Whither do women wander?

Note: The following ruminations were prompted in part by this disturbingly vapid, heteronormative (read: heterosexuality-assuming/privileging) column that actually says women “want a man [sic] who can make us feel [strong and protected].” If you thought the kids/career piece was bad…

* * *
Sometimes I really doubt whether a Women’s Center will succeed in the fullest sense. The fractured consciousness of ‘women’ on this campus suggests a lack of cohesion that may doom the Women’s Center to become mainly a bastion for white, upper-class, heterosexual, pro-choice women, hearkening back to the days of Betty Friedan and second-wave feminism. I hope I am proven wrong, and that ABHW, SAWC, the Hillel Women’s Group, AAWA, HRL, LU, Girlspot, etc. all embrace the undertaking and strive to make the center reflect their interests. Judging by the Crimson coverage, though, you’d think RUS and the UC are the only ones invested in the vision.

One thing that would boost my optimism about the project: more self-identifying men speaking up about the need for a diverse, vibrant women’s center. As we’ve discussed at length with regard to household labor, it’s about time people recognized that gender equality is not just a women’s issue. Why not get the major men’s organizations and traditionally male-dominated groups to draft declarations of support for the creation of a Women’s Center? To make things interesting (and to circumvent free image boosts for groups that merely dribble meaninglessly about how women should be given equal opportunity), you could specify that the declarations should include lists detailing the challenges women face that a Women’s Center could help ameliorate; how the undersigned group contributes to those challenges; and proactive steps the group is taking to become more friendly to all genders. Critical self-reflection and abdication of unfair privilege: now that’s what I look for in a man.

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5 responses to “Whither do women wander?

  1. Ms. London is a heterosexual girl in a world dominated by heterosexuals and it’s not incumbent upon her to include every one of the ever-increasing gender/sexuality combinations and classifications in her column, the point of which is that people are self-centered and guarded and should date more, which is a perfectly fine, if not gracefully expressed, idea with which I happen to agree.

  2. because a world is “dominated” by heterosexuals its dialogue should ignore homosexuals? we exist, too! it gets really depressing to live in a world in which my identity and self is essentially ignored. I don’t think Ms. London should be chastized or anything and I don’t think Ms. Loncke meant to do so. I’m sure she didn’t mean badly (although the column really should have been run in FM), but it is still helpful to point out that the way she approaches the world is not the way everyone approaches the world. btw, she’s generally right, people should be less guarded and date more, and that includes all you closeted folk ;)

  3. I’d propose a much broader question: Can a women’s center succeed at all as being a resource and a space for all women? Is getting more student groups on board really the motivating factor? I sincerely doubt it.

    Consider, for example, Harvard Hillel, which at first blush appears to be a powerful example of a place where a minority group (admittedly, one that’s almost a majority here, but I digress) receives its own space. Friday night dinner certainly seems well-populated, and social events go on there with real regularity. That said, though, there is a definite insider mentality reserved for those extremely active in groups or religiously affiliated. Many show up for the occasional event or so, but unless they’re with someone who’s already “in” hillel, they tend not to return. Many jews find it an alienating, clannish space and vow never to come back. I’ve seen this happen and have sadly reached the conclusion that it is inevitable to some degree.

    Much like I’ve observed at hillel, I can’t help but imagine the creation of an insider mentality at a potential women’s center. Getting more student groups involved may mitigate this , but won’t fundamentally alter the social structure there. What evidence is there that women who are not involved with the women’s group of choice would make use of this center as a resource?

    I’ve spent a lot of time struggling with this issue from hillel’s end, and so I can’t help but wonder if the Women’s Center is doomed to a similar fate. That is to say, I have no doubt that those active in the feminist community — the leaders of groups such as RUS and ABHW — will involve themselves and make use of the space. Indeed, I am in no way arguing that Hillel is a failure; it serves an important role for a community of certain Jews. However, I’m also not arguing that Hillel should have been paid for by the university (the building was built by donors). The construction of a “feminist center” where women active in the movement may be valuable, but is not, in my opinion, worthy of the university’s time. I’d need to be convinced that the center would be more than glorified office space.

  4. would this women’s center still be welcoming of girl’s who just want each other’s support? that may prefer to be a housewife instead of being pressured to get a high-powered career?

    i’m all for this a women’s center being a place of community and support, with no value judgements to the women who come. i hope it’s not political in nature..

  5. Dave, I share your concerns about the difficulty of making any ‘representative’ organization completely open and welcoming; oftentimes, as you point out, social environments take on a life of their own that can discourage new members from joining. I think we agree that a women’s center may not succeed in attracting absolutely all women on campus (the only way to guarantee that kind of turnout, I guess, would be to return to sex-segregated education). But it can still be useful. BSA does not succeed in attracting ALL Black students, but I think its existence still benefits the entire campus.

    But in order to minimize the kind of subtly exclusionary culture that you describe in Hillel, I think there are a few things the women’s center organizers can do, many of which they have already been discussing.

    Having a cafe or some sort of laid-back hangout spot would encourage sudents of all stripes to pop in and grab something warm to drink on a cold day. At least some element of chill social space seems vital in creating an inclusive environment.

    As proponents have been insisting in the negotiations, having an above-ground space is crucial in developing a visible (literally) presence on campus. We don’t want the center to turn into some kind of cult that only insiders know about.

    Thirdly, while I agree that having a multitude of women’s organizations sharing the space will not guarantee an inclusive atmosphere, I think it will tremendously improve the ability of those groups to communicate among themselves and collaborate on various projects of mutual interest. This kind of cooperation may spark new ideas about how to use women’s perspectives to improve student life for everyone. True, there’s the chance that the various groups could become territorial even within the center space, but hopefully people will see this not merely as an umbrella location that houses many disjointed organizations, but as a mini-community whose whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

    Finally, offering women’s-health-related information and supplies (i.e. condoms) in the women’s center will also help attract a wider variety of women than those who regularly attend women’s groups’ meetings. While I realize that not all Harvard students support contraception or pre-marital sex, I don’t think condoms and pamphlets would be too offensive.

    And to anonymous, while I totally agree that the center should strive to attract students who don’t necessarily think of themselves as politically-oriented (the cafe and health info would help with this), it’s also important to recognize on a larger level that the creation and maintenance of a women’s center is itself a political act: it attempts to redress existing power inequalities. There’s a problem here that people are trying to address, and that problem is a political one. That’s partly why I feel that involvement by people of all genders is critical.

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