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I Am Wombat, Hear Me Roar

 

Please note: Although the terrible shooting in Virginia this morning must still be fresh in everyone’s mind, I’ve been meaning to post this for a while. I cannot think of another forum in which to share this. For the record, I have embraced diversity in all aspects of life since I was small. Rather, I wonder if mandatory, ham-handed “sensitivity” training that has been de rigueur in U.S. academic institutions since the late 1980s have backfired and contributed to the current climate of absurd intolerance. I’ve wanted to write this for almost 30 years: this is my “coming out” essay.

As a teenager during the late 1980s, I was a serious student. In fact, my fellow classmates voted me “most likely to enjoy writing a research paper.” Academics were my life. I had no close friends, preferring mostly to hang out with boys because they made little personal demands on me. We could talk about anything, as long as it did not creep into the realm of the serious. I wasn’t looking to make a significant personal connection with anyone. Sure, I was horny, but I also feared my own sexuality. Junior year, I had a boyfriend for a hot minute. He touched me—once—and I literally swooned. A week later, he dumped me to resume sexy times with his more experienced ex.

Luckily, the Quaker prep school I attended offered exciting intellectual and artistic pursuits to which I wholly devoted myself. When I wasn’t running the literary magazine with Stalinist zeal, I threw myself into crafting literary essays and reading as many classics as I could. It was only natural that my top college choice should reflect my intellectual rigor. My mother and I visited Bryn Mawr College (BMC) together one crisp, fall day. The grounds were largely deserted. An all-women rugby team practiced in the distance. Dead leaves blew across the grass. I remember being impressed by the stately, church-like architecture, wherein most of the students were assiduously studying. The enticing brochures included photographs of athletically sturdy, preppy women with ruddy cheeks who balanced their scholarly pursuits with brainy leisure activities.

On one level, I was right about BMC. Academically, it was awesome. Classes were small. The professors were not only at the top of their game, they also took their students’ ideas seriously. But the students themselves were a lot like me—high strung and anxious to succeed. I ended up absorbing the collective anxiety and mental pathology. Bulimia was rampant. The transfer rate to other colleges after freshman year seemed high, but the college has asserted that it is comparable to the data for other women’s colleges, which really means that a self-selecting group of 19-year-old women in most all-female institutions of higher learning run for zee hills after one year.

Ultimately, the academic payoff was dwarfed by my impending nervous breakdown. And yet, I might have considered sacrificing my mental health for a degree from BMC if not for one aspect of campus life to which I could not grow accustomed: the pervasive, complete, and utter lack of common sense.

It was as if I had stepped onto a distant planet, untouched by the mores and values of Western culture. White males were simply too rapey. White hetero women were too out of touch, but certainly it was better to have a vagina than not, and the furrier the better. Gay women had a lot of innate wisdom to offer, for sure, but if they were white, they still had too much privilege. No, the ideal was a one-legged, Native American gay woman. She was IT. Needless to say, most BMC students were white hetero women. They needed intensive reprogramming to bring them down a few pegs. However, most women I met there (including myself) were hopelessly insecure. White privilege can only take you so far if you think of yourself as a turd with legs.

I was there to learn and tentatively explore my long-delayed sexuality. Frankly, I was not interested in being told that I was a homophobic racist based solely on my ethnicity, socioeconomic standing, or sexual orientation. I was an individual, consarnit! Until that time, I had enjoyed just being me. I regarded other people in the same way; when I met a black person, or a gay person, or an Asian, or a woman who thought she was a dragon, I evaluated this person as an individual.

In college, labels were suddenly all important. My roommate solemnly informed me that there was a movement on campus to abolish the so-called patriarchal spellings of the words women, history, and woman and replace them with wimmin, herstory, and womyn. I for one did not want to be referred to as a womyn. In addition to being devoid of meaning, it sounded vaguely gynecological. “Why don’t we just call ourselves wombats?” I asked her, exasperated. She didn’t laugh, because there is nothing funny about feminism.

