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"Women's" College?

jfwright's picture

I'm not sure who else in this class uses the blog host tumblr, but I do. Recently, I came across a conversation started by a trans* female author, titled "People who attend cissexist "women only" colleges". The following is the entire first post:

Your college is a joke.
I hope you wake up every day and think, “I wonder why my college sucks as greatly as it does.”
But you don’t have to wonder. It sucks because it’s cissexist.
And I don’t know if Bryn Mawr is an inclusive environment, but after reading this paper [tw: cissexism, biological determinism, an anti-intersex slur or two], I hope every person there is ashamed of their school.
I hope every single person there feels bad.

A bunch of Bryn Mawr students (myself included) rushed to defend Bryn Mawr, explaining that Admissions' policy is to accept applications on a case-by-case basis. But, in some ways, I can't help feeling that she's right. I DO feel ashamed that Bryn Mawr doesn't have a firm policy on accepting trans* women: as a school that was started with an attempt to help remedy the hugely problematic disinclusion of women in higher education, how can we ignore a disenfranchised group of women? How come we don't accept their applications unconditionally, and then accept or reject their admission as we would any other student? Why do we have to have a condition on the acceptance of women whose rights need to be supported?

I also find the term "women's" college to be problematic. While it hearkens back to our founding, it's not true anymore. We have a substantial trans masculine population on campus; doesn't it invalidate the identities of trans* masculine individuals for them to be subsumed under the title "women's" college? On a personal note, since coming out as genderqueer, the term women's college has been a sticking point: did I really belong here? I know quite a few trans masculine people who have had similar feelings.

Judith Butler talked about the right to appear. At Bryn Mawr, who has that right? Do trans masculine people who attend women's colleges? Do trans women, whose applications may be rejected based on status of transition? It's hard to say. While I, personally, don't "feel bad" as the author would have be feel, I have spent the past several days questioning Bryn Mawr's definition of "women." As we enter the activism unit of our course, I think it's a valuable thing to be questioning.


S. Yaeger's picture

I was also involved in the

I was also involved in the tumblr discussion, and it has me questioning as well. 

I think the tumblr OP is right to question both how Bryn Mawr can be considered a women's college if there are men who attend, as well as to question why the school does not admit women based on their identity as such, instead of a biological determinate.  

Since then, I have read and heard a million different lines about the school's policy, and they all seem to circumvent the actual question.  What I am wondering is if a trans woman has even been admitted.

Amophrast's picture

I also think it's interesting

I also think it's interesting to point out the the paper bloggers are responding to is from a class that was taught by Anne in 2009. I also came across the post Autumn and Eve made was was surprised to find myself linked back to BMC in such a way, which makes me wonder what other leaps through time we can make via Serendip

aybala50's picture

All Female College

The impression I'm getting on this topic is that nobody wants to talk about it. I wanted to write about this in my last paper, but ended up doing a project that was more questioning the process in which Bryn Mawr accepts/rejects trans women. I talked to several people in administrator positions and was told by all of them that they did not want to be quoted in their answers. One of them tried to explain to me why she believes we do not accept trans women, or rather why it would make sense for us to accept biologically female women. This person's argument was that if you are born with female genitalia you grow up with the experience of a woman. This argument really didn't sit well with me as I do not know that there is one single experience of being a "woman"? All of our experiences of being a women and the impact this has had on our lives is different and to say that a person born with a penis does not have the experience of being a woman as a trans woman also didn't sit well with me. 

Overall, I got the impression that this is not a topic that people generally feel uncomfortable talking about. However, we really need to talk about it. The Bryn Mawr website talks about the history of this school. One of the main reason for our identification as a Women's College was found on the grounds of giving women an equal education while this did not seem to be the case. Can we expand our definition of who we include? We are not an all women's college, we are an all female college. The college's policy on tran's students is we will accept females and if, after arriving at Bryn Mawr, they choose to transition then we support this decision?