From the archive: Being a woman at Whitman

Lindsey Jones , Guest Writer

This article originally appeared in the March 6, 1997 issue of the Whitman Pioneer.

The question has been raised, “What is it like to be a woman at Whitman?” My first response is, well, what is it like not being a woman at Whitman? But since this is the one month out of the year when women’s history is supposed to be important, I suppose we can ignore the guys’ side of things for the time being. 

Whitman is not unique among colleges; being a woman here is like being a woman at a lot of other places. We struggle with those people who think we are weak because of our sex, and celebrate with those who think our sex is something that makes us strong. Women’s sports are undersupported and co-ed sports have membership that falls largely along traditional lines. A lot of time is spent with other women talking about how stupid men are; and a lot of time is spent talking with men about how stupid women are. Many a study break conversation has centered on why women stay with men who treat them badly. We all know some men are just jerks, but why do really great women date them? I suppose that is a conversation for another day and another cup of coffee. 

Women at Whitman still have to deal with professors who think a woman cannot possibly have the right answer. The women I have talked to who have experienced this asked not to be quoted, and I would rather not name specific professors. Sometimes I wonder if women will ever get an equal education, particularly when I see a professor who does not understand that a woman in his class had the correct answer not because she cheated, but rather because she studied. 

It’s amazing to me that while women make up the majority of the student body, even if it is by a small amount, we are still considered the minority. Perhaps that is because a high majority of the professors on campus are men, and from that aspect the campus has become male-dominated. 

I have noticed that even in classes where most of the students are women, it is the men who dominate the discussion and get a majority of the professor’  attention. It is nearly impossible as a female student to relate to your professors when they make it well-known that they believe their field of study, science for example, is beyond a woman’s capability of understanding. If you do not believe this happens, perhaps you should go to the science building and talk with some of the women there about some of their professors. How can this kind of discrimination be brushed off at a liberal arts college in 1997? Do professors believe they are wasting their time teaching women? Do they still believe a woman’s place is in the kitchen, taking care of the children? If they do, why on earth have they been booted out of here? There are, of course, some professors who are very interested in the woman’s point of view. These are great professors from whom to take classes. Not only do they think very highly of the women in their classes, but they express admiration for the women in their own and other fields of study. Unfortunately, not all professors are like this. Having even one professor on campus who is sexist is not acceptable. 

People at Whitman like to be aware of issues affecting everything from the lives of tree frogs in the rainforest to chemical effects on the ozone. Fortunately, issues affecting women happen to fall in there somewhere. So women at Whitman get a little more freedom to celebrate their strengths than they might get elsewhere. We even have our own climbing night. Whitman is starting to show the bones of a gender studies department, although there is no way of knowing how long it will take before this department is taken seriously. Some classes that are not listed as gender studies will look at women’s studies and women’s history. Unfortunately, there still seem to be a lot of classes and departments that just simply cannot find any women who are good enough to include, or who can compare to the men in the same field of study. Tell me if that isn’t a load of trash. 

Then, of course, there is being a woman on the dating scene at Whitman. My first memories of being at Whitman are heavily laden with the message that either I or one of my friends would be date-raped before leaving Whitman College. That is not exactly something to which to look forward to, but I was assured that it would happen, and it has. Rape happens at Whitman like it happens everywhere else, and as with everywhere else it goes largely unreported. Not every man on this campus is a jerk, but unfortunately those that are don’t have signs around their necks. So women keep running into them and, and all too often date them. 

Being a woman at Whitman can largely be summed up as competition. We are still competing for equal appreciation in classes, equal opportunity to study those issues that affect us and equal opportunity to display our talents before our peers. For a woman, a Whitman education includes opportunities to meet new people, study until your brain is fried, become further associated with a world that is not favorable to your sex, and learn to find ways around that fact. But I still have the question, what is it like not to be a woman at Whitman?