Barreca uses comedy in addressing coeducation

by Julie Glasgow | 10/10/05 5:00am

Author, comedian and Dartmouth graduate Regina Barreca '79 surprised listeners at her Friday evening speech with a blunt, comedic take on her experience as one of the first women at Dartmouth and how that has shaped her view of feminism.

Barreca's lecture, "Coeducation at Dartmouth: Celebrating Pioneering Men and Women," drew a 150-member audience. At times like a stand-up comedy routine, Barreca's speech was based on her recent book, "Babes in Boyland: A Personal History of Coeducation in the Ivy League."

Barreca's lecture was the first event this year sponsored by the 1972 Society Program, a group that works to welcome freshmen women to Dartmouth and to promote interaction between women of all classes.

Barreca, who teaches at the University of Connecticut, focused her comments on her idea of modern feminism.

"[If I call myself a feminist,] they think I should be wearing a fedora and smoking a cigar, and I don't do that all the time," she said. "This is what a feminist looks like, this is it. You have to rearrange your definition so that I fit into it."

Continuing in her typical speaking style, Barreca discussed her approach to handling sensitive topics in her classes.

"I do use the 'F-word' in my class: Feminism," Barreca said in her typical style. "Where did I learn how to use the word feminist? ... At Dartmouth."

Barreca believes that women should break free from stereotypical ideals and learn how to find their voices and find themselves.

"We worry about secondhand smoke. We need to worry about secondhand ideas," she said.

A professional comedian, Barreca sees comedy as a unique way to get her message across.

"Inside a comic frame you're allowed to talk about things that are otherwise taboo, forcing us to look at them in a new way, it makes us laugh. The best of what comedy does is to force you into a place where you can't go back," she said.

A member of the Class of 1978, Barreca came to Dartmouth shortly after the school began accepting women in 1972. She went on to receive her master's degree at Cambridge University and a Ph.D. from the City University of New York. Barreca has been a professor at the University of Connecticut since 1987 where she teaches English literature and feminist theory.

Krista Perry '06 and Alison Reed '06, who helped organize the event, were pleased with the turnout.

"People of all ages, both men and women, responded to us," Perry said. "It was great to know that we can have these events in the future, and people are listening to us."

Jenny Kemeny '76, who attended the lecture, praised Barreca but offered a different perspective on her own Dartmouth experience.

Kemeny stressed the idea that a small minority of men on campus were at the root of the discrimination women faced.

"What's unfortunate I think for this era is that when people hear about that era, the negative incidents are the ones that will be what you do hear about, legitimately because those are transformational incidents," she said.

Barreca believes that today's Dartmouth women should explore their own paths.

"Part of any educational system, part of the business of it is to give you possible scripts for your life," she said. "The interesting part of life however, is to look at the scripts and realize that it's really improv."

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