Says you

Readers have much to say about "One Hundred Girls for Every Boy," by Theresa Rusho.

By Salon Staff
Published August 27, 2001 7:27PM (EDT)

As a fellow Wellesley alum, I can tell you that Theresa Rusho is suffering from a severe case of Wellesleyitis, characterized by lack of humor, the tendency to overanalyze and an obsession with gender issues. Believe me, we all get it, though some not as often as others. (Naval gazing and obsessing about gender issues should, after all, be part of the college experience.)

Really, I don't mean to knock Ms. Rusho's experience, but boy, was it different from mine. We didn't have very many men in our classes or our dorms, true. However, Wellesley has a strong relationship with MIT, including cross-listing, and when I was there, MIT was approximately 15 percent women. Consequently, only a bus ride away were hundreds of horny frat boys, quite a few oversexed geeks and some really cool, smart guys who were more than willing to discuss the nature of the universe, engage in some old-fashioned sexual shenanigans or preferably both.

The best thing, however, was that if we Wellesley women wanted to get away from the coed scene, we could. We were in control, and that was wonderful. I know those buses existed in the 1970s, perhaps Ms. Rusho should have hopped on one more often and had some fun.

-- Melissa Madden

It was such a pleasure to read Theresa Rusho's piece about women's colleges. My best friend and I met at Bryn Mawr College (imagine Wellesley, only half the size).

The conventional wisdom about women's colleges conflicted with our experience -- that the absence of men from classes and dorms magnified their importance. A few random Haverford boys at a party would generate far more excitement than they deserved. Our weekends were filled with books and boredom, not feminist bonding.

After one blissful evening at a nearby university -- just sushi, a movie and hanging out with a coed crowd -- I was overwhelmed by the envious realization that for my friends at Penn, the highlight of my semester was just an ordinary Wednesday.

My friend eventually transferred to Penn and I to Harvard, where we collected the kind of college memories that make their way into glossy viewbooks. Men became buddies, hallmates and co-editors, rather than the mysterious obsession they had been at Bryn Mawr. We still shake our heads when we read about how empowering and liberating women's colleges are supposed to be. That's why it was especially delightful to read Theresa's piece together and remember that our experience was far from unique.

-- Hanna Stotland, Bryn Mawr/Harvard '99

I completely identify with Ms. Rusho's experience in an all-female educational environment. I spent seven years in all-girls junior and senior high schools. I too was bookish, not very popular, and my experiences with boys occurred only during summer camp. I had my share of unrequited love, and yes, a few prank calls set up by the more vicious girls in my class.

When it came time for college, I determined that I had had enough of other women. However, I do credit my all-female learning environment during my formative years for the smidgen of self-respect and positive self-image that I did have at age 18. After all, I didn't have to compete with boys for attention or high marks in classes. Or compete with other girls for the popular boys. For that I am thankful.

Among my choices for college were Bryn Mawr, Vassar and a little-known technical school in California called Harvey Mudd. I determined that Bryn Mawr was too close to home (actually, it pretty much was home), Vassar was too concerned about letting everybody succeed, even if it took allowing some students in a class to take exams on their own time, or not to take written exams at all. Harvey Mudd, with its 1:4 female:male ratio seemed just right. It wasn't just that I developed a couple of crushes during my pre-frosh visit. It was also that this group of people were as bookish as I, and yet were really cool, and very nice to me even though I was "just a little kid" in their social hierarchy.

I never got the feeling on the other campuses that I would be accepted by anyone. I am too conservative, too anti-radical-feminist and too analytical. But at HMC, I felt that I was home within 15 minutes. Plus, I wouldn't have to deal with so much of the conniving pettiness of women in dormitory life. I had always had closer male friends anyway, so college was a blast for me. Yeah, there were a lot of keg parties, and public nudity of both sexes, but you know what? I wasn't oppressed, or smothered, or offended, or subjugated to a submissive role during any of that. Instead, my soul finally felt free.

-- Kristine Funkhouser Nowak

I do not discount Ms. Rusho's experiences at Wellesley, but as someone who graduated from the same school at around the same time, I had a widely different reaction to the college. I was extremely hesitant to attend a women's college for a number of reasons, not the least of which was that in high school almost all of my friends were male, but I quickly discovered that my fears had been unfounded. I learned about the strengths of women through my many wonderful female friends and I enjoyed my classes, single-sex and coed, with little differentiation between the two. Although I had certain friends who seemed mired in female-oriented polemic, my classes (I focused on art history, history, classics and history of religion, all of which could have been easily made into female-centered courses) were as diverse and as intense as at any highly ranked liberal arts college.

When I went off to Harvard for graduate school, I immediately was struck by how different it was, but it was not for its male students. Instead, the classes were larger, the professors more distant and the discussions less compelling. To me, students are students, and, while I enjoyed making new friends at Harvard, male and female, I missed the intensity of the Wellesley learning (and living) experience. Having men around had nothing to do with it.

