Don’t Like the Gender Gap? Women’s Colleges Might Just Be the Answer

by Elisabeth Pfeiffer ’15

Rachel Grate and Elisabeth Pfeiffer

As a child growing up, my parents told me that I could be anything I wanted to be and to be proud of my accomplishments. Maybe this is why I wasn’t afraid of attending Scripps College, a women’s college. I wasn’t perturbed by comments like “Is that a lesbian college?” or “Ew, you’ll never see boys!” or “Why would you go to a women’s college?” I knew most of my peers thought I was crazy, but I didn’t care. I didn’t feel like the defining character of my school should be the lack of men, but rather the richness of the community we do have and the possibilities this kind of environment offers.

After our recent election, we celebrated the record number of women elected to our U.S. Senate: 20. A real win for women, right? Forgive me for not celebrating, but we are far from living in a post-feminist era. Having said this, I need to be honest about the fact that I didn’t consider myself a feminist until about the middle of my first year at Scripps. I envisioned feminists as bra-burning angry women who smell bad. Of course, this isn’t true of most feminists, but before coming to Scripps, I wasn’t aware of many important issues impacting women. I thought that, for women, the civil rights days were over, and I was ready to move on to bigger issues, like my messy dorm room.

So, what changed?

I don’t like the stereotypes cultivated at the other Claremont Colleges, one being that Scripps students need to have boys around them. I dislike names I hear around The Claremont Colleges like “Scrippsie” — a term for a student at Scripps College. I find the term patronizing. Worse still, some label us as sluts, calling us “Scrippers.” These terms feel as if others don’t take students at a women’s college seriously. The problem is that people who use these labels don’t understand the relevance of an education at a women’s college. If “slut” has come to mean an intelligent woman who is able to make responsible decisions and stand up for her rights, something is seriously wrong.

Why is Scripps, or any women’s college, still relevant? I will never again be surrounded by such a large community of independent and intelligent women who are so motivated to make a difference. I think Scripps has inspired its students to recognize the abilities they have, and further develop them with more confidence, becoming passionate leaders in their fields. I am currently president of two clubs on campus, which I founded. I also helped organize a food-forthought speaker series for my food politics class and hope to plan more sustainability events on campus in the future.

Before coming to Scripps, I never envisioned I would take on such leadership roles. Maybe I could have done the same at a coed campus, but I’m not so sure. It may not be widely known, but women’s colleges have been known to instill a sense of leadership in their students. Graduates of women’s colleges comprise more than 20 percent of women in Congress and 30 percent of a Businessweek list of rising women in corporate America.

Our nation still has much to do to close the gender gap in Congress, as well as in other professions. I believe women’s colleges have the potential to create a community of empowered women that can take on larger responsibilities and leadership roles post graduation. Personally, I believe that because I am surrounded by strong female role models, I am inspired to become a leader myself, in order to make a positive difference.

I encourage you to reevaluate your preconceived ideas about a women’s college. After all, we truly will have something to celebrate when the male-female ratio in Congress reaches 50-50. Studies have shown that women are more likely to compromise and try to reach consensus, something we need, especially considering the fiscal cliff. More women in Congress also means more discussion about issues such as education, clean air, women’s health, and equal pay, according to U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer.

“Believe me, the agenda has changed along with the gender change because they can’t be ignored,” Boxer recently said. Moreover, according to Women in the World Foundation, studies have shown that “when women’s representation in legislatures reaches 30 percent, policies and national budgets become much more equitable.”

Don’t like the gender gap? Women’s colleges might just be the answer.


Elisabeth Pfeiffer (above, right) contributes to The Huffington Post on its blog as a college student contributing writer, where this article originally ran on December 11, 2012. “Don’t Like the Gender Gap?” created a heated yet intelligent debate among some students from The Claremont Colleges when an opposing opinion piece ran in January.

In response to the crossfire of opinions online, Pfeiffer said: “I am so proud of how supportive the entire Scripps community has been of my article. I never expected the article to cause so much controversy among The Claremont Colleges, but I believe that openly discussing underlying issues surrounding gender structures has made the Scripps community stronger than ever. I hope we will continue to have a constructive dialogue about the value of women’s colleges as we move forward as strong, independent women, learning to become leaders who can restructure society and challenge the gender gap.”

 

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