Applying to College As a Woman

September 19, 2009 § 5 Comments

I’m applying to college in the next four months!

I’m thinking more and more about gender as a factor in applications and admissions. I remember reading an op-ed by the dean of admissions of a small liberal arts college, titled To All The Girls I’ve Rejected — but now it’s that much closer to home. The author gives us a tour of the admissions process, and explains that holding women applicants to a higher standard of excellence is commonplace and in some eyes necessary in today’s culture of do-it-all.

A few days ago I watched my daughter Madalyn open a thin envelope from one of the five colleges to which she had applied. “Why?” was what she was obviously asking herself as she handed me the letter saying she was waitlisted.

Why, indeed? She had taken the toughest courses in her high school and had done well, sat through several Saturday mornings taking SAT’s and the like, participated in the requisite number of extracurricular activities, written a heartfelt and well-phrased essay and even taken the extra step of touring the campus.

She had not, however, been named a National Merit finalist, dug a well for a village in Africa, or climbed to the top of Mount Rainier. She is a smart, well-meaning, hard-working teenage girl, but in this day and age of swollen applicant pools that are decidedly female, that wasn’t enough. The fat acceptance envelope is simply more elusive for today’s accomplished young women.

I have a complicated relationship with this concept. One part of me says that it’s blatantly sexist to expect more from women applicants than men. I’ve heard this called “affirmative action for boys” — which is ridiculous, it’s women who have been denied access to education throughout history. The comparison of men as a group to, say, African-Americans, who rightly benefit from real affirmative action is less than logical.

But another part of me sees the need for a balanced student body; in fact, it’s one statistic I’ve made a point of noting for each school I research.

We have told today’s young women that the world is their oyster; the problem is, so many of them believed us that the standards for admission to today’s most selective colleges are stiffer for women than men. How’s that for an unintended consequence of the women’s liberation movement?

The elephant that looms large in the middle of the room is the importance of gender balance. Should it trump the qualifications of talented young female applicants? At those colleges that have reached what the experts call a “tipping point,” where 60 percent or more of their enrolled students are female, you’ll hear a hint of desperation in the voices of admissions officers.

Your thoughts, students and other readers?

SO HAPPY

September 15, 2009 § Leave a comment

I am officially a Grinnell Sexual Health Information Center Peer Counselor (wow what a fucking mouthful!). Needless to say, I am super pumped, and ready to share my new knowledge on sexual health with you allllllllllllllllllll.

Me & My Notebooks

September 9, 2009 § 4 Comments

I just spent almost $60 on school supplies, after waiting in line for 45 minutes at my neighborhood Staples (which is certainly not as crowded as stores in other neighborhoods on the first day of public school).

$60! $60 on two binders, a composition notebook, looseleaf paper, a package of binder dividers, 10 pens, 7 mechanical pencils, a Sharpie, and an eight-pack of Post-Its.

This sounds like a lot of money; and in fact, it sounds like a lot of stuff. Luckily, it’s not just my vanity and consumerism that makes me “need” everything I spend money on. The cost of school supplies, and the number of items that are being put on supply lists, seem to increase every year.

Education is an extremely classed issue, and it’s a bad situation from many angles. Students and their families fork over incredible amounts of money for school supplies. For everyone there’s the basics like notebooks and pencils; for elementary school kids cleaning products, art supplies, tissues, and paper towels for classroom use are added to the bill; and for some older kids’ classes, expensive items like graphing calculators are considered mandatory. At my school, there are often fee waivers, scholarships, and donated supplies for kids whose families can’t afford calculators, but there’s nothing to cover the cumulatively enormous cost of rudimentary items like paper and pens.

After parents contribute this hefty bundle, teachers often still run out of necessary items. I remember once in elementary school when our classroom printer ran out of paper, our teacher made a note in her planner to buy more computer paper. Teachers — even at my school, which was filled nearly to the brim with kids from privileged families — are often left with no choice but to pay for supplies out of their own pockets. Good thing we give them such exorbitant salaries anyway.

The city and state continue to slash school budgets, stressing out teachers and students alike by pushing our class sizes over the limit. (One math class has 42 STUDENTS and one teacher!)

Hey government, where are your priorities?

Hearing Katie Speak

September 9, 2009 § 2 Comments

Hey everyone!

As Miranda posted earlier this summer, I packed up and went to college this fall. This is my third full day on campus, actually.

