A joke from my elite academic institution went like this –
“How many sexes are there in the world?” “Uhhhh – I don’t know. How many?” “Three – men, women, and then the women who attend this university! Ha ha!”
Sometimes we were even referred to as another species. The ratio of men to women was extreme – something like 65 to 1. In that repressive and conservative social environment the consequences were dreadful and far-reaching for the women. Worse. we were wretchedly unaware of it at the time.
We were dismissively referred to and indeed, referred to ourselves as “female”. As though it was just a chromosomal detail. The sheer rarity of our kind on the college campus did not make us flatteringly popular or desirable. Instead, it put us under a microscope of unwanted focus and derision.
Sub-consciously, we downplayed any evidence of femininity. We dressed dreadfully and without style or makeup – hunched, trying to not be noticed. There was no pleasure in trying to look pretty – androgyny was safer. We did not speak up in classes or enter into discussions for fear of being unpleasantly labeled. I suspect we emulated the boys’ speech patterns and humor and tried to blend in. It never worked. Even the professors took pot shots and seemed to take pleasure in showing us up in a poor light. Breaching this bastion of male occupancy was a serious offense that demanded retribution.
Years later, what irks me most is that I was so busy trying to survive amongst the men, that I did not take the time to become better friends with the women I lived with. Like them, I was more focused on proving I was as clever as any boy. Pointless! Granted, the distaff population was so small that it was entirely possible not to meet a similar minded woman. But most of them were smart and nice and probably needed girl friends as much as I did. Had we supported each other better at least for sheer survival, it would have boosted our collective self-confidence. I came away after four long years without a single close girl friend. But, as a bonus, with a deep-seated and persistent insecurity about not being good enough – academically or otherwise.
At a recent milestone class reunion, not one woman attended. We barely keep in touch. The sense of camaraderie and nostalgia evidenced by the men about their golden college days is wholly absent in me. I feel cheated.
Dating was socially taboo and furtively pursued. Rumors and innuendo swirled around relationships real or imagined. I felt an overwhelming sense of guilt – as though it was “not right” or what a “good girl” would do. Even amongst the girls, we did not discuss our crushes, first loves and lusts or giggle about it. It was not natural and definitely not right.
Repression ran deep in each of us and especially deep in me. I fell head over heels in love with a beautiful and captivating boy but could not bring myself to say it out loud to him. Should have. Could have. Blew it.
I rue the missed opportunities to make friends. I resent having to suppress my feelings in order to conform. I regret not having had the courage to be true to them. I reject an institution, however revered, that devalued femininity. I revile the social order that promoted the misogyny.
I weep for the girl I could have been.