College students today complain that administrators have failed to create “safe spaces” in which they can fully express their perceived hurt. BMC was way ahead of its time. Opportunities to broadcast one’s opinions abounded. One such outlet was the comment board affixed to the wall of the entryway of the dining halls. It was informally referred to as the “napkin board,” the late 80s version of Twitter. My three friends and I read them religiously. The dining service offered a variety of pizzas one night, including the “Hawaiian” variety topped with ham and pineapple. The central napkin (or thread, if you will) angrily objected to the cultural insensitivity of the dining service, citing the exploitation of Hawaii’s native peoples and pineapple farmers. This is but one example of the absurdity that was legitimized by not only the student population but also the administration.

The bi-college community was very advanced when it came to monitoring hate speech and quickly dampening what are today referred to as microaggressions, which are defined as “brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults toward people of color” (as defined by Columbia Teachers College Professor Derald Sue). Although this term was unknown in 1988, I suspect that the Bryn Mawr-Haverford College Self-Government Association (that was not what it was called when I attended: Its name was much more Trotskyite in nature) unofficially expanded the meaning to include language that “marginalizes” white women, who were feeling very left out indeed.

What this comes down to is if two women engaged in a heated verbal altercation over the fact that Sally had sexual relations with Marjorie’s boyfriend, and Marjorie calls Sally an offensive term, Sally can report Marjorie to the student tribunal. Sally would be advised to confront Marjorie to inform how the word made her feel. If Sally does not find Marjorie’s response acceptable, Sally can then ask a Hall or Resident Adviser to intervene as a facilitator. If THIS action failed to satisfy Sally, she could then present the case to the tribunal, which I suppose would put the screws on Marjorie to atone for her dastardly deed (Marjorie, in the meantime, is now banging other guys and could care less about her boyfriend). Of course, the panel’s principal raison d’être was to ensure that all students follow the Honor Code, which basically stipulated that it is not okay to cheat on take-home and in-class examinations or commit plagiarism. At least, this is how I interpreted the political goings on at the time.

Today, I posit that the bi-college honor codes may ironically support free speech on campus. The incident involving Charles Murray at Middlebury College is unlikely to occur at Bryn Mawr or Haverford because their honor codes govern physical and verbal conduct. Granted, a Bryn Mawr student recently withdrew from the college after she was harassed on Facebook by her fellow students for supporting President Trump. But I have not seen any reports of students assaulting speakers with whom they disagree politically. There have been no Daily Wire articles about violent protests in opposition to conservative speakers at either campus. Now, this may mean that speakers who do not lean left are simply not invited to share their ideas. If Middlebury College had an honor code that applied to more than plagiarism (its website indicates that it does not), the students that obstructed Murray’s speech and assaulted the professor would have been harshly censored, perhaps even expelled.

Living in the specter of the aforementioned tribunal did not make me aspire to become a more enlightened, sensitive person. On the contrary, it compelled me to wonder what exactly it would take to piss people off. What if I were to explode one Saturday night in the library, which was faithfully manned by angry, elderly women clad in sensible shoes and woolen skirts, in a Tourette-like eruption of every racist, misogynistic epithet known to man? Perhaps members of the tribunal, who were likely everywhere, would quickly usher me from my study cubicle to install me in a dank, windowless basement where the long, arduous task of reprogramming could begin.

My silent rebellion extended beyond my mere imagination. By December, when most freshmen had found their niches in the Four-Year Lesbian Club or the Make Ancient Greek a Modern Language, I was still foundering socially. Rather than blossoming into an accomplished, ambitious intellectual, I had gained 20 lbs. With the exception of a powerfully built Nordic lad in one of my Haverford classes, most men shuddered in horror à la The Elephant Man when I lumbered into view. As our French professor lectured about the role of gender in comedia dell arte, I felt the Swede’s piercing gaze rest on my bespectacled, puffy face for what seemed to be an unnaturally long time. I was convinced that the warm glow of the mid-afternoon sunlight pouring into the room illuminated my true beauty. That, or he was focused on a large insect that had landed on the wall behind me. Regardless, I had a lot of free time.

During the day, I’d comfortably seat myself in the library’s periodicals section. Mother Jones and The New Yorker were not for me. Intrigued, I instead picked up a copy of National Review. I was delighted to discover that it was edited by the late, great gentleman thinker who has no compare, William F. Buckley, Jr. In high school, I was a fan of his television interview program, Firing Line, an interesting, much more conservative version of My Dinner with Andre. I read the magazine cover to cover with the hope that someone might notice and report me. This regrettably never happened, but my reading habits affirmed my center-right worldview and expanded my vocabulary.

