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Breaking down the gender barrier

Bianca Almada | Wednesday, February 6, 2013

At a time not too long ago, writing “female” on a college application qualified someone as a minority student. Luckily, our world has made a great deal of progress since then, and the male-female ratio in colleges has been steadily moving in favor of females since the 1970s. Despite this fact, however, the male and female college experiences can still be very distinct from each other, and various traditional stereotypes regarding women in colleges still permeate college life.
It is common for college women to feel the need to prove themselves academically to their peers, especially at a university with such a strong male-only tradition. They must prove they are not here to earn their MRS degrees. They are not here to meet the pristine Notre Dame men of their dreams, get rings by spring, get married in the Basilica or populate the future of the university with their offspring.
I have spent ample time with countless Notre Dame women, and what I have found is that none of them match this old stereotype. Notre Dame women are intelligent, independent and ambitious. They know their strengths and have bright plans for their futures. They know who they are and what they want, and they are not afraid to take the necessary steps to achieve their goals. They are some of the hardest workers on this campus. 
And yet they are often treated differently by their peers. Their professors and mentors expect them to be the intelligent, ambitious women they are, but their male peers often then expect them to be fun, attractive, loose and flirty. Men want them to swoon at their superior intelligence, their good looks or their “best dorm on campus.” And then they often assert that Notre Dame women cannot meet these sexist expectations, perhaps because they are better than what these expectations insinuate. This works to create a very odd gender culture.
Jokes are made regarding the “slim pickings” among Notre Dame women, and men tease each other about wearing “Notre Dame goggles” when socializing with Notre Dame women. These terms are, without a doubt, insulting and unnecessary as well as incorrect. One need only take a walk across the Notre Dame campus to see it is full of beautiful women, women who any man would be lucky to know.
These stereotypes in turn create an odd, unnecessary competition between the women of Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s. But I chose to beg the question, what is the prize? Notre Dame men? A better weekend reputation? I can assure you “winning” more men to date or more invitations to parties is not a competition worth these women’s time – from either college – and it is insulting to their intelligence as people. 
This odd social culture detracts from the focus of what these women really are – smart, talented and independent. They are the presidents of clubs, the winners of prestigious scholarships and awards and the researchers of groundbreaking findings. They are doing amazing things every day and are successful in their own right.
However, some boundaries still remain. On the numerous running tickets for student body president and vice president, only one woman was present, and it was for the secondary position. Females in certain majors, especially engineering, still receive strange responses from others and negative reputations among their peers. Rules and regulations in women’s dorms are much stricter than those in men’s dorms. Women rarely host weekend social events, contributing to the false idea that women need to be in the presence of men in order to enjoy themselves. A woman cannot be president of Notre Dame, based on the rule that women cannot be priests.
Though society has come a long way regarding women, it still has a fair distance to go. College is everybody’s in-between time, and everyone, male and female, deserves to enjoy it equally and with respect.
Bianca Almada is a freshman residing in Cavanaugh Hall. She is studying English, Spanish and journalism. She can be contacted at balmada@nd.edu
    The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.