Many of my most meaningful memories have occurred in single-gender spaces. I spent eight summers attending a typical sleepaway summer camp. For two months each year, I lived in a cabin with 15 other girls, and I spent pretty much all my time with them. During the past two summers, in my time as a counselor there, the staff has — rightfully so — begun to discuss the problems with this inherently gender-divided place. In spite of these problems, it was with the support of my female cabinmates that I felt encouraged to play a pickup game of basketball, pitch a tent for the first time and have difficult conversations about love, loss and life.
When I came to Yale a year and a half ago, I found myself missing these types of deep friendships. They likely were a product of the isolation of rural north Georgia and the absurdly close quarters of our living space no bigger than a L-Dub dorm room. But more generally, these relationships stemmed from the sense of empowerment I gained from spending my time with girls — women now — whose well-being and interests aligned so closely with my own. I quickly noticed that friendships at Yale coalesced around multiple types of student organizations: a cappella groups, dance troupes, residential-college councils and, of course, Greek life. I chose not to join any such groups freshman year — due in part to a total lack of musical talent — but also because of the hope that another all-female space might come to fill the place my former camp has always held in my heart.
A recent op-ed in the News argued that “separate is unequal” (“Separate is unequal”, Feb. 16) when it comes to the realm of gender spaces at Yale. I’m not sure I agree. When fraternities or all-male organizations hold parties, they do maintain a certain degree of power in those spaces, and that may be inherently unfair. But I would be remiss not to bring up the other venues that can positively empower certain groups at Yale. Female-only organizations play a crucial role in bringing women together, conferring values of acceptance and giving women the tools to overcome gender discrimination. For women — only able to attend Yale College for 47 of its 315 years — the solution is not simply making the formerly male-dominated spaces coed. Rather than celebrating what women can uniquely bring to this University, forcing women to join such male-dominated spaces as fraternities would only signal an acceptance of these antiquated norms — not a challenge to them. Prioritizing all-female organizations can lead to a better social climate for the University as a whole.
Just over a year ago, I was invited to a “Galentine’s Day” party by a friend who has spearheaded the creation of an informal women’s empowerment group. There were about 15 of us, and we spent an hour eating Claire’s cake, navigating the difficulties of relationships at Yale and ultimately challenging each other to put our happiness and safety above all else. I’ve spent every Thursday night since then surrounded by kind, patient women who encourage me to go to office hours or tell a pushy guy at a party to back off — in other words, we help each other speak up, which can often be too difficult and dangerous for women. Some of these women are my best friends; others attend only one evening — in need of love or encouragement or friendship — and I never see them again.
Supporting gender-specific spaces might seem counter to progressive attitudes on campus that seek to strike down double standards. But the empowerment of women does not have to be in opposition to important notions of gender equality. I wholeheartedly agree that for too long, Yale and its associated social spaces have been for men only, perpetuating the inequality that has persisted for generations. But we must acknowledge that until such entities are abolished entirely, we should accept — and even cherish — female-only spaces. There’s a certain type of support that can only come from others who have also been groped at Toad’s, those who may have felt a professor did not take her seriously or others who simply seek the natural companionship that comes from the shared experience of identifying as a woman. What’s best for women at Yale is not bringing them into the “boys’ clubs” that unfairly run this institution. Instead, let’s continue to grow the “girls’ clubs” that bring us together and allow us to carve out our own place at this University.
Gabby Deutch is a sophomore in Branford College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .