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Conservative Liberals

aybala50's picture

My first project this year was stepping back and looking at the changing definition of a "woman" at Bryn Mawr College requiring admission policies. I traced the change from the opening of the college to its recent definition of a woman. In my second webevent I played with language and its limitations using the game Taboo. I learned that it is because of the limitations of language we fail to fully express ourselves and it is this failure that leads to curiousity and learning.

What are the limitations of language at Bryn Mawr?
Bryn Mawr has taboo topics.
Topics that are not discussed will not change.
Change is necessary for the existing definition of women at Bryn Mawr.
If we discuss women, will it lead to change?
Is change what we need?

I talked to a few friends to try and figure out what topics are taboo at Bryn Mawr. I had several suggestions and chose some to use as examples:

I'm pro-life
   I don't believe in gay marriage
             Bush is awesome!
 I don't want to go to graduate school, I want to be a stay at home mom
                            I'm straight
                                                                       I'm a man
                                       I'm trans

Why are these topics taboo?

                       Are they taboo for everyone?

                                                          Are they taboo during all discussions?

Some scenarios I was told about by friends:
-  Person in a car with several others. Person expresses unpopular view on abortion and the conversation ends. It doesn't lead to a debate, further questions, education. It ends.

- In class student "comes out" as conservative. Professor and students laugh and start making Bush jokes.

- Haverboy makes comment about men and women accross history- "what have men historically done to women, that women haven't done to men?"....silence....then other students in class get into a shouting match asking for an explanation for such a ridiculous question

- elected committee at BMC forms and consists of all white students. Rumors of racism start. Next round of elections several non-white members are chosen because "race" was considered, but the issue was never discussed.

- a lot of touchy language...low-income, poor, righ, gender, ethnicity, gender pronouns etc.


What about women?
Are we a taboo topic?
Who makes us up?
What are we?
Who should we be?
Why is the discussion of women and what women are taboo to women?

FORMULA (sometimes)---

Discussion---> Curiousity--->Experience---->Learning--->Change

We are lacking in discussion of certain topics. Without it we cannot learn or make changes.  

Why are we afraid to talk?

Fear of offending someone
Fear of being socially ostracized
Campus culture creates a hostile environment for some
Focus is on confrontations, not discussion

There is a need to be "politically correct", but is this leading to a larger gap between groups?


We need to discuss...the current lack of curiousity will lead to further discomfort in the future

What about the limits to diologue as a way of understanding others' perspective? What other means might we use?

There is increased discussion surrounding the questions of what it means to be a women's college. What is the role of a women's college?

We do not have a public sphere.
Do we have a public sphere?

Why are there taboo topics?
Is it that we are so informed about topics such as abortion that we feel that we don't need to explore it further?
Why are people stuck thinking about issues as having only two sides?
Why does it have to be pro-choice or pro-life?
Why does it have to be man or woman?
Gay or straight?
Home or career?
Male or female? 

We are stuck in a world where binaries rule all
We are conditioned to see the extremes and nothing but the extremes

We NEED to stop thinking in the form of two extremes and two extremes alone

Does woman have to be female?
Does female have to include a vagina?
Can a female have a penis?
Can a penis belong to a woman?

A woman can be everyone
Woman is anyone

Bryn Mawr will not admit non-female women
Bryn Mawr is stuck in a binary
We need to break free

How do we break free
We talk
We discuss
We start thinking
And realizing
The possibilities outside of the binary system
We can make changes
It is our role as an all woman's college
To explore
To expand
To grow
To include
To teach
To learn

We need to start a discussion in which the issue isn't framed in a way that says we are either an all women's college or not

We need to explore our desires, our fantasies, our needs and our wants WITHOUT worrying about what is said to be a possibility or even whether it appears to exist


How do we escape binaries?
Can we enter a thought process in which there are no limits?
Can we imagine a world in which there is no bureaucratic slap in the face for a mere thought?
CAN we really imagine what we want Bryn Mawr to be and not worry about whether it is possible?

We are being told that allowing transwomen to attend Bryn Mawr would mean losing our all-womens status.
We need to think of a way around this, rather than giving up because we are being told it is impossible.

The definition of women is constantly changing and some of these changes have been acknowledged.
It is time to listen again.  


Credit should be given to:
Friends who let me talk and talk for hours and who gave me feedback


Anne Dalke's picture

Dialoging? Diabloging?

what tickles me here first, of course, is the neat way in which you make this project an amalgam of the last two: changing BMC history of women + the limitations of language in Taboo = the limitations of language @ BMC, or: what's taboo here? Bingo!

What I notice, next, is that this is mostly "notes towards" a paper--provocative notes, and maybe more generative of the sort of discussion you want to create by being sketchy and open, not too declarative in the usual-paper-y mode?

I agree that often folks don't enter into conversation because they are already settled on what they know, what they want to believe. They are either not curious about--or actually fearful of--other possibilities.

One of my colleagues was just reminding me @ supper tonight about a passion of hers--a method, articulated by Edgar Schein--for creating true dialogue. See what you think--and then let me know if you would like, for your final project, to get some such dialogue going around some of the topics you list above? How might that happen, in person or on-line?