Johnston: The logical extension of the first step

To allow optional gender-neutral housing to all upperclassmen is to adopt a logic whose final outcome will be mandatory gender-integrated housing for freshmen.

Sure, the argument today is premised on choice: To withhold the option of gender-neutral housing is to oppress a few, inconvenience many and deny students their freedom. To grant the option is to cease the infantilizing charade of in loco parentis and liberate students into adulthood. How could a logic enacting liberation ever lead to coercion?

The transformation from liberation to coercion is a trope of liberal policies. Liberalism begins by granting some sort of freedom to individuals. But it is soon recognized that, for many individuals, the conditions that would enable them to take advantage of the freedom they have been afforded are not in place. The result is the coercive action of modern liberalism that provides those conditions, enabling the universal enjoyment of that freedom.

In the case of gender-neutral housing, the argument will go something like this: Though upperclassmen have the choice to form mixed-gender suites, they don’t always choose well because they have no previous experience of mixed-gender living arrangements. Freshmen, the only students who cannot chose their suitemates, ought to be made to experience a mixed-gender living arrangement so they might make informed choices in later years. Yale should take full advantage of the social engineering potential of freshmen housing assignments.

The argument from informed choice will not be entirely convincing, however, until it is supported with arguments from feminism and diversity. From the point of view of feminism, the separation of men and women perpetuates the notion that men and women aren’t equal. Their integration is a necessary step in the full emancipation of women to equal social status as men. From the point of view of diversity, apparent gender differences are social constructs; students come to understand culture and are better able to put themselves in others’ shoes by exposure to such diversity.

With the support of feminism and diversity, the case for mandatory gender-integrated housing for freshmen looks more compelling. Indeed, each of these rationales was used in the history of racial integration. If the difference between man and woman is no more significant than the difference between black and white, then the holdouts against mandatory gender-integrated housing are little different than the segregationists of the Old South.

Under the pressure of this logic, the policy will transform. Optional gender-neutral housing for upperclassmen in 2010 will give way to optional gender-neutral housing for all in 2020. By 2030 the policy will be opt-out gender-neutral housing for freshmen, and in 2040 freshmen will be subjected to a full regime of gender-integrated housing. Why resist this logic and risk analogy with oppressors past?

Liberalism seeks to overthrow social norms that limit choice, but it fails to see the goods those social norms preserve. The advocates of gender-neutral housing insist the primary function of gender-segregated housing was to prevent sex, but because it is no longer achieving that purpose at Yale, it is an ineffective relic of the past (to say nothing of how horrible that purpose was).

The reality is gender-segregated housing is not about preventing sex, it is about preserving sexuality. It is premised on the recognition that masculinity and femininity are real, that they mean something, that they are partly constitutive of human identity, that their proper combination is in an exclusive relationship and that they are worth protection from adulteration by uncommitted overfamiliarity. Only the radical who believes man is nothing more than his will would countenance the end of sexuality.

By all means, the administration ought to allow gender-neutral housing to transgendered students and those who strongly identify with a gender opposite their biological appearance. Gender identification is not always a black and white issue, which is precisely why the gender-makeup of dorms ought not be submitted to a “checkbox” system on a housing form. Anyone who feels strongly enough about his gender identity to desire a housing change should be able to attain the approval of the master of his residential college. An “individual request” system will prevent abuse.

But it is important to maintain the standard of gender-homogenous housing. The recognition that we are a gendered species, which is to say, one part of our humanity, demands it.

Peter Johnston is a senior in Saybrook College.


  • interesting

    well written.

  • umm, no

    This is possibly the most absurd piece of slippery-slope nonsense I've ever read. Allowing people to choose gender-neutral housing leads to coercing people into gender-neutral housing leads to the end of sexuality as we know it - umm, excuse me? Methinks the author is a bit too terrified of freedom of choice, and actually respects too little the role of sexuality in our society if he thinks it is this fragile.

    The author also provides absolutely no support for the logical basis of his entire argument, which is the paranoid statement that, "The transformation from liberation to coercion is a trope of liberal policies." Is this really what holds conservatives back from embracing freedom of choice in the social sphere? I suppose by now we should have mandatory same-sex marriages in Massachusetts, and mandatory abortions nationwide! After all, the scary feminists and diversity people are out there, and they're coming for you!

    Mr. Johnston, please do us all a favor: Relax, be comforted by the fact that your sexuality and mine is not so fragile, and let those of us who would like to choose gender-neutral housing have that option. Sometimes a little liberation is a good thing.

  • Oh, Peter…

    The Johnston Formula: Ridiculous Assertion = Straw Man + Logical Leap - Credible Explanation. Your last column's gonna be epic, isn't it?

  • Recent Alum

    Very well said. Thank you!

  • Hiero II

    Yes. Exactly correct.