Perhaps some of my difference in opinion is that I had a steady boyfriend (now my husband of almost two years) throughout college and had other male friends as well. I didn't particularly miss men in my classes, and they were everywhere else with great regularity. Sure, many things about Wellesley annoyed me, and it is not the place for everyone, but I enjoyed the passion of its students and the peacefulness of its campus. When I wanted to socialize outside of the company of women, I could go to Boston or elsewhere, but when I wanted to learn, to talk and to sleep, I would go home, to Wellesley.

Ms. Rusho's experiences and longings are certainly not unique, but they are perhaps not representative of the majority of Wellesley alumnae. I went into Wellesley expecting to find myself in the company of women hiding from the world, and instead I found an exceptional body of intelligent, interested and passionate students who all just happened to be female. I could not have asked for a better college experience.

Thank you for printing Ms. Rusho's thoughts.

-- Caroline A. Hazen

I attended one of the seven sister colleges and not until I entered the work world did I realize what a women's education had fostered in me. In the company of 60 where I am currently employed there is one woman director, one woman in the engineering department and eight female administrators.

The fact is that I am no longer shocked or surprised by this; it is the status quo. I am an engineer; I have had to work 10 times as hard to get the respect automatically afforded to any of my male coworkers. I listen to a constant stream of jokes and misconceptions concerning women on a daily basis and then I revel in my ability to talk above the heads of male executives with a dumbfounded expression on their face.

I do not fit into their predefined categories concerning women, I am not filled with self-doubt, I make no apologies, I do not back down, I do not whine. I do none of these things, so where do men get their ideas about women being less intelligent, weak-willed and emotionally unstable? From women who doubt themselves, whine, cry and play dumb because that is how they have learned to react, and men reward them for it.

When women are not allowed to fall back on learned responses, are expected to defend their opinions, taught to respond with intelligence and not emotional posturing they have truly learned the lessons of a women's college. I have been called a feminist and a bitch -- both synonyms for Smithie.

-- Tara Pepis

As a Wellesley alumna, class of 1998, I am the first to admit that Wellesley may not be the right college experience for every woman. It appears that this may have been the case for Theresa Rusho. However, it occurs to me that Ms. Rusho's negative experience at Wellesley and her subsequent fascination with the men she encountered at Harvard may not have been Wellesley College's fault. Rather, it may be attributed to Ms. Rusho's lack of interaction with men and boys prior to attending college and, surprisingly, her apparent failure to ever encounter them during her first years at Wellesley.

As she describes it herself, prior to attending Wellesley her "lifetime experience with the opposite sex involved little more than unrequited crushes and incoming prank phone calls." She then indicates that talking to men was "something that had been almost completely absent from [her] everyday life from age 18 to 20."

By the time many of us entered Wellesley, our relationships with the opposity sex had developed past that initial stage of prank calls and unrequited crushes. And for those of us who hadn't, many of us we were able to develop and maintain friendships and relationships with men while at Wellesley. Which is not to say we didn't miss men at times, but we were able to be happy and fulfilled without them playing a central role in our day-to-day lives. More than that, I think many of us at Wellesley grew and excelled in ways we might not have had we been at a co-ed institution.

I also found Rusho's criticism of the women-slanted educational experience at Wellesley to be fairly weak. To use a feminist political theory class as an example of that slant serves to undermine her point. Feminist Political Theory is about feminist political theory, whether at Wellesley, Harvard or anywhere else.

Having graduated from Wellesley three years ago, I have learned not to blindly attack anyone who criticizes a place that I hold dear, but to understand the source of her criticism. And I think I understand why Rusho didn't enjoy her Wellesley experience, I just don't happen to think it was the college's fault.

-- Vanessa Kroll Bennett

As a sophomore, Rusho was surprised to find that "Wellesley was all women: female viewpoints, female commentary, female opinions." What was she expecting? Did she think the sweaty boys playing frisbee on Munger Meadow were going to don their shirts and join her in Poli Sci class? Apparently, Rusho didn't take the same women's studies classes that I did, or she would have learned that the difference between "female opinions" and "male opinions" is an illusionary one, as socially constructed and culturally dependent as what people wear on their feet.

Wellesley is a college, not a dating service. It's fine if women like Rusho want to choose constant male attention over being part of a supportive community of learners, but in the meantime, the rest of us can go to class in our pajamas and discuss the fine points of compiler design without worrying about whether that cute boy over there will think we're too smart.

-- Kirsten Chevalier, Wellesley College Class of 2001

My younger brother attended Wabash College here in Indiana, an all-male institution.

I remember distinctly having discussions with him about some of his classroom experiences, and the female point of view I raised had never occurred to him or any other classmate during the discussions they had.

The lack of female voice and opinion was strikingly absent from much of his thinking. But unlike Theresa Rusho, he never noticed it was missing until I pointed it out to him, and when I did, he was unable to explain why he disagreed with my point of view, or why my ideas were so unsettling to him.

So yes, it seems to me that one-gender education lacks something. But I wonder whether men will ever see that it does.

-- Steph Mineart

Salon Staff

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