Next year will be the 40th anniversary of co-education at Yale. Forty years ago, women were granted access to one of the most exclusive and elite old boys’ clubs in the country. The separate but equal philosophy was once again defeated. At least at Yale, 40 years ago, gender apartheid in education came tumbling triumphantly down.
My freshman year I saw the Night Owls, an all-female Vassar a cappella group, perform on campus. They sang a catchy old school ballad about wanting a Yale man, accompanied by some sexually suggestive choreography. I felt awkward (as I always do when I watch a cappella groups perform sexually suggestive choreography), but also sort of awesome. In the olden days, Smith, Vassar and Wellesley girls used to be bussed in on the weekends. They were extracurriculars for Yale men to enjoy. Now women can be Yale Men too.
The legacy of Yale’s single-sex past is still visible today. In many ways, Yale remains male-dominated; our president, our dean and 79 percent of tenured faculty are men. Women’s groups (like sororities, female a cappella, the Women’s Center, Rape and Sexual Violence Prevention etc.) don’t have the extensive 300-year old alumni networks, and therefore funding, that men’s groups do.
Whim and Rhythm, the all-female senior singing group, can’t compete with the historic reputation and bloated bank account of the Whiffenpoofs. Men’s sports still have more exposure than their female counterparts. Fraternities have a monopoly on big campus-wide parties. They have money. They have houses.
I’ve written a couple articles about this woman stuff. People called me frigid and deluded on the News’ anonymous comment boards though, which was, you know, discouraging. People asked me whether I believed that there were any biological differences between men and women.
My answer: Yes. And they’re pretty hard to miss.
These sexual dimorphisms can explain, to some extent, male supremacy: Men are harder, bigger, faster, stronger etc. All human behavior, of course, is ultimately rooted in human biology. However, genetics can’t justify or validate the subordination of women. You can’t get an ethical conclusion from a biological fact. That’s a naturalistic fallacy.
Last year, I decided to be a philosophy major. It was a strange choice for me, because it’s one of the more traditionally male departments. I think, partially, that’s why I did it. To be honest, I’ve struggled. At the beginning of this semester, my DUS spotted the hole in my transcript where my “metaphysics” requirements should have been. “You don’t like metaphysics, do you?” he asked.
Well, I wanted to explain, I find it hard to “question reality.” I think (don’t cringe) it has something to do being a woman. For me, reality has always felt pretty concrete and inescapable.
Human discourse (language, literature, history, science, art, politics, philosophy) has developed with a male subjective. The female was the object, the other. For most of human history women could not be authors, historians, scientists, artists, politicians or philosophers. For most of human history, women were kept illiterate.
This same discourse has defined and authorized our views about women. The neutral objective viewpoint is in fact a male viewpoint, which has produced our cultural gender binary: boy, girl; blue, pink; short hair, long hair; strong, weak; pursuer, pursued; breadwinner, breadless low-carb diet; subject, object.
My friend Jake has these inspirational fridge magnets: “soar,” “seek” “savor” and “stretch.” He also has a magnet with his name on it. You’re meant to make your name the subject: “Jake soars,” “Jake seeks,” “Jake savors,” “Jake stretches.” Those are affirming phrases to read every morning. If you make Jake the object though — “soar Jake,” “seek Jake,” “savor Jake” and “stretch Jake” — suddenly it becomes creepy. The last two are also weirdly sexual.
The point? Being the object, like women have been throughout history, just sucks.
Objects don’t have wills. It’s tricky for objects to stand outside the reality that has made them and contemplate their existence.
Women are the objects in almost every canonized song, poem and novel. Women are the objects when they are the victims of domestic abuse, like 31 percent of American women are at some point in their lives. Women are the objects when they are raped, like the 72 female undergraduates who are raped at Yale every year. That figure is an estimate from the Department of Justice. Yale’s figures are nowhere near this number because rape is the most underreported crime and because Yale, tragically, doesn’t report any rape that happens off-campus.
The project of feminism is to try to find a female voice in a society with deeply ingrained structures of male-dominance. These structures include the laws we follow, the gods we worship, the social norms we obey. Virginia Woolf tried. Cindy Sherman tried. Daria tried. Hilary Clinton tried. Sarah Palin, in her own deeply upsetting and regressive way, is trying too.
I didn’t actually say any of that to my DUS though, when he asked if I didn’t like metaphysics. I just said: “Nah. I’m more of an ethics girl.”
Yale has made me feel like I can be a subject. I started writing “she” instead of “he” in papers as my default third person. It still feels weird and wrong, but I’m trying. Yes, there are some men at Yale who still “love Yale sluts.” I saw a guy with the Yale-Sluts-gate photo as his laptop wallpaper the other week. So some guys still love women as sexual objects to use, degrade and mock. Some guys are still huge dicks. That’s not too surprising.
Maybe, when I graduate, I can, Yale diploma in hand, join the fight to change all of this. Haha j/k. I’ll probably just end up a lawyer. But please don’t tell my parents that; they’d be way too happy.
Jeez, what a tangent! Eek sorry, so back to my original point. Next year will be the 40th anniversary of co-education at Yale. We’ve come pretty far. Not all the way, but women are here. 51 percent. They’re here and succeeding, running organizations, out Yale-manning some Yale men. So, Mr. Levin, let’s start party planning.
Claire Gordon is a junior in Saybrook College. Contact her at