My Role of "The Girl"

by Sara Carpenter | 11/17/99 6:00am

As the end draws near of my overwhelming first term, I am astonished to realize that I can actually call this place home. Not a day goes by when I cease to appreciate my luck at arriving at the wonderfully bucolic and intoxicating (no pun intended) institution, in some small way or another. Perhaps it's when I marvel at the architecture of Baker or Dartmouth Row on my way to class. Or when I stumble across an interesting and fun peer, a possible future friend. And not a weekend goes by when I don't attempt to take full advantage of the social scene on campus. "Oh, but you're an '03? Oh, okay, you're a girl, c'mon in"

However, not all is perfect at this institution, which is clear through the Trustees' attempts to revamp the social environment of Dartmouth. An example of a serious issue arose in Monday's edition of The Dartmouth in an anonymous article entitled, "The Voice of Sexual Assault Survival." I commend the writer of the article on her bravery, both in her fight for justice three years ago and yesterday's attempt to share her experience with the student body at large. I hope that if I were she, I would have the courage to report a violation. And I hope that the size of article didn't scare away readers. If you didn't read it, go find a copy. It recounts a disturbing personal experience of a freshman woman who was sexually assaulted, however equally disturbing is her experience afterwards with the Committee on Standards, what she calls her "second victimization." I was appalled by the alleged behavior of the former Dean, Mr. Lee Pelton. His utterly disheartening approach to sexual assaults is exactly opposite to the way which it should be.

An Op-Ed page junkie by heart, I was growing slightly tired consistently reading the plethora of articles entitled (by my loose interpretation), "I love my Greek house and my brothers and my sisters, but change doesn't necessarily have to be a bad thing." I find the juxtaposition of those articles and this startling report rather intriguing. No, this assault was not related to the Greek system. It was between a freshman woman and a male whose year is unmentioned, and nowhere in the article does it suggest that he is affiliated with the Greek system. I am not attempting to directly relate the two in any means. That would be incredibly unfair. However, in my mind, I connect sexual assault to drinking. Drinking to the Greek system. By some sort of transitive property, I mush the whole thing together as related.

This woman's story supports that tiny jolt of apprehension that I feel whenever an unfamiliar, broad-shouldered frat brother approaches me in his basement when I am alone. Again, totally unfair. Reverse discrimination at its finest. I can't go around thinking that everyone's going to rape me, based on the stories I've heard. That's utterly ridiculous. But yet, I know that this woman's account will stay with me, and it will persuade me to be more careful next weekend. Why? When did I grow so cynical?

Perhaps it was the first time that I pushed myself to the front of my 'schmob in an attempt to get into a fraternity party. When I played the role of the cute, tank-topped freshman who flirts/sneaks her friends into the house. Did the brothers at the door encourage me to wear that shirt? Of course not. Did it always work? Of course not. Did it work enough times to ingrain in my mind that this is the norm? Of course.

Or perhaps it was when I made several trips to the tap for all my guy friends, who couldn't seem to get beer themselves. Heck, this should all be in the present tense. When I get beer for my guy friends. When I flash a smile at the brothers at the door.

What's the connection to this choppy article? What does my flirty smile have to do with my wariness of well-built frat brothers and Monday's recount of sexual assault? The connection is this: before I came to Dartmouth, in high school, I had never found myself in such a role. Being in the front of the group, assuming the role of "the girl." Sure, I'd talked myself out of a speeding ticket. But I had never felt objectified the way I have here. I had never looked at a fellow peer as a threat because he is male. I had never had a fear of sexual assault among my friends and acquaintances.

Perhaps you are saying, this is the real world, Sara. Welcome to grown-up society. Accept it, and get over it. Valid point. But does it have to be the standard? Why do I find myself assuming such a role without any objection? No one forces me to act the way I do. I have found that there is a virus that infects freshmen women and causes them to change their standards and beliefs, all without their knowledge. I am the first to admit that I am a victim of this disease.

I support the Greek system. I go to the parties; I will most likely find myself rushing next fall, if rush does indeed occur. I don't blame the CSFC for this issue. That, as well, would be unfair. But somehow, I thought of the Student Life Initiative, the Greek system, and my own behavior when I read the anonymous article about sexual assault. And I think that's sad.

So I am responding to those of you who have asked yourselves at some point, "What are the gender issues at Dartmouth?" "Is there any basis for this 'substantially coeducational' junk?" I think there is some basis. Like the masses of articles which have covered the pages of The Dartmouth in the past months, this one doesn't have any solutions either. Just a freshman perspective about the Dartmouth social scene. Do you remember your freshmen fall, women of Dartmouth? Can you relate with my confused reluctance to adjust? I hope that you haven't forgotten. It wasn't always like this.