I have one thing to say to George W. Bush: I'm as glad as you are that we didn't go to Yale together. I can't imagine spending four years with a classmate so clueless that he would actually tell a woman how much better things were back in the good old days before she and those other "coeds" invaded the university.
As Salon reported Wednesday, Bush told a TV producer that the school really "went downhill since they admitted women" as undergrads in 1969. Bush made the statement in 1994 to Lynn Novick, a co-producer of Ken Burns' PBS documentary series "Baseball," and an alumnus of Yale College's class of '83. Novick said she was "stunned, shocked and insulted" when Bush mused that "something had been lost" with the admission of women. Their entry, as he saw it, had helped precipitate the decline of the fraternities, which offered a "great camaraderie for the men."
Oh, the poor endangered frat boys! If only the girls had stayed at Vassar, the male bonding could have flourished unhindered. (Predictably, a spokesperson for the Bush campaign, as has been the trend of late, denied the report.)
Bush himself never experienced firsthand the indignity of sharing a dining hall, classroom or, horrors, the same gym with the likes of me. He graduated in 1968, the year before Yale went coed. At the time, "boola-boola" alums were so irate at the thought of an influx of female students replacing "Yale men" that they insisted that the college not deviate from its hallowed mission of producing "a thousand male leaders" a year. The first women were sprinkled into each Yale class as tokens so that not one less "male leader" would join the ranks of the tony alums.
Maybe it's not surprising that a C-student, legacy affirmative-action kid like Bush, who graduated just before Yale dropped its ban on women, could still hold such retrograde views. Pamela Haag, director of research for the American Association of University Women Educational Foundation, who got a Ph.D. from Yale in '95, says that "Yale and other Ivy League institutions were changing from being enclaves of elite male privilege to function more according to merit and less according to inherited privileges. The old guard can feel left behind when that happens."
My mother, who was an assistant professor of English at Yale from 1965 to 1971, taught classes full of all-male students before the first few women were allowed to join them. In the weird logic of the male bastion, while she was qualified to teach classes about Chaucer and Spenser to young men, she would not have been allowed to take those same classes when she was an undergraduate.
Of course, all this was back in the dark ages. By the time I attended Yale, some 20 years after Bush, we joked about how we were the throwback alums' worst nightmare. My roommate wrote a term paper for an American women's political history class on the rise of La Leche League, a breast-feeding advocacy group fighting for a formula-free world. Breast-feeding!
Today, Bush's opinion of coeducation seems so ludicrously dated that it's almost redundant to point out how bizarre it is. But now, in the same election season when for a moment it looked as if we could have our first viable female candidate for vice president, it is possible we will elect a man who thinks he was better off because he didn't have to go to college with women.
Imagine his Cabinet and his judicial appointments. Give or take a Condoleezza Rice, won't women on the bench or in the presidential war room represent an assault on "male camaraderie"? One thing's for sure: Bush certainly won't have any female cronies from his "bright college years" to recruit. A thousand male leaders, indeed.
But the most revealing aspect of Bush's comments isn't that he should harbor such a dated point of view. Surely, many of the "Yale men" of his tweedy era still do. The difference is that most of these gentlemen are polite enough to keep their nostalgia for the hale, all-male days at Yale among themselves.
But not George W. Bush. Instead, he guilelessly informs a woman graduate that she should not have been allowed to attend her alma mater, and seems to think there's nothing strange about saying so to her face. It's an act of willful obliviousness that betrays a total sense of entitlement. But this is the same scion who, during a break on a recent appearance on "The Late Show With David Letterman," used the back of a female Letterman aide's blazer to wipe his glasses, without bothering to even ask permission to use her clothing as an impromptu rag.