Last night, my school’s entire class of 2013 had the privilege of seeing Katie Kessler speak on the topic of sexual assault and violence. Katie is a well-known and highly effective speaker. She was raped by a date on the tenth day of her freshman year at William and Mary. The police department in VA wouldn’t give her a trial because they didn’t want to spend the money on a case that they probably wouldn’t win (Katie’s attacker had a very wealthy judge for a father), so she was merely granted a 7 hour campus trial. Her attacker was found guilty at that trial, but was allowed to stay in the college. The rapist’s girlfriend (whom he beat without reprimand) made a petition against Katie’s continued place at the school; 2,000 students (of William and Mary’s 5,000) signed it. She was voted Most Dangerous Man on the campus. “Katie is a Slut Whore Bitch” was posted on the library walls. Her parents chastised her for having a boy in her room in the first place. They have never even seen her speak. Katie was given no rape kit when she went to the school’s health services, just sleeping pills and the directive to “sleep it off.”

But Katie graduated from William and Mary. She got the school to put artwork over the slander about her in the library (it’s still there, actually). She staked out a Board meeting and popped out of the bushes to introduce herself to the Trustees. She made the committee that voted her Most Dangerous Man change the name of the contest to Most Dangerous Person. And now she jets all over the country to speak to students and government officials about her story, and is founder of the organization Take Back the Night.

Katie’s story was vivid and heartbreaking. And it really effectively communicated the complexities and nuances of acquaintance rape. But I also loved how she reminded us that her story isn’t what is necessarily important. She asked us to remember that 1 in 4 women experience sexual assault within their lifetimes. And 1 in 8 men. She asked us to look at the immensity of the issue, but also at the extreme luck that we all enjoy as young people in a college setting. And how transformative we can be within our own communities, if we actively choose to protect ourselves and our friends, listen to survivors, and watch for violence. She managed to make the point that prevention and support are necessarily both individual and community efforts. My favorite part, though, was when Katie admitted that as a white, attractive, blonde woman, she speaks from a very privileged podium. As a Christian, daughter of an FBI agent, and defiled virgin, she said, “my resume was perfect.” Women of color and transpeople do not enjoy the press she does. A victimized prostitute would not be able to speak at the Pentagon as she has.

I was happy that the kids in my class were so respective of Katie and so engaged in her story, especially after hearing a nightmarish story from a new friend who attended the Hotchkiss school, where Katie spoke last year. One boy there asked her what she expected when she invited the boy back to her room. Another asked how her sex life had been affected by the ordeal, a question which she simply refused to answer. At a single-sex boy’s high school in VA, one student said “Well look at you Katie, I would have raped you too.” I go to a liberal school, a safe school, an awesome school. There are about 3,000 women in our undergraduate program. And statistically, one in four of them will be sexually assaulted. That is 750 people that I now share a home with. That is disheartening.

But I heard something when I left those lectures that made me hopeful. As we streamed out of the talk, I heard scores of people committing to protecting one another. Mind you, we’ve known each other for three days. I heard young men and young women soaking up her message and appreciating it. One of my new friends said that he would punch anyone in the face if he observed any aggressive behaviors.

I am so happy that I got to listen to Katie. But I am even happier for the reminder that there is a whole world to listen to- my world at Brown, my world at home, my world at large. Our world at large!  

Just for Funsies…

September 9, 2009 § Leave a comment

HAPPY 200th POST!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I was going to save this one for Miranda but I’m in the library right now and thought I’d take a little study break.

Hi everyone! My new obsession at Grinnell is becoming a peer counselor at the Sexual Health Information Center. I’ve been working really hard on my application, so I figured I might share it with you all. That way if I don’t get it (ewwwww) I will have SOMETHING to show for it:

(I’m not posting the questions, but most of them you can figure out.)

1.As a result of having experienced several badly-executed sexual health classes in high school, I am familiar with examples of how not to approach sexual health education For instance, the classes I attended have all been centered on heterosexual issues, usually skirting the topic of gay sex entirely. Classes were entirely fact based, with homework assignments requiring students only to fill in the blank with one or two word answers. The lack of discussion was counter-productive. My goal, should I become a peer counselor, would be to foster as much open discussion as possible. Students can be educated about sexual health only when they’re asked to think about the issues and consider them in personal terms. I think this is in line with Grinnell’s approach to education (both academic and social) in general.

