not the only person this happens to, and these are not the only occurrences. A few years back I was taking a crossover philosophy and political science class, meaning it counts as a credit for both majors. The professor asked everyone to raise their hands if they were a Political Science major–several hands went up. He then asked the same question for Philosophy majors– several more hands, mine included, were raised. Here’s the kicker: I was the only female in the class who was a Philosophy major. The professor walked to my desk and extended his hand for a handshake, telling me that it was a miracle I made it this far as a Philosophy major, because I am a woman; most women, he tells me, prefer Political Science, and I should look into it. I did not shake his hand. That was the last class of his I sat through. I did not drop the class, but only attended when there was a test. I passed with an A. I do not recommend skipping classes. If a professor makes you uncomfortable and makes a statement that crosses the line, speak to the Dean immediately. While these are the steps I should have taken, I instead decided to be stubborn and do the reading and interpretation on my own. Yes, it worked in my favor that time, but it will not always be the case.
Here is why I took such an offense to all of the aforementioned statements: Yes, I am a woman. Yes, I made it to college all by myself. Yes, I am a Sociology major. Yes, I am a Philosophy major. Yes, I took the full credit hour load for each major rather than the shortened hours as a benefit of being a double major. Yes, I do all of my work myself. Yes, I know the Philosophy department is mostly male. Yes, I know the Sociology department is mostly female. Yes, we all get along just fine. No, I do not require a chaperon or special permission to move through campus. No, I do not want to be a nurse. No, I do not want to be a teacher. I chose my areas of study because I enjoy them. I read books by Marx, Descartes, Durkheim, Weber, Aristotle, Foucault, Sartre, and de Beauvoir that make people cringe. I think unconventionally. I speak up about race, sex and gender issues. I do not fear Socialism or Communism. I understand that there are many religions all over the world. I spend so much of my time in the library that no one ever tries to sit in my seat.
For everything I have just mentioned, I get looks of bewilderment, a few “Why?”s, and some “Well good for you, sweetie!”s. There are also men who have the same major(s) as me, read the same books, exhibit similar ideas, and see far less backlash. I understand why, men have been scholars for centuries. Women in education have increased greatly over the last century, but the overall time has been much shorter. Just like in my last post with race, ideas and inclinations do not change overnight. Or even over 111 years. Because people do not like to change their ways. For so long, the vast majority of women have been wives, caregivers, homemakers, child-birthers, cooks, maids, you name it. If there is a position of servitude, you will find a woman there. There have been women who have broken out of these positions and made a name for themselves or elevated themselves to a position of power, but they fill a very small dot in history.Or at least the ones we know about do. Judy Chicago’s piece called Dinner Party does a wonderful job of celebrating women in history, and women in general. You’ll understand why when you see it. You’ll also need to know that this art piece sat in boxes for decades because no one was comfortable displaying it. It is now a permanent piece of the Brooklyn Art Museum. I will make a post specifically about this work if anyone is interested.
But to try to tie this whole thing together, let’s look back at the picture. All of the things these doctors and psychologists made society worry about are exactly what colleagues and myself all get shamed for at an uncomfortable rate:
You shouldn’t be up late “studying”, you should be sleeping. -I’m sorry,have you taken any college courses? I happen to care about my grades and would like to think that when I walk across that stage in a few months I will feel proud of all that I have accomplished.
You sure hang out with a lot of guys, that’s not a good image a woman should have/You sure hang out with a lot of girls, are you a lesbian? -I hear both of these questions a ridiculous amount, depending on what class I’m studying for, which classmate I’m talking to, or which department I’m closest to. My departments are right down the hall from one another. I talk to my professors and my classmates in order to fully comprehend and be able to relay information on the subject at hand. Sometimes, collaboration is the key to knowledge.
Should you be reading that? -Why yes, yes I should. My professor assigned it, I like to be able to talk in class, and I like to read. I would recommend The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir to you.
And finally, unladylike habits. I’m not sure who got to gender human characteristics, but I am not friends with that person. Rather that trying to fit a unique human being into one of two stereotypical boxes that they did not consent to, let’s just agree that everyone has a personality that is based off of their experiences and dispositions, and they would probably just like being treated as a human rather than a science project.
To sum everything up, college, as I have experienced it, is a place of higher learning that in this country is a privilege to get to experience and attend. Many people had to fight and argue their way up those steps so that they could have a more level-ish playing field that before. Education teaches us that there are all sorts of people from all walks of life and all sorts of cultures, and none of them are better or superior to the other. They are all just different. Women make up around 50% of all of these groups, and to try to knock them onto a lower pedestal than you only succeeds in your diminishment as well. Women, just like anyone else, have the right to their autonomy , and if they choose to pursue a higher education, so be it. If you can make that choice without anyone trying to hand you a proper etiquette book or argue that you don’t belong, then so should we.