Wheeler: More Than an Object
By Katie Wheeler, Contributing Columnist
Published on Friday, May 25, 2012
The first time my friends and I descended into a frat basement, we were immediately confronted with the eager whisperings of upperclassmen: “She’s cute. That ones ok. She’s a zero.” I remember my discomfort in the face of these quick judgments, these cruel labels of attractiveness and subsequent worth. I remember my frustration with a school of supposed intellectuals who dismissed or accepted their peers on such a superficial basis.
As Spring term comes to an end, I find myself wondering what it means to be a freshman woman at Dartmouth. I’ve had many amazing experiences in all parts of Dartmouth life. But there are some aspects of my experience and the experiences of my fellow freshman women that concern me. Of course, I cannot attempt to prescribe some sort of metanarrative that defines exactly what it means to be a freshman woman here at Dartmouth. But in my time at this school, I’ve come to believe that freshman women here share in a particular set of obstacles and abuses.
First, to be a freshman woman is, in many cases, to be objectified. In a frat basement, freshman women are often perceived not as intelligent human beings with academic and extracurricular interests, passions and pursuits. Rather, we are judged as mere objects of a certain superficial value. It is the way we look that determines whether or not we get handed a beer at the bar or asked to play pong. In the unfamiliar, male-dominated space that is the frat basement, freshman women are left to the whims of upperclassmen who can accept or discard us after a cursory encounter. We often represent nothing more than potential hook-ups and consequently, we are treated as subordinates who exist merely for the convenience and pleasure of upperclassmen.
To be a freshman woman is also, to some extent, to be naive. Sometimes, freshman women reinforce the stereotypes of the Dartmouth social scene, even without fully realizing it. At times, we do things because we think we should, because it seems to be the “correct” freshman girl behavior. We feel obligated to come up with some flirty handshake with our pong partner even if we aren’t at all romantically interested in him. We suck up to upperclassmen because it helps us feel significant in a system where an upperclassman’s attention grants us some sort of status. We strive to get invited to formal and, when we go, drink ourselves sick because it seems like the right and fun thing to do. In our bouts of naivete and the desire to fit in, we do what is expected of us and consequently confine ourselves within the oppressive freshman girl stereotype that we claim to despise.
Because the freshman woman retains a certain degree of naivete, she sometimes earns resentment from those who are more seasoned than she is. Upperclasswomen often shake their heads at the behavior of freshman women who seem to embody the freshman girl stereotype. This cynical and even patronizing perception of freshman women hinders the formation of a meaningful and supportive relationship between them and the upperclasswomen. This is unfortunate because freshman women can learn so much from their older counterparts and upperclasswomen, conversely, stand to learn new and fresh ideas from the freshmen.
Overcoming these obstacles and abuses is no easy task. Women have long been objectified, and freshman women appear to be locked into a stereotype whether they truly consent to it or not. I believe that the best way to better the freshman woman’s experience is by improving the relationships and discussions between upperclasswomen and freshman women. When united, these groups will be better able to determine and shape the way in which a woman can be safe and free at Dartmouth.
Although upperclasswomen and freshman women can be connected through classes and various extracurricular activities at Dartmouth, I feel that the best way to enhance this connection is through groups such as Women’s Forum, in which women can come together to discuss their experiences, struggles and aspirations as women. Bringing together Dartmouth women of different ages, backgrounds and perspectives will further the initiative to liberate them from the pressures of male-dominated social spaces and the stereotypes of these unnecessarily divided groups.