Some Amherst Memories: The girl/woman problem
Freshman year: My RC told me I was no longer to use the word "girl." We were women now. It didn't ring true. This same RC told me, as I was playing "Some Girls" on my CD player that he no longer listened to the Rolling Stones--they weren't very nice to women. I didn't quite get it. To follow that course seemed like it meant I had a chip on my shoulder.
Sophomore year: The whole vocabulary thing started to become very important to me. My roommate and I -- both, as it happens, recently upset by a relationship with a guy -- went on a rampage. It wasn't a conscious thing, actually, and I've always been surprised looking back at how suddenly I hit Amherst feminism. We both joined the Women's Center. We helped start "Madness, This?" a women's literary magazine. We listened only to what we called "strong women" singers--Joan Armatrading, Julia Fordham, Annie Lennox. The word "girl" was erradicated. It was a year where I referred to even nursery school children as women. These were all good experiences. I'm glad I did them. But they aren't actually what helped me figure out the whole girl/woman dilemma.
Junior year: Two important memories that are very clear to me still. I hold on to them, because they were the first time I experienced that power.
Junior year was the year of "women's tap." For a month or two, every Thursday night someone on campus would get a keg and huge numbers of women would show up to hang out before going off to the "official" tap. It drove the guys nuts. I'm talking about the guys who were our best friends--the ones who "understood," the ones who were "sensitive," the ones who were politically correct, the ones who treated women the "right" way. "The point is not to separate the sexes even more," one friend said. "The point is not to ostracize men." Another friend told me he felt left out. Once a guy came in for a beer, and though he was welcomed in, he quickly left. A hundred women having fun just made them all so uncomfortable.
Junior year was also the year of date rape. For a couple of months date rape was the the most important issue on campus--several cases both current and past suddenly hit the campus consciousness sparking lots of debates about who was telling the truth, how we can figure out the truth, whose fault it was, how to stop it, etc. After rugby practice one day, the captains called a meeting to discuss the subject--mostly just to remind people that they had a support group in the team if they needed it. I remember one woman--always loud, always fun, always intense--saying "I would go to the mat for any of you guys." It's hard to describe the feeling of hearing that without using cliches: these were the strongest, most fun women I knew, and to know that we were there for each other was incredibly empowering. After the talk, we all streamed up from the fields to Valentine for dinner. Five us linked arm in arm were walking up a path, as two men walked towards us. One looked at the other one and said, "that's scary" and they both split off the path to get out of our way. We started to laugh. Together we were so strong.
No, the point isn't to ostracize men, nor to scare them. But it's nice--every once in awhile--to know what it feels like to be the one doing the scaring. That power thing is very nebulous. Most women--especially at the intelligence and skill level that comes out of Amherst--haven't experienced obvious descrimination. But we've all felt powerless sometimes, and you're just never sure whether that's because you're female or what. How great to know for sure, just a few times, that you completely had the power.
Of course, we're aiming for neutral. An even mix of the sexes. A place where you don't have to have a chip on your shoulder and always say "woman" instead of "girl." But when you're focusing in on an ideal you always have to let the pendulum swing past the point before you can find it. If you're starting out at a disadvantage you need to move all the way past neutral and then come back to it. You need to know power, you need to call nursery school kids "women," you need to make the boys feel uncomfortable, and then zero in on neutral from the other side.
Senior year: I still played rugby, I still worked in the Women's Center, I still worked for Madness, This? and I still listened only to women singers.
But I started calling it Chick Rock.