By the fall of my sophomore year, I was mentally spent. When asked to “Take Back the Night,” I politely declined. Traditions in which upperclassmen symbolically passed on their wisdom to freshmen using lanterns (or something like that) elicited cold sarcasm from me instead of emotional tears. I had refused to accept the mantle of victimhood. Womyn I wasn’t, and wombat seemed equally unlikely. Woman would have to do.

Published in Education
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Members have made 65 comments.

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  1. Profile photo of David Foster Member

    Somehow, I doubt that it’s gotten any less-crazy over the intervening years…

    • #1
    • June 14, 2017 at 1:20 pm
    • Like2 likes
  2. Profile photo of Chris O. Member

    Thanks for sharing this personal journey, and, well done! An excellent post. I can’t quite claim to have walked in your shoes while reading, but it was a perspective beyond my experience and, therefore, an education. I appreciate it.

    • #2
    • June 14, 2017 at 1:35 pm
    • Like6 likes
  3. Profile photo of Arthur Beare Member

    Is it just me, or does more of this stuff happen at highly selective, prestigious, and pricey colleges than at less famous schools? Once again a demonstration that a high IQ (students, faculty & presumably the administration of such places) bears no necessary relation to common sense.

    • #3
    • June 14, 2017 at 1:39 pm
    • Like11 likes
  4. Profile photo of Chris O. Member

    Arthur Beare (View Comment):
    Is it just me, or does more of this stuff happen at highly selective, prestigious, and pricey colleges than at less famous schools? Once again a demonstration that a high IQ (students, faculty & presumably the administration of such places) bears no necessary relation to common sense.

    You can avoid it at a larger school and keep to yourself. My college had an enrollment of 1,900 and pretty much everyone knew everyone else’s business. It is much easier to shame a larger number of people when everyone knows you.

    At some point, guilt became a campus currency, and victim status now entitles one to extract it from others, thus making everyone a victim of some sort. Rather than build up, it is always easier to tear down.

    • #4
    • June 14, 2017 at 1:49 pm
    • Like4 likes
  5. Profile photo of ST Coolidge
    ST

    Thanks for an interesting coming out post.


    The Four-Year Lesbian Club sounds like a blast. Wonder if they’d have me?

    • #5
    • June 14, 2017 at 2:00 pm
    • Like11 likes
  6. Profile photo of Mike H Thatcher

    Arthur Beare (View Comment):
    Is it just me, or does more of this stuff happen at highly selective, prestigious, and pricey colleges than at less famous schools? Once again a demonstration that a high IQ (students, faculty & presumably the administration of such places) bears no necessary relation to common sense.

    A lot of academia is devoted to actively rejecting common sense. How else could you differentiate yourself from all the non-educated, “commoners”?

    Many people don’t realize that everything we know to be true and everything we learn to be true is based fundamentally on common sense. So, many of the non-scientific disciplines are actively pursuing methods of inquiry that are the intellectual equivalent of flying blind and are almost certainly to lead to nonsensical and factually incorrect conclusions.

    • #6
    • June 14, 2017 at 2:06 pm
    • Like3 likes
  7. Profile photo of Jimmy Carter Member

    Arthur Beare (View Comment):
    Is it just me, or does more of this stuff happen at highly selective, prestigious, and pricey colleges than at less famous schools? Once again a demonstration that a high IQ (students, faculty & presumably the administration of such places) bears no necessary relation to common sense.

    But there is a relation of tuition to common sense: the higher the tuition the less common sense.

    • #7
    • June 14, 2017 at 2:10 pm
    • Like4 likes
  8. Profile photo of David Foster Member

    Arthur Beare (View Comment):
    Is it just me, or does more of this stuff happen at highly selective, prestigious, and pricey colleges than at less famous schools?

    I would expect that a significant % of those who choose to attend ‘prestige’ schools are people who (a) are obsessed with status, and b) have been willing to manipulate their own personas and activities in order to fit the screen that these colleges apply.

    Not everyone, of course, maybe not even most, but enough of the institution’s population to make a (malign) difference.

