When you announce you’re going to attend a women’s college people take that as an opportunity to say some sexist things to you.
“Oh my God, women are SO catty, I could never do what you’re doing.”
“You know everyone there is going to be a lesbian!”
“How will you meet boys?”
And my personal favorite:
“You won’t know how to talk to men after you graduate!”
Sometimes I wonder if people think a women’s college is actually a lesbian separatist community on an island thousands of miles from male contact. Spoiler alert: It isn’t (although many of us women’s college alums have discussed that concept AT LENGTH).
Despite that, some of them are kind of accurate.
For example, after four years of living and learning in a community of pre-dominantly women, I don’t always know how to talk to men.
I complain about my period in front of men. I accuse my male friends of man-spreading when they lie across the whole couch. When men fish for compliments I shut them down. I’ve gotten into the weird habit of comparing men I meet to cartoon characters (if they laugh I usually assume they’re cool).
I don’t know how to talk to men. Which is to say, the way I communicate is not dictated by the need to make men feel comfortable.
Living in a community shaped by women with a very visible LGBTQ population has changed the way I think and speak. Feminism is at the forefront of my mind all the time. I am very aware that a large part of my social circle are survivors of sexual assault and/or are in recovery from a wide variety of mental health issues. My community is used to being emotional caretakers. We have a variety of different gender identities and sexual orientations. We know what is like to be silenced because of who we are or how we live our lives.
Because of our experience at a predominantly women’s college, we also learned to value our own experiences. We have worked hard to find our voices, and to feel confident using them. Most of us have also learned to value other voices that are being silenced. We listen and do our best to elevate voices that know better than we do.
After leaving the community I found at Mount Holyoke, I’ve become skeptical of those who have never had to question where they fit in the world, who chose to speak louder than everyone else, even though they’ve never had to fight to be heard. I can’t handle men who ask me to tell them how great they are when we’ve known each other for a few hours. I’m not interested in laughing to the bad jokes men tell at parties, when I’m just trying to chat with my women friends. More than anything in the world, I am not here for men who say that women are “too emotional” or that they “can’t handle crying women,” especially when they expect those women to be sympathetic to their feelings.
As you may imagine, I don’t have a lot of friends who are men. The ones I do have, however, are amazing. I have been asked to explain to one of my guy friends what happens when a person has a period, because no one had ever told him before and he wanted to be able to support his friends better. I have a friend who watched the Muppet Movie with me and then let me crash on his couch because I started crying while he was giving me a ride home. A boyfriend of my friend has gone out of his way to look out for women in social situations, even when it meant having to remove his male friends from the environment. These are some great dudes. I wish more men acted this way, so these guys didn’t stand out to me so much.
I’m grateful to my women’s college education for a lot of reasons. It challenged me to continue to grow and learn for my entire life. The community I found has changed my life. It also ruined my ability to talk to men. I’m not mad about it though. My language and my actions are for the comfort and safety of women and nonbinary people. It is not perfect, and I am still learning, but it is the voice I want to nurture for the rest of my life.
EDIT: While I was writing this, Rebecca Solnit of “Men Explain Things To Me” fame was writing this hilarious piece about men explaining Lolita to her: http://lithub.com/men-explain-lolita-to-me/