Gender Roles on Campus: Are Today’s Students Regressing?

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In this weekend’s New York Times, Lisa Belkin writes about her discomfort with the gender roles she sees on campus (she’s a professor at Princeton):  women who are intelligent and confident in the classroom, and subservient/skimpily dressed outside of it:

“Why has the pendulum swung back to a feeling that sexualization of women is fun and funny rather than insulting and uncomfortable? Why are so many women O.K. with that? Odds are that the women dancing at [a Halloween/slut-themed] Duke party had mothers who attended more than one Take Back the Night march in their college day. What has changed?”

Some commenters have called Belkin out for assuming that girls in short skirts are being oppressed — perhaps they’re just asserting their sexuality the way they want to. (See the debate over the anti-rape SlutWalk protests for more discussion of the same issue.) But something about Belkin’s subtly troubling account rings true, to me at least. I always get kind of creeped out by the wintertime phenomenon of college girls trotting across Charles Street in sleeveless dresses, dodging snowdrifts while wearing high heels. Aren’t they freezing? (Consider also the series of frat-centric scandals that have erupted over the past year or so.)

Belkin asked some of her journalism students to help with the reporting, and the quotes they contribute give me an icky feeling inside, too: “‘A guy is more or less dependent on the women receiving his advances so if she is not interested, then tough luck for him,’ [one male student] said. ‘I think that in a way the girls relish that power. They can pick and say, “I’m not interested in that guy.” ‘ ” Hopefully these young women are feeling empowered by more than just their ability to reject guys. But an upsetting number of students — both male and female — seem to see it in exactly those terms.

If you’re a college student (or a parent of a college student):  does Belkin’s account ring true? Are today’s students moving in the wrong direction, in terms of gender roles? Or are here expectations outdated?



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