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The Dartmouth
March 2, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Rage Call: Will the Women of Dartmouth Please Stand Up

Before Lindsay Lohan got weird, she made "Mean Girls," an early masterpiece that sets forth one of the most pressing dilemmas facing young women today. As Lohan's character Cady struggles to balance school, boys and popularity, the pressures she faces and the different identities she is expected to assume overwhelm her. While the women of Dartmouth thankfully have little in common with La Lohan, other than an unfortunate propensity for leggings, we face a similar balancing act.

Not only must we manage to fulfill the Dartmouth ideal of "work hard, play hard," we must do so in a way that allows us to be strong, smart and feminine at the same time.

In the 30 years that women have been students in Hanover, we have made great strides -- some of the College's most distinguished alums are "daughters of Dartmouth." Still, those of us caught in the daily grind often feel torn after a day of Collis breakfast, Homeplate dinner, endless classes and evening commitments --be they work, "Grey's" or pong. Dartmouth women are the talented, driven, Alpha women whose accomplishments in the classroom, the sports field or elsewhere got them here.

Still, many of us feel pressure to rage with the boys and still make Lou's breakfast looking perky in our pearls. It is no wonder that Dartmouth women sometimes feel as if there is a mystique surrounding us; it can be difficult finding ourselves underneath the pile of identities and personas we are expected to assume.

This phenomenon is not limited to Dartmouth. Our entire generation is one of conflicted women. A notorious New York Times article from last fall, "Many Women at Elite Colleges Set Career Path to Motherhood," highlighted the way in which Ivy League women were divided about their future plans.

More recently, the non-profit Girls, Inc., published a report on "The Supergirl Dilemma," which surveyed 12th-grade girls and determined they felt equal pressure "to be perfect, accomplished, thin and accommodating." Clearly, many of the pressures faced by Dartmouth women are universal. However, as an affiliated male '07 put it, "There's something different about the Dartmouth atmosphere that puts unusual pressures on our female population. It is certainly a product of the conditions in regular society, but perhaps it's worse than that or maybe we just have higher expectations for an institution like Dartmouth."

Professor Susan Ackerman '80, the chair of the religion department and a professor in the women's and gender studies program, was in one of the first classes of women at Dartmouth. For her, the situation for women on campus has improved greatly because of "pure math." The 3-1 ratio of men to women in the early years of coeducation "made things tremendously weird [socially], and in ways that continue[d] to make the school feel in many ways like an all-male school." Ackerman worries for her female students because "they are at a school where there is gender parity but where their social world is a very unequal world; they don't control the spaces where social life occurs and the money that flows with them."

Ackerman points out that "one feature about not controlling social space is a covert discrimination. We were much more overtly discriminated against. Overt discrimination is much easier to identify, to act against, to get people to understand why it is wrong."

Academically, Dartmouth women easily excel on par with their male counterparts -- see Crocker, Ali. It often feels, however, that the voices that predominate in the classroom are those of Dartmouth men. Being outspoken during an in-class debate may appear unfeminine, since women are not always expected to have so loud a voice outside of a 10A.

A guy who is outspoken and forceful in a heated discussion can easily be the same way in a basement. It is harder for a woman to transfer this confidence, especially while wearing Playboy bunny ears or a mini-skirt during a pong game. And appearing alluring in such a situation usually involves a different conversational style than the one used to shoot down "that guy" in Govy 50.

The reluctance to appear too dominant can also influence the extent to which women assume positions of leadership on this campus. Over the last five years, only one of the student body presidents has been a woman.

Campus journalism and politics are male-saturated as well: the editors of the campus daily and two other campus news publications are men, as are the heads of College Republicans and Democrats. No offense to Messrs. Garland, Seal and Linsalata, but it makes one wonder ... where are the women? Are we genuinely not interested or not qualified for these positions? Are we socialized to not strive to obtain them, or discouraged from striving?

This same sense of women as second-string occurs in athletics. Dartmouth's female athletes are some of the most talented and successful at Dartmouth. Case in point: an affiliated senior female former athlete pointed out that men's hockey games are primetime on Friday night, whilst women often are relegated to weekend afternoons, despite their high national ranking. And attendance at women's sporting events is routinely lower than for their male counterparts. While field hockey may not have the national following of football -- there's no TV show with cute coaches a la Friday Night Lights -- it is important to support everyone who wears Dartmouth green.

The unique pressures facing Dartmouth women can in part be traced to the social scene. The Greek system by its very nature is male-centric; the frats supply the flow of invites, alcohol and pong dates. It sometimes feels as if women must force themselves into narrow roles in order to obtain their desired results.

Unfortunately, this can go beyond squeezing into a schoolgirl skirt or teasing your hair for '80s. It often feels as if there's a dumbing down involved in the social scene, a la Miranda "the flight attendant" in a more memorable "Sex and the City" episode. Of course, all this is predicated on the idea that social interaction determines self-worth -- a sobering thought for a group of women who routinely excel in a variety of areas.

It is not fair, however, to only blame the frat system or sweet dudes for the concerns women face at Dartmouth, so don't send that GGMM just yet.

Sororities also send mixed signals about women's roles. Rush itself is a glorified form of awkward frat basement flirting, where strappy sandals replace frat-ready boots and where small talk, not pong, is the preferred sport. The houses do create a strong community, but that community is often based in part on "tails" -- both of the social and the scandalous story variety.

Even the sorority formal, Dartmouth's answer to the Sadie Hawkins dance, is at times as much about finding a cute formal date whose photos you can post on Facebook as it is about having fun with your sisters.

Those outside of the sorority system can face similar pressures to "hang out." According to one unaffiliated '07 woman, "I definitely felt pressure to excel -- I've lost friends before because I was too interested in doing my work and was not able to fulfill my social obligations."

Dartmouth women as a whole, however, are not always supportive of each other. Outside of sports teams and extracurriculars, most underclasswomen do not interact with junior and senior women. Ask most '07 and '08 women how they feel about the female '10 class, and they'll probably describe emotions of disgust, envy and a need to herd them to the FoCo Fro-Yo machine. And we are as quick, if not more so, as our male counterparts to throw around slurs like "slut," "bitch" and "lame."

It's a trite clich that a promiscuous boy is a stud and a promiscuous girl is a whore, but (Nelly Furtado aside) it does contribute to the mixed sense of identity that we often have.

We are supposed to be liberated and free, but also proper and reputation-less. It's hard to be a student in the classroom, a good girl at a dinner, and a temptress in bed -- Dartmouth closets aren't big enough for all the outfits. Jokes aside, though, it's a fine line between feeling empowered and feeling cheap, especially in a hook-up culture. It's yet another tightrope for Dartmouth women to balance upon.

Clearly, despite our progress in the past three decades, the situation for Dartmouth women is not always ideal. However, finding yourself is a part of the college process, and hopefully the Dartmouth experience helps with this in the long run.

So women of Dartmouth, it is okay to be conflicted about your identity. But don't let fear stop you from speaking up in class, stepping up to take leadership roles, and bringing it on in the basement.

Just please remember Lindsay and bring your Mathletes jacket -- it's cold out there.