    Note that commenter #2 accused Mr. Johnston of being "afraid", as all good liberals are wont to do.

  • 093Insider

    Used to be a BAR enthusiast until introduced to a little known contender, Brick Oven, on Howe at Elm. CT's only wood burning brick oven…def makes a difference.

  • Quite a timeline

    2020, 2030, 2040? That's quite an ability for prognostication that you've got there.

    I have my own prediction: by 2040, and hopefully much sooner, the prevalence of your worldview in this country will, quite thankfully, be a pale shadow of what it is today, and no one will mind gender-integrated housing the slightest bit.

    In fact, everyone will look back on arguments like these and laugh at the notion that anyone would quibble over something so trivial.

  • Anonymous

    this editorial makes zero sense. maybe if you had defined 'feminism' and 'diversity'? or, perhaps, looked them up in a dictionary? the writing style is very pretty, to be sure, but i feel like the content would have been equally intelligible had this been a mad-libs piece.

  • Recent Alum

    #6: You do realize that if you are correct, it just goes on to completely support the author's argument -- right?

  • peter's right

    At least for me. Gender neutral housing for all is certainly my goal, though I expect (and hope) it will happen through the sort of societal change that would make racially segregated housing absolutely unacceptable.

    I don't see what's wrong with hoping for that though. The only problem with mandatory gender neutral housing is that it would make a good number of people uncomfortable - but if we live in a world where that's no longer true, and we can live together simply as people, we'll be better off, and far closer to true sex/gender equality.

  • Y11

    Please graduate and stop giving Yale's conservatives a bad name with this crap. Thanks.

  • a concerned female

    Considering the number of rape cases and sexual assaults that supposedly happen at Yale every year (stats courtesy of the Women's Center), why in the world is the Women's Center getting behind this idea?

  • ac

    You've made some assertions here about liberalism without even attempting to back them up with something other than a hypothetical.

    I'm all for recognition of differences between masculine and feminine, but this idea that somehow a gender neutral OPTION (not mandate) threatens this difference is specious at best. If you think your inherent masculinity will be threatened by gender neutral housing, what on earth will you do if you have a wife and three daughters?

    sometimes I think Johnston is just trying to provoke a reaction.

  • @#8

    How does it "completely support" his argument?

    I'm pointing out that he is a member of an increasingly irrelevant faction in our society: die-hard traditionalists.

    The funniest part is that each generation of conservatives thinks that it is somehow different from all the ones that came before it. Modern history is pretty much one long chain of increasingly liberal links. The people have spoken, time and time again: by and large, no one cares about your traditionalist hang-ups. At least, not enough people care to prevent societal change. 😀

  • Anonymous

    Peter has made a better argument for the theory that gender is a social construct than the hyper-feminists. Anyone who thinks that gender-neutral housing will destroy the concept of gender clearly does not believe very much in actual gender differences. And they call Peter a conservative. Silly.

  • @#13

    Conservatives are there to say "change slowly, as society changes". Liberals are there to say "force society to change".

    Conservatives brought us the American Revolution. Liberals brought us the French Revolution.

  • @#15

    Considering that "conservative" and "liberal" meant vastly different things back then than they do now, you'll have to be more specific. But I think you'll have a hard time arguing that the instigators of the American Revolution were social conservatives. They were in favor of increased freedoms, greater egalitarianism, less social stratification--all the things that conservatives traditionally abhor.

    In a broad sense, yes, liberals force society to change, because they have to drag social conservatives kicking and screaming away from such cherished pastimes as racial segregation, sexism, religious intolerance and homophobia.

    These days, only isolated crackpots think it was fitting to treat black people as second-class citizens. In the near future, only isolated crackpots will think it was fitting to rigidly enforce gender-segregated housing.

    And the pattern continues. :)

  • Oooh this can be a fun game

    Fill in the progressive canard with whatever fits best:

    These days, only isolated crackpots think it was fitting to treat black people as second-class citizens. In the near future, only isolated crackpots will think it was fitting to ___________________.

    Is it:

    I. rigidly enforce gender-segregated housing.
    II. allow parents to tyrannize their child by naming them at birth.
    III. treat chickens as tasty food rather than legally-protected persons.
    IV. allow people to enforce their views upon others at the ballot box.
    V. bail out companies with no semblance of workable business plans.

    A) I and II only
    B) I, II, and IV only
    C) I, IV, and V only
    D) II, III, IV, and V only
    E) All of them: I, II, III, IV, and V.

  • Outside Observer

    The assertions made by the liberals on this page are pretty ideological (i.e. "Modern history is pretty much one long chain of increasingly liberal links." -- what of United States history, 1979-2008?) without taking into account non-Zinn history and historiography. Somehow, Peter is the most balanced thinker here.