    • #8
    • June 14, 2017 at 2:24 pm
    • Like2 likes
  9. Profile photo of Fake John/Jane Galt Thatcher

    I am not sure that roar is the correct term for the noise an angry wombat makes.

    • #9
    • June 14, 2017 at 2:26 pm
    • Like10 likes
  10. Profile photo of RushBabe49 Thatcher

    You will never, ever find a group of nastier, meaner woman than those in a dorm at a small women’s college. I know, I went to one in the late 1960s, and my suite-mates played some really awful pranks on me. Funny, when we came back from Christmas break, all the ugly stuff stopped and we got along fine through the rest of the year.

    • #10
    • June 14, 2017 at 2:26 pm
    • Like3 likes
  11. Profile photo of Seawriter Member

    Aisha O’Connor: My roommate solemnly informed me that there was a movement on campus to abolish the so-called patriarchal spellings of the words women, history, and woman and replace them with wimmin, herstory, and womyn.

    History comes from a Greek word that means “finding out.” Anyone who thinks it come from “his story” is displaying profound ignorance of language and a good measure of laziness as well.

    I use that explanation as a shibboleth. I know I can safely disregard all information or advice given by anyone who tells me history comes from his story. I tell them “That’s nice,” knowing they do not know the etymology of “nice,” either.

    Seawriter

    • #11
    • June 14, 2017 at 2:35 pm
    • Like16 likes
  12. Profile photo of Sash Member

    I also went to a Women’s college, but I was a non traditional student married with four kids… it was great actually. Pretty liberal, but I was not there for social reasons. I want a degree… got one… moved on.

    • #12
    • June 14, 2017 at 3:37 pm
    • Like2 likes
  13. Profile photo of DocJay Member

    Nice article.

    You’re clearly a pretty lady ( I’m not trolling so take that at face value, Woman) as well as smart. I hope you transcended that shyness. I am happy you transcended the madness.

    • #13
    • June 14, 2017 at 4:00 pm
    • Like6 likes
  14. Profile photo of ZStone Thatcher

    Aisha O'Connor: “Why don’t we just call ourselves wombats?” I asked her, exasperated. She didn’t laugh, because there is nothing funny about feminism.

    Wonderful post. To me this line in particular is revealing. I think it explains in large part why anonymous internet communities like 4chan have flourished— there, everything is funny.

    • #14
    • June 14, 2017 at 4:31 pm
    • Like5 likes
  15. Profile photo of Percival Thatcher

    Aisha O'Connor: Living in the specter of the aforementioned tribunal did not make me aspire to become a more enlightened, sensitive person. On the contrary, it compelled me to wonder what exactly it would take to piss people off.

    The path to true enlightenment begins with the first inappropriate snicker.

    • #15
    • June 14, 2017 at 4:46 pm
    • Like12 likes
  16. Profile photo of PW Member
    PW

    Seawriter (View Comment)

    History comes from a Greek word that means “finding out.” Anyone who thinks it come from “his story” is displaying profound ignorance of language and a good measure of laziness as well.

    I use that explanation as a shibboleth. I know I can safely disregard all information or advice given by anyone who tells me history comes from his story. I tell them “That’s nice,” knowing they do not know the etymology of “nice,” either.

    Seawriter

    I so wish I could “like” this comment more than once.

    • #16
    • June 14, 2017 at 4:56 pm
    • Like5 likes
  17. Profile photo of Mike LaRoche Thatcher

    Aisha O’Connor:She didn’t laugh, because there is nothing funny about feminism.

    I’m reminded of this classic:

    • #17
    • June 14, 2017 at 4:57 pm
    • Like11 likes
  18. Profile photo of Chris Campion Thatcher

    This was a rad post.

    Spicoli approves.

    Image result for spicoli

    • #18
    • June 14, 2017 at 5:01 pm
    • Like5 likes
  19. Profile photo of drlorentz Member

    Aisha O'Connor: In high school, I was a fan of his television interview program, Firing Line, an interesting, much more conservative version of My Dinner with Andre.

    I never thought of Firing Line and My Dinner with Andre as belonging in the same category, nor did the latter strike me as being either conservative or leftist. I just thought it was a pretty good flick.

    