Although I have never participated in a program as a counselor or peer educator I have some experience communicating ideas of sexual health education reform through my contributions to the blog Women’s Glib (http://www.womensglib.wordpress.com). This experience has proven quite useful in forcing to me to think about how best to communicate about sexual topics.

The blog, started by my good friend, has become quite successful in a short time. It has received attention from feminist authors (such as Jessica Valenti, and the bloggers for “Feministe”) The blog was also recently featured in Mother Jones magazine. Connections to these resources could be extremely beneficial to SHIC.

2.I am interested in becoming a peer counselor because I have become interested in exploring the field of public health as a career. I firmly believe that health and medicine are important social issues, and that everyone should have access to information on these subjects. My interest is partly due to an eye-opening experience this summer, attending an amazingly successful sexual health class which took a very different approach than classes I had attended previously. Student participation made all the difference. When teenagers opened up to each other the fear and the stigma of “the sex talk” disappeared. We even got to a point, as a class, when we were debating heavy ethical issues passionately and quite comfortably. I think that peer counseling helps create a much more laid back atmosphere in an otherwise notoriously uncomfortable (though it mustn’t be) situation.

Before I found out about SHIC, I had been planning my own sexual health education club for Grinnell. It was my intention to partner with a local hospital and high school and have Grinnell college students teach sexual health classes to teenagers in the community. When I heard about SHIC, it seemed like an obvious choice for me. I would love to gain experience as a peer counselor, helping students at Grinnell first and then to taking my knowledge to the community. Perhaps at some point later on SHIC can expand to the community level.

Another project I would like to pursue is to create an SHIC blog, with as much sexual health information on it as possible, as well as discussions about health education reform, etc. This could be in conjunction with Women’s Glib, or stand on its own. The internet is too good of a resource to neglect, and SHIC could probably benefit from utilizing it if it has not already.

(Skipping 3 because it’s about my schedule. Boring.)

4.Confidentiality is obviously of the utmost importance for an organization like SHIC. Without the promise of confidentiality, no one would come for help. Confidentiality is the basis of trust and respect between counselors and students, values which SHIC could not exist without. I see confidentiality as somewhat black and white. Anything that is said in the SHIC stays in the SHIC. Obviously, I will adhere to any SHIC or Grinnell College rules about reporting violence or any other kind of sexual misconduct, but ultimately I believe that as adults, we are all entitled to make our own decisions.

5.I think I am a strong candidate for a peer counselor position because I am a very open and talkative person. I would imagine that my primary role as a counselor is to listen and assess, but I think I can make people very comfortable with talking about whatever they need to discuss. I welcome new people quite well, and really love to discuss sexual health. This, I think, shows in most of my conversations on the topic. I think my biggest weakness is the fact that I wouldn’t ever want to give people advice or information that they don’t want to hear. This is obviously something I would have to do, and I’m fully prepared to deal with that. With time it may get easier, but it can be pretty heart breaking sometimes to be the bearer of bad news. My only method of compensating for this is to grit my teeth and deal with it in as sensitive a manner as possible. This weakness should really only affect my comfort level, not whomever I am counseling.

6.I think the hardest counseling session would be with someone who is unwilling to make their own decisions, and unwilling to divulge important information. A counseling session should, in my opinion, be a dialogue. When it is one sided it is impossible to tell how effective a counselor you are. A counselor’s job is not to make decisions for their peers, but to talk things through, listen, and aid the student being counseled in his or her decision making. I would assume that that as a counselor, my primary goal would be to aid my peer in the whatever way he or she needs, within reason. If that means, talking about stuff other than sexual health to break the ice a little, or listening to them vent about their relationships, so be it. I would also try to stimulate the conversation by asking the student to come in with a list of possible solutions, or questions he or she might have to get things moving.

7.I think that the most important thing to learn about sexual health is that it should in no way be a taboo topic! Obviously all the facts about STIs and birth control methods etc. should be available. However, I think discussing the societal aspects of sexual health is equally important. Lastly, I think it is absolutely necessary to convey the idea that sex is fun, and you are supposed to feel good when engaging in any sort of sexual behavior. Sex should not be a commodity under any circumstances. These values are absolutely necessary to pass on to anyone who is willing to listen.

