Some advocates of gender-neutral housing have argued that our current housing discriminates against homosexuals, while others have argued that everyone deserves the option to live with whomever they want. These arguments seem accurate, but also trivial. Instead, we can find substantial benefits to gender-neutral housing if we stop focusing on rights and options, and start thinking about cultural benefits.
If we are really so concerned about having more options for whom to live with, why don’t we petition for “residential college-neutral housing” so that we can live with friends from any residential college? That would give us 12 times as many options instead of simply doubling them.
Furthermore, some have argued that same-sex housing discriminates by forcing gay people to live with people they might be attracted to. But even with gender-neutral housing I doubt many homosexuals would be able to find, or would want to find, housing with only the opposite sex. A better argument is that same-sex housing can alienate homosexuals. While valid, I think the real issue has always been and will remain our cultural acceptance of homosexuality, and not Yale’s policy.
For these reasons, I suspect support for gender-neutral housing is rather tepid. Although a News poll from February reported that an estimated 76 percent of students support gender-neutral housing, instead of enthusiasm, I mainly hear the approval of indifference.
That’s because we’re looking at this issue from the wrong lens. Gender-neutral housing isn’t just about expanding rights and options — it’s about overcoming a deep cultural fissure, the rift between men and women.
The explosion of emotion and controversy over last year’s “Yale sluts” issue makes abundantly clear that this campus has dramatically divided perspectives on gender roles and relations. Mixed-gender housing would encourage more dialogue and honest communication between sexes. Instead of discussing gender through newspapers and lawsuits as we did last year, how much more civil and productive would dialogue between suitemates be?
We need to engage gender as more than just an ideological debate. It’s important for men and women to see day-to-day differences in habits and experience. The people you live with tend to be the people you trust and open up to most, so mixed-gender housing would provide an intimate view into the issues that concern the opposite sex — a perspective that is too often kept behind closed doors and within genders.
For instance, we all know that men and woman tend to think about appearance and self-presentation very differently. I know women who spend a long time dressing and primping to go out at night, or even in the morning — I don’t know any men who do. And I hear men take pride in how long it’s been since they showered — something I never hear from women.
Men and women also tend have different desires for their relationships — both romantic and social — and different ways of talking about relationships and sex. What about pornography and masturbation? How often do men and women talk to each other about these issues? Or menstruation? Every woman does it quite frequently and yet talking about it is nearly taboo, and many men find the idea disgusting. We can all list plenty of these stereotypical differences; living with the opposite gender would give us a better opportunity to go beyond the stereotypes and actually understand the social and psychological effects of these gender and sex differences.
Furthermore, the hook-up culture of college life unfortunately encourages people to view people of the opposite sex as sexual objects. I’m not criticizing hooking up. Sexuality is an important part of life and people often don’t have time to invest in relationships, can’t find desirable ones or end up in purely sexual ones. Still, hook-up culture tends to turn the other gender into an object or a goal, not a person. Gender-neutral housing would encourage male-female interaction as an everyday part of life and encourage men and women to be sensitive to each other’s concerns instead of setting idealized expectations. It’s time for boys to admit that girls poop.
We need to discuss gender issues with the opposite sex more often and we need to create safe spaces for people to do this. Yale should not only allow gender-neutral housing, it should encourage mixed-gender housing.
Tyler Ibbotson-Sindelar is a senior in Branford College.