The Light at the End of the Tunnel

by Tom Mandel | 11/18/10 11:00pm

I spent the first year of my college career thinking that Dartmouth was inherently a man's school. The relatively late coeducation, the prevalence of the fraternity system, the generally masculine feel of New England attribute it to what you want. When you're in a fraternity or in the alumni section of a football game, it can seem obvious. And because I assumed that everyone felt the same way that I did, I assumed everybody would be more inclined to send their son to Dartmouth than their daughter. I would want a man to go to a man's school.

Then I had a conversation with a female friend of mine during sophomore year. She said that she would be more likely to send her daughter to Dartmouth than her son. And she said that most women felt the same way.

I was shocked.

She said that Dartmouth made women strong and independent, as they had to pave their own path. It made men weaker, as they became alcoholics and sank back into their frats, without the motivation to mature as people.

I've thought a lot about this in the years since that conversation. Is Dartmouth a better place to send your son, or a better place to send your daughter? In the end, I don't think there is much of a difference. But that's not what's important to note here. What's important to note is the huge discrepancy between how men and women on campus perceive "The Dartmouth experience."

We all go to the same school, we take the same classes and we have many of the same shared experiences. We all ran around the bonfire, and pong is pong, no matter where you play it.

Now I'm going to say something that's been said a million times before, but should be said once more for emphasis: gender dynamics on this campus are weird. People point to lots of different problems with this, but I think the biggest problem is perception.

The perception that men and women have of the opposite sex's Dartmouth experience is incredibly skewed. There are guys who assume girls are always guests, at the beck-and-call of frat bros. There are girls who assume guys are all alcoholic assholes. Sure, we can all point to specific examples where these assumptions actually are valid. But for the most part, both guys and girls all have healthy and normal Dartmouth experiences that are remarkably similar.

I don't think that single-sex Greek houses, societies and sports teams are the problem. I don't think that the Women in Science Project is the problem. I don't think that The Dartmouth Review is the problem.

The problem, in my opinion, is everyone's willingness and eagerness to jump into an "Us vs. Them" mentality. Men vs. women. Conservatives vs. liberals. Athletes vs. non-athletes. Whatever. But the biggest and most pervasive division is unquestionably the men vs. women split.

It's just so easy to have an "other" group to point to for our problems. "Fucking Daughters of Dartmouth." "Asshole frat bros." When we have somebody to blame, everything becomes a little bit easier, you know? And when the only time you see frat bros are late on a Wednesday night when they're blacked out, of course you're going to think they're assholes. And if you only exposure to the Daughters of Dartmouth is anonymous signs telling you how racist or sexist you are, of course you're not going to like them.

But those people you're blaming, antagonizing and misconceiving are real people with real human dimensions and lives outside of that activity, and your attitude towards them feeds on itself. Except for those few at the true extremes of PC Police or Alcoholic Assholes, we're all just normal people, and gender doesn't actually factor into our identities as much as we might think.

It really isn't about a man's or a woman's Dartmouth experience. I know guys who get really into feminism, dance and all the other stereotypically feminine activities I could rattle off. I know girls who are basement fiends, and I've even seen a few pack a lip. The Dartmouth experience is open to all of us and it's just convenient to split it into two. By writing about these stereotypes, I'm not trying to reinforce them, but rather point them out for just what they are: stereotypes.

So, hell, I'll definitely send my child to Dartmouth. I don't give a shit what gender the little fucker is.

THE LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL is that, with the way the statistics are going right now, we're all probably going to end up intermarrying into the Dartmouth family, and then our kids won't have a choice where to go to school. We'll all be asking our four-year-old child, "Do you want to go to mommy's college, or daddy's college?" Trick question, sucker.