By Maya Sachdeva
Most articles about women’s colleges discuss the social stigmas associated with such institutions, like claims of rampant homosexuality or the notion that all students are “radical” feminists. The authors of such pieces rationalize that this stereotyping occurs because of a general lack of respect for women in society. However, no one has ever blamed the women of these institutions.
Electing to go to an all-female college is a bold and progressive choice. Bold because it admits an awareness of the aforementioned stereotypes and progressive in the sense that it implies a belief in one’s own power to stop their perpetuation. Unfortunately, oftentimes the “progressiveness” fails to actually occur.
Now, like my classmates, I am not innocent; I do not give Bryn Mawr the recognition it’s due. Our school is extraordinarily beautiful. It is an environment of revolutionary aspirations, housed in collegiate gothic architecture.
Each gray stone represents some woman’s story, indicating the life of someone who deviated from societal norms to bring about change and make the world a better place.
Pembroke West, one of the oldest dorms, was home to Katherine Hepburn and Maya Ajmera. Both were exceptional and intelligent women who broke barriers to pursue their dreams. Ajmera and Hepburn are only two members of an extensive roster of charming women across the Seven Sisters who achieved phenomenal things.
Accomplished alumni, however, are not enough to challenge the notion that women’s colleges are “entirely homosexual” or “radically feminist.” So, how can women’s colleges shed these stereotypes?
The answer is that the attendees of these schools, myself included, must gain more self-respect.
A women’s college is a unique experience. More emphasis is placed on academics than at peer institutions. The “normal” college social experience (i.e. Greek life or mass partying) is difficult to come by.
In Bryn Mawr’s case, the tri-college consortium makes a “normal experience” more feasible. Bryn Mawr shares an invaluable bond of open course registration with Haverford, Swarthmore and, to a lesser degree, the University of Pennsylvania. This allows for intermingling between students and a change of setting. However, it is interesting to take note that Bryn Mawr women often know other campuses better than students from other schools know Bryn Mawr’s.
While it is nice to have prestigious neighboring schools, it is also important for Mawrters to focus on Bryn Mawr.
Bryn Mawr’s relentless pursuit of academic excellence is present in the small and Socratic class settings. Professors encourage students to speak up and respect each other’s opinions. But if speaking up is so encouraged in the classroom, then why do Bryn Mawr women become less confident in social environments?
Instead of standing up for ourselves we become submissive. The monikers of “fuck truck” or “straight at the gate” are still heard. The worst part is that there is a double standard of which most Mawrters are all too aware: if we do speak up, we are not taken seriously and, instead, are further dubbed “radical” feminists. So what are we Mawrters to do?
The idealistic view of the Seven Sisters, as it’s depicted in movies, involves the Wellesley girl falling in love with a Harvard boy. But, as we all know, times have changed.
The modern women’s college is melting pot of women who are self-aware sexually, socially and intellectually. Although all women face some similar issues, a women’s college is generally a safe haven. Judgment here, for example, is comparatively subdued during open discussions about everything from queer issues to gender politics.
An honor code based on trust, accessibility to various organizations, and the warmth of hall teas (students of the same floor gather to snack and chat) all widen and enrich the experience of any Bryn Mawr student. The world is not about black and white or good and bad – at Bryn Mawr the world becomes a shared space of free thought.
So, Mawrters and women alike, here is what we should do: remember and fall in love with the blessed opportunity to attend a school with quirky traditions and rampant liberated expression. Then we can spread what we learn to others. Not in the chiding, politically correct way, but in a way that’s tolerant and respectful.
We can endure the ignorant comments while respecting who we are and where we come from. “Tolerance” does not mean that we cannot express our feelings, but rage over unprecedented monikers only makes us seem foolish and dramatic. People who do not understand often judge.
To put an end to the stereotyping it is important to handle situations elegantly and never compromise self-esteem. The beauty of women’s colleges is their ability to support women in finding and thinking more of themselves.
I know that Bryn Mawr College has most certainly helped me broaden my horizons while focusing on how to better myself. It is time to avoid getting bogged down by childish name-calling – rather, we should lend ourselves a new name. For the Bryn Mawr woman, I think “Mawrter” will suffice.
Go out into the world, ladies, and hold your heads up high. It is time for you to fulfill your dreams and never look back. In the eloquent words of Katherine Hepburn, “If you obey all the rules you miss all the fun.” Ladies, be revolutionaries, break the status quo, but always remain certain of who you are.