Battle of the Sexes

Back in December when Michael Barisone came for one of his regular clinics in our area, I audited the rides before and after mine as I normally do.  During one ride, a particularly headstrong gelding was letting his rider know that he didn’t want to play that day.  To the female rider, Michael asked (with his usual humor), “Do you have a boyfriend or husband at home?  You know, a guy that you need to nag if you want him to get something done?  Because I have a wife and I know how it works – you want us to do something for you and you just keep on us until it happens.  And if you’re really good at it, we somehow think that the whole thing is our idea when it’s over.  That’s how you need to be with this horse.”

Every woman in the arena laughed because we knew what he was talking about.  In fact, I don’t think it’s sexist at all to say that men and women approach tasks (and sometimes even life) differently as a general rule.  (Sheryl Sandberg has even gotten a lot of press recently for her campaign to ban use of the word “bossy” for girls.”)

I’m not a scientist so I don’t know what it is exactly that gives us a different mindset; at the end of the day, we’re just different.  Period.  (As equestrians, we all probably agree that mares and geldings are very different creatures in their own right and stallions can sometimes act like an entirely different species of animal.)

In working with students during their college search, I also think it’s fair to say that, not only do young women and young men tend to approach their college selection differently, but their experiences as enrolled college students will be different as well.  As the majority of my students happen to be female, one of the common things that we end up discussing at some point in the search is the idea of adding a women’s college to the list of possibilities (in particular as many of those schools also have top riding programs).

Usually the idea is shot down very quickly.  “All girls?!  With no boys?!  I could never do that!”

To be fair, I attended a co-ed college and even lived on a co-ed hall as a first-year student (wherein a large part of my education during the first semester happened outside of the classroom as I learned exactly what living with college-aged young men actually means).  Post-college, my life has turned out fine and I’ve worked successfully in both male-dominated and female-dominated office environments, but the more students and alumnae I meet from women’s colleges, the more I can clearly see the value found in that form of education.

So girls, this blog entry is for you.  Whether you’re bossy or not, the following four reasons should make you at least consider a women’s college:

  1. It won’t hinder your dating life.  I’ve visited nearly ten women’s colleges in the last year and a half and talked with countless students, all of whom talk about their dating lives in the exact same way that I hear students from co-ed institutions discuss it.  There is always talk of social events both on and off campus, parties, and experiences that are shared with a significant other.  College students tend to fall into their own social networks after high school (both on and offline) through the friends they make on campus and through high school friends on other campuses.  Where there are large groups of students, there is always meeting, mingling, and there’s dating for those who want to do so.  The gender makeup on your campus won’t change that.
  2. It can reduce your stress level.  Students from women’s colleges never fail to report how much easier their lives are without the “distraction” of having men their own age on campus.  There’s no need to worry about looking cute for that boy in your American literature course so that he’ll notice and ask you to his fraternity formal next weekend.  Instead, you can dress up just because you feel like it – or not dress up at all.  The environment at a women’s college tends to be open, accepting, and a safe place for girls to learn without worrying about what others (namely boys) think about it.
  3. It should inspire you to speak your mind.  Think about your high school math class right now:  when the teacher asks a question, do you put your hand up right away if you know the answer or do you let the boy in the fourth row beat you to it?  Research studies have shown that young women often behave differently in co-ed classrooms than they do in an all-female environment; that is, they’re less likely to speak up and more likely to defer to a male student.  What’s more, women’s college students that I’ve spoken to have reported similar experiences and told me that being at a women’s college has turned them into the kind of women who now speak freely in all situations, whether men are present or not.  (In particular, if you’re considering a science or business career, a women’s college environment might be the best preparation you can have for those traditionally male-dominated fields.)
  4. It will connect you to an expansive network of alumnae after graduation.  Small colleges in general tend to have very close-knit networks of alumni who often look out for recent graduates by hiring them in to their companies or serving as reference to get them in to other ones.  Still, no colleges have such enthusiastic and inclusive networks as those of women’s colleges.  Alumnae from women’s colleges tend to stay more connected to their alma maters and assist students with fantastic internship and first job possibilities long after their diploma has been framed and hung – and even if you’re changing careers for the eighth time, the alumnae network will be there to support you.  It’s an advantage that other college graduates often lack – and since successfully negotiating the job market is often more about who you know than anything else, it’s one you might find extremely beneficial.

Remember, ladies – the number one reason to enroll in college is to give yourself every possible advantage for your future, both through what you learn from the professors who teach your classes and through the culture of the campus on which your classes occur.  You’re there to soak up knowledge, to make friends, and to have experiences that will shape your career path and the path you’ll be on for the rest of your life.  If a women’s college can offer you everything you’re looking for in an educational institution, why wouldn’t you attend one?

(Want to talk about women’s colleges or possible co-ed opportunities?  Contact me.)

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