Grinnell Fun Facts

August 23, 2009 § 2 Comments

Since I haven’t been doing anything remotely intellectual for orientation, this is going to be a baby post. Here are some funny facts I learned about Grinnell campus:

  1. Formerly the section of campus where only women lived, South campus has some pretty hysterical architectural differences from all of the other sections. For example, the loggias (covered walkways) are not open air like the all the others on campus. They have beautiful glass windows. Know why? Because women should never have to walk in the cold Iowa winters. Haha, guess what. No one should have to do that. Ever.
  2. All of the kitchens on South campus come equipped with ironing boards. For us womenfolk to do the ironing.
  3. Just learned this one, it may be my favorite so far: the Loose dorm (holla!) was notoriously the hall for “loose women” because the window locks are the easiest to break for late night collegiate trysts.

I found those details pretty amusing when I first heard them, I really hope you enjoyed!

Kids, Sex, & Gender

August 3, 2009 § 11 Comments

The other day I was on the playground with my campers, who are going into third grade, and the topic of pregnancy came up. Several of the kids were adopted, as was one of my co-counselors, so conversations about different kinds of families and how they are made had come up before, but never in this much detail.

I suddenly remembered that it is difficult to answer kids’ questions: they are blunt and persistent, having yet to be hushed by what society deems acceptable to discuss in polite company. How do we talk to children about immensely complicated issues, in language that’s simple enough to understand but doesn’t shed necessary intricacies and ambiguities?

When they asked, “Why would someone give up their baby to be adopted?” I replied, “Sometimes people don’t have enough money to take care of a baby, or they are too young, or they are too busy, or they don’t want a family. So adoption is great because it means that kids can have a family that loves them and takes care of them, even if their birth parents couldn’t.”

When they asked, “So, where do babies even come from?” I replied, “They grow inside a woman’s body until they’re big enough to be born.”

When they asked, “But how do you make a baby?” I replied, “That’s a question you should ask your parents when you get home. They probably have a specific answer for you.” (This one was hard: I know the technical answer, of course, but not the social one. Who knows what these kids will go home and tell their parents I said? Who knows what their parents want to say themselves?)

Then they asked, “But what about the pregnant man?” Instantly I remembered I’d just said that babies grow inside women’s bodies — a little ignorance check. I chose my words carefully: “The pregnant man’s name is Thomas, and he used to be a woman. That means that he was born as a girl, with what we call ‘girl parts,’ but when he got older he felt like he wanted to be a man so he asked people to call him a boy and changed the way he looked a little bit. So he is a man, but he still has the parts that make him able to grow a baby.”

“What do you mean he felt like he wanted to be a man?”

“Well, I don’t know exactly. I don’t really know what that feels like. But I think it must be a bad feeling, right? Can you imagine feeling a certain way about yourself, but the whole world felt a different way about you? It would be confusing and frustrating. So it’s great that he got to become what he wanted to be.”

Conveniently, my head counselor popped into the conversation at just that moment to say, in an amused tone, “Well, from what I’ve read, the pregnant man is really a woman.”

Thanks for the playground transphobia and identity denial.

(Hello Again) and Infinite Props to NY Presbyterian

July 31, 2009 § 2 Comments

Hi everyone!

First of all, let me just say that I’m thrilled to be returning to Women’s Glib after my embarrassingly long vacation. I’ll be better from now on, I swear!

I recently attended a health and sexual education class provided by NY Presbyterian hospital. The class was mandatory for all Summer Youth Employment Program employees, and, needless to say, I was dreading it like no other. I’ve been to so many sex ed classes that skirt around issues, don’t delve into anything that isn’t strictly fact, and seem like their goal is to make people less comfortable, not more informed. Why should this one be any different?

To my surprise, this one was totally different, and here’s why:

The class was taught by a mix of people, some teenagers and some professionals. While, yes, there were some cringe worthy one-liners such as, “um… does anyone um… know what um… the scrotum is?” there were some really great benefits to having this class taught by teens. It was pretty clear that my whole class felt at ease because the environment was less like a class, and more like a conversation. My favorite quote from one of our peer educators was, “You gotta tie of the condom and throw it in the trash, not out the window, would you want a nasty condom falling on your head?” When things got confusing, or some of the facts weren’t straight, there were trained professionals to step in and clear everything up.

Which brings me to my second point… we were taught by people who hadn’t just taking a week long crash course in health education. These people actually worked in the NY Presbyterian clinic. They had, quite literally, seen it all. Nothing that they told us sounded like a text book recitation. This resulted in a much more engaging class, because no one was trying to separate these issues from real life. Since the conversation had that tone, we had surprisingly open debates about ethical issues as well as the symptoms of gonorrhea and how to put on a condom.

