Women of Yale, by Harriet H. Coffin

“For the first time in its long male history, Yale College last month graduated women — 182 in a class of 1,132. Called superwomen when first admitted two years ago as transfer students, they have frequently scored higher academically than their male classmates.

But they don’t feel like superwomen. The job market is even leaner for them than for their male classmates; and their two years at Yale have been rougher than expected. If Yale has prepared them for anything, it has prepared them for the male world. Although sometimes subtle, the ghosts of Old Blue haunt and pervade, leaving an atmosphere where women are nice, but men are — well — MEN.

By tradition, Yale is also gallant and gracious; it welcomed its first women genuinely. Or so the men thought. They couldn’t quite understand why the women objected to an opening paragraph in the 1970 Freshman Handbook: ‘Treat Yale as you would a good woman; take advantage of her many gifts, nourish yourself with the fruit of her wisdom, curse her if you will, but congratulate yourself in your possession of her.’

This blindness‐with‐the‐best‐of‐intentions does not pervade the undergraduate body as much as it does members of the faculty and administration, many of whom chose Yale — wittingly or unwittingly — precisely be cause it was a male sanctuary. A typical professor, suddenly aware of the one or two women in class, will politely ask for ‘the feminine view point’ on a matter where it has no academic relevance.

Time and greater exposure may mellow male Yale. A more serious problem is ‘the impossible percentage’ — now roughly five to one (4,000 men to 780 women).

Almost all undergraduates — women and men — want real coeducation, and soon. The present percentage puts a heavy strain on everyone. While a woman feels forever on display, a man has a hard time getting near her with out five or six other men crowding round. The longed‐for friendships are hard to make. If a woman talks sympathetically with a man, she’s apt to be put quickly in the position where she must accept or reject him in bed. The man, on the other hand, feels it might be months before he has a girl to himself again. One common — but not always satisfactory — solution is for a woman to ‘get together’ with one man. Then, recognized as his property, she is free to share his friends. But she often sacrifices her own friends as she does this and both partners may find themselves more locked in than they may want to be.

With feminine ears suddenly on campus, old Mother Yale is fast being replaced by the new Yale mothers. While they may bypass women intellectually, men talk about the intimate and emotional details of life with women in ways they don’t with men. And women were brought up to listen. At Yale, the floodgates are open at a ratio of five talkers to one listener. While women don’t resent the burden, they are frequently exhausted by it. For they are not quite ready to be mothers; they still need mother figures of their own. And Yale provides precious few — two women full professors and a token sprinkling in the lower echelons of the faculty. The few faculty wives who are professionals become strangely invisible under the Big Blue haze at Yale.

Nor is it easy to find women friends among fellow students, scattered as they are throughout the twelve col leges. It is ironic that these students, many of whom left women’s colleges precisely because there were no men, today feel their greatest need is for women friends.

When coeducation was first introduced, President Brewster promised his male alumni not to reduce the number of men in Yale College. Do the alumni really feel so strongly about male Yale that they will cut funds if this happens? Will Yale listen to its undergraduates? Should Yale enlarge its overall enrollment? Nobody really knows. Only one thing is certain: the present situation is not healthy for women or men, academically or socially. Anything short of a fifty‐fifty goal carries the underlying assumption that it is not as important to educate women as it is men. ‘This implicit attitude,’ says Elga Wasserman, Yale’s fair-minded special assistant for women, ‘has an effect on the whole Yale community. Women are not really on an equal footing.’

What is sad is that Yale has a rare opportunity. Although not superwomen, Yale women are high achievers and almost all plan seriously for a marriage‐and‐career life. Yale, therefore, has a chance to pioneer a pattern of relationships in which women no longer defer to men but live in genuine partnership with them. The present ratio blocks the way.”
-Excerpt and (top) image courtesy of the New York Times, Times Machine, “Women of Yale,” by Harriet H. Coffin, illustrated by Randall L. Deihi, Thursday, July 15, 1971

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