Thought You'd Never Ask

Just mouthing off -- because I can.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Goose v. gander on the college campus

Now that school is out, my son and I have been visiting college campuses to familiarize ourselves with what sorts of things a high school senior should look for and think about when choosing which colleges and universities to send applications to in the fall. The process is both a chore and an adventure.

I have discovered that more than one college in our area (both private and public) require that all incoming freshmen live on campus their first year. These colleges provide a range of housing that includes one all-female dorm, but they do not include the choice of an all-male dorm. While incoming freshmen girls who choose so may retreat to the privacy of an exclusively female enclave after hours (very late hours, given the absurdly lenient curfews these days), incoming freshmen boys must live among freshmen girls, on adjacent floors, adjacent corridors, or even in adjacent rooms. What's up with that?

When I questioned the student guide about that on our most recent campus tour, the answer she gave was that "oh, some people think the girls want to have, you know, a place where they can go and be, oh you know, but guys don't seem to care, I guess, they're more, you know, it doesn't bother them."

Really? Seems like pernicious gender stereotyping to me. Who says freshmen males don't value their modesty and their privacy, their solidarity and their right to band together and exclude the opposite sex after hours in their most private living arrangements as much as freshmen women do? What statistical evidence is that assertion based on? In fact, exactly what underlying philosophy is this distinction and discrimination based on? What assumptions are the colleges really making about women versus men? Do they dare come out and state them?

I am happy to see that women have a full range of choices in housing. I would (and did, when I went to college) choose to live in an all-female dorm, where at some set hour you can relax, let down your hair, and know that the doors are locked and you won't have to run into some guy on your way from your bedroom to the bathroom in what is your enforced home and your only personal retreat space for the next nine months.

But why aren't the freshmen boys given the same range of choice--offered the same opportunity of retreat, relaxation, and privacy?

On the same tour we were taken past the location of the Women's Center and informed that during finals week the Women's Center offers free massages to all women students to relieve the stress of taking finals. "Sorry, guys," the tour guide joked to the group of prospective freshmen and their parents.

I have to admit that having had my 'consciousness raised' by just such Women's Centers and the militant modern-day feminism I encountered when I myself entered college in 1972 (the year of Roe v. Wade), I am now probably as sensitive as the next guy to annoying and subversive gender role stereotyping in modern American society. So, as the mother of a son, how come I'm not chuckling along with these kinds of institutionalized prejudices and ha-ha bigoted slights against the incoming male freshmen and the men on campus in general?

Where's the campus Men's Center?

And just how insensitive can a college be and still get away with it?

Is my son's college experience going to consist of four years of being discriminated against and publicly, jokingly slighted in this fashion? Do these colleges actually want to stand up and take full public responsibility for perpetuating these sexist stereotypes?

Given that women now outnumber men enrolled at U.S. campuses, including the ones I know that have the discriminatory dormitory policies, it seems to me that the (politically) correct and consistent stance for campuses to take would be to bend over backwards to consider the sensitivities and needs of this dwindling, victimized minority in their midst: males. Certainly males should have the same access to housing choices as the women do, especially when residence on campus is compelled. How any public institution can claim to be fair, diverse (the big buzzword in freshman recruitment), and sensitive to the sensibilities of minorities while overlooking such discriminatory policies escapes me.

But then, who ever said college campuses are bastions of logical consistency, or even of fairness--other than the institutions themselves?

College and university campuses are actually more like the army, with a lot of snafus and red tape, bureaucracy and hypocrisy, unacknowledged craziness, coverups, political infighting, and attempted social-engineering and indoctrination of the troops, none of which is ever hinted at in the glossy recruitment brochures. You sign up and take your chances, hoping the good you'll get out of it will outweigh the bad. That's probably the first lesson my son and I must accept along the road of sending him off to achieve a degree of "higher education."

He's pretty casual about the whole thing. After all, he's already been through public elementary, middle, and high schools in the late 20th and early 21st century. So such two-faced nonsense perpetuated by adults on young people is nothing new to him. He knows how to ace The Education Machine and he'll do just fine. But being the onlooking mother, this kind of nonsense sticks in my craw.

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