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The silent sexism of Notre Dame women

| Wednesday, September 29, 2021

As a Notre Dame alumna, I was deeply disheartened to see the misogynistic and cruel Yik Yak posts that have been circulating on my social media and appreciated Helen Casey’s articulate response in Tuesday’s Viewpoint section, entitled “Thank you, men of Notre Dame,” addressing the Saint Mary’s shaming that takes place on Notre Dame’s campus and beyond. She rightfully calls out the men of Notre Dame for their sexism towards the women of Saint Mary’s, but she graciously leaves out a group of people who are guilty by compliance — Notre Dame women.

From my first day at Notre Dame, there was an unspoken philosophy about Saint Mary’s girls (notice how we even refer to them as “Saint Mary’s girls,” as opposed to “the women of Notre Dame”). It is the understanding of many people at Notre Dame that a woman who attends Saint Mary’s is simply one who did not have the grades to get into Notre Dame. Let alone the fact that maybe she didn’t want to pay the astronomical tuition Notre Dame requires, or even that she (could you imagine) simply did not want to go to Notre Dame. No matter how many Saint Mary’s women sat alongside us in class, going toe-to-toe academically with their Notre Dame colleagues, this elitist attitude still exists.

The systemic bias against Saint Mary’s goes beyond academics, however. As Ms. Casey articulates, the axiom “Notre Dame to wed, Saint Mary’s to bed” permeated Notre Dame culture when I attended the University. As a woman of Notre Dame, I may not have actively taken part in this misogyny, but I certainly did nothing to stop it. After all, as much as this philosophy degrades the women of Saint Mary’s, it presents Notre Dame women as intelligent, classy and worthy of marriage to a Notre Dame man. Say nothing of the sexism Notre Dame men exhibit towards Notre Dame women — we happily ignore this issue by attacking a common victim.

If we want to see change in how the men of Notre Dame treat our sisters at Saint Mary’s, we have to also consider the fact that we are graduating women who are complicit in these types of behaviors. At a time when women’s rights are under attack, it is no accident that it is a Notre Dame woman who may be the final nail in the coffin for dismantling Roe vs. Wade. I implore the women of Notre Dame to consider their attitudes towards the women of Saint Mary’s and ask yourself: Are these sentiments rooted in truth, or in elitism, classism and internalized sexism?

Annie Hollenbeck

Notre Dame, class of 2007

Sept. 28

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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