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kgbrown's picture

I am really interested in

I am really interested in talking about Tamar Lewin's article about the Sisters in the Middle East. The idea of recruiting in an area of the world where women are marginalized seems to be positive for women's college if, as pemwrez2009 propsed, a women's college is place for people who have been marginalized for their gender. I have recently been thinking about the role of women's colleges in the Middle East because Bryn Mawr is considering constructing a branch of BMC in the UAE under the umbrella of their larger university. At first I was very excited about the idea of spreading Bryn Mawr to other parts of the world. But when I proudly announced the idea to my boyfriend, he questioned whether opening women's colleges in the Middle East because women are sometimes not allowed to attend co-ed institutions only reinforces the divide of gender in their culture. Usually, I am not able to be presuaded about the importance of women's colleges and, as a tour guide, I can recite backwards and forwards the advantages to attending a women's college. But as I started thinking about what it means to me to be at Bryn Mawr, it seemed as though perhaps reinforcing the purposeful and cultural divide between the genders can work against the feminist cause. Attening a women's college because you want to is extremely empowering. But attending a women's college because you are unable to attend a co-ed college, because a women's college is your only option for secondary education, seems to be a step backwards. Though it is empowering for me to attend Bryn Mawr now, as an institution that was created at the end of the nineteenth century for the "education" of women, I guess I just wonder whether or not the construction of women's colleges today is actually progressive. I also think that the women's colleges that are being set up in the Middle East are not, as Lewin points out, the same as the Sisters: "While single sex schools in the Middle East are protected enviroments, reflecting women's traditional roles in Muslim society, the American colleges...are liberal strongholds where students fiercely debate political action, gender identity, and issues like 'heteronormativity'" (Lewin 1). This statement makes me question whether a branch of Bryn Mawr in the UAE will actually be a Bryn Mawr in the Middle East or whether it will be just be a method for maintaining the traditional female roles of Muslim society. Certainly, I would not support putting Bryn Mawr's name on an institutution that is not in support of breaking down the structure of gender roles and gender identity. I think that in creating a women's college today, we can not return to the model on which the college was founded. Is it really even possible to recreate Bryn Mawr as it is today in the environment of the Middle East?


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