My classmates totally opened up. They asked great questions, and others provided great answers. Some told deeply personal stories, and were not afraid to express their views, no matter how controversial they were. At first I was a little nervous when one of my classmates expressed his feelings on abortion. He believed that the decision for a woman to have an abortion should be a “fifty-fifty thing,” and a woman should not have one if her partner is willing to take care of the child himself. I ended up being glad he said it though, because we had a lively debate which would have otherwise never occurred! Young women were exclaiming, “But do you have to carry it for 9 months?” One young man (and this is possibly the highlight of my day) said, “Nah, it’s gotta be ninety-ten.”

We all left the class feeling satisfied, and, most importantly, knowing much more. I am so shocked by this experience that I just wanted to share it with all of you!

There will be more where this came from.

What the DOE doesn’t want you reading

July 6, 2009 § 1 Comment

Hey Women’s Glib: this is my first real guest post on Feministe. My introductory post, if you’re curious, is here.

As I mentioned in my introductory post, I will be a senior at a public high school in NYC this fall. (As much as I’d like to forget all about school during these fleeting summer months, it still seems to be on my mind.) As far as public schools go, mine is pretty well furnished. We have a dedicated Parents’ Association that puts on impressive fundraisers, and most of our students come from families privileged enough to donate — though because of massive budget cuts (even worse than last year’s), all of the nifty electives our teachers planned for are simply not happening next year.

So we’re relatively well off, and that means we have quite a few computers: one in each classroom, mostly for teacher use; a few in our small school library; and around forty in a lab that’s available for us students to use during our free periods and afterschool.

The problem is that when you’re using a computer at school, finding what you’re looking for on the internet can be quite a task. You see, the New York City Department of Education uses Websense, a service that “provide[s] hundreds of organizations around the world with the latest security warnings on malicious Internet events including spyware, phishing, spam, crimeware and compromised Web sites.” In our case, the so-called “malicious” and “compromised” sites are identified by categories; if the program picks up on one of its trigger categories, the entire website will be blocked.

So what does the DOE consider “malicious” enough to block?

The category “personal networking” is blocked. This is ostensibly to stop students from logging on to Facebook, though I’m of the opinion that a little downtime on Facebook would make kids more relaxed and productive overall — but this also means that I can’t read Shapely Prose and some other blogs while at school.

The category “pro-choice” is blocked. This means that not only am I unable to use NARAL Pro-Choice New York’s Book of Choices to find a clinic where I can pick up free emergency contraception, I’m also unable to do research on abortion laws for an assigned project.

The categories “sexuality” and “homosexuality” are blocked. This means that not only am I unable to look up counseling resources from the Anti-Violence Project to use in a Gay-Straight Alliance club meeting, I’m also unable to find HIV/AIDS infection statistics in preparation for my school’s AIDS Action Day.

These are just a few categories that have given me trouble recently. I’m sure there’s a wealth of even-more-taboo keywords that are also blocked. Obviously there’s quite a lot of unbiased information that the DOE doesn’t want students worrying our silly little heads about.

Cross-posted at Feministe.

Examining Female Roles in Western versus Japanese Animations

June 9, 2009 § 2 Comments

I apologize rather prematurely for this post, it’s term papers and finals week, so not only is the blog title far from witty, it sounds like the beginning to a bad JStor article written by an undergrad.

However, someone just showed me this open letter by Linda Holmes on the NPR blog. It reminded me of when I was going through my late night (read: early morning) animation fix of Miyazaki, and was astounded during a few of them that my love for the filmmaking wasn’t constantly pitted against the female protagonists need to support jagged-edged gender binaries.

So.

So while I don’t have time to expand on this, here’s another examination of Western animation from Christine Hoff Kraemer over at Inhuman Decency, that seems to converse quite well with Linda’s piece.

Oh, and P.S. Linda: Susan Sontag would love to argue this one out, but half the fun of children’s films and books are the highly politicized (though often implicit) morals and theologies they bring about. Sometimes they SCREAM for a better world, though the characters may only whisper. Tonight my seventh-grade brother summarized a book for me that he just finished reading and was incredibly excited about. Though the plot line was simple, it featured a girl fighting for women’s rights in a fettered, Patriarchal society. If we take each part of a film to have an intended purpose, a princess can and will never be just a princess.

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