The Occidental Weekly, September 1944: A headline on the front page reads “’Men Only’ Theme for Men’s Stag Night.”
“‘For Men Only’ is to be the theme of the Men’s Stag which will be held on October 6 in the Gymnasium … This is an annual event which brings forth student talent as well as professional entertainment … Free smokes are offered for those who attend … All students are urged to attend this all men get-together … As the program is under the sponsorship of M.S. and is included in the general student body fee, no admission charge is made.”
The disturbing, nearly-comic gender hypocrisy of the article promoting this event is glaring to an Occidental student 70 years later: gender exclusion, male superiority, the irony of urging “all students” to attend an “all men get-together” and most disturbingly, the college’s financial sponsorship of the event. But history is beautiful because it allows us to reflect. Contemplating the evolution of gender equity on college campuses since 1944 can help us understand where we are today and where we have to go.
The article from September 1944 was written a mere three months after the deciding victory in Normandy, the beginning of the end of World War II – D-Day. But the end of World War II also sparked a fire in the forest of American history—the women’s liberation movement. Since 1944, several monumental occurrences played a role in the way we approach gender relations today: the approval of female contraceptives (1956), Affirmative Action (1961), Title IX (1972), Roe vs. Wade (1973) and the widespread ratification of an international bill of rights for women (1979).
Brave individuals, social movements, landmark legislation, cultural transformations and scientific inventions, often complemented by micro-movements on college campuses, have all played a role in the way we understand gender relations. Today we can boast the highest rates of female college enrollment in history, the widespread existence of women’s studies in colleges around the globe and the relative occupational mobility of women, leading to an increasing number of female faculty in colleges.
After all of this, it is easy to assume that groups such as the Associated Men of Occidental College could never exist on our campus today. But many at Occidental hold the opinion that such groups exist informally, operating under different names, still exerting male dominance and masculinity in the same way that Men’s Stag did in 1944.
“It is terribly disgusting that such clubs existed, [but] I’m not so sure it is that much different now,” a female Occidental professor said, under condition of anonymity. “There are several highly masculinized, exclusionary pockets within the institution that have the same membership, but without the identifying offensive name.”
The word equity is packed. The phrase gender equity is exclusive. As junior Somer Greene helped me understand, phrasing and framing of these issues are important.
“This is a human, student, person issue, not a male-female issue. And it is undoubtedly an issue, not a problem, complaint, gripe. When you talk about these things, the way you phrase it is very important,” Greene said. “All of our experiences of inequality are interrelated. We must confront gender equity, but it’s all tied together.”
Shannon Mokoro, professor of Social Work at Salem State University, illuminated the hard facts on gender inequity on college campuses in an article for the Boston Globe. According to the article, less than a quarter of U.S. colleges are led by women. In 2006, only 15 percent of all female first-year students planned to major in science, technology, engineering or math, compared to 29 percent of their male counterparts. According to the American Association of University Professors, women make up just 39 percent of full-time college faculty nationally and the average salary for women college faculty was 81 percent of the amount earned by men.
These inequalities play out at Occidental as well. Although 56 percent of current Occidental students and 47 percent of faculty are female, only 32 percent of the Board of Trustees is female and five of the seven officers of the board are white males. We may have done away with the Men’s Only Night, but we have a long way to go to reach equality.
“Since 1944, Oxy has made huge leaps. Great student activism and involvement has helped shift dynamics,” Magdalena Wittig (junior) said. “But even here, in a liberal, open-minded space, we exist in this kind of giant bubble of heteronormativity. Here it’s a little bubble where we are making some punctures … but small ruptures are what’s important.”
I aim for Anecdotes from the Archives to be a simple exercise in applied history. I dive into The Occidental Weekly archives and stumble upon a year and an article. I read the words of a student who may have written those words in this very seat in Clapp Library. I seek to learn from my predecessors. In this time we call the present, reflection is a powerful tool—from year x to present moment, we see that much has changed, yet much is still the same.
In the book “Island,” Aldous Huxley conjures up an imaginary utopian island full of wise, loving individuals, called Pala. I believe Occidental has Palanese potential.
When asked if they despair when reading history, the Palanese islanders respond, “We don’t despair because we know that things don’t necessarily have to be as bad as in fact they’ve always been. We know that they can be a great deal better. Know it because they already are a great deal better, here and now, on this absurd little island.”
College campuses are generally a microcosm of the larger society with the potential to bring about change. Society has its flaws, apparent in the reading of news, academic journals and history. But I believe that Occidental can be, and on occasion is, an absurd little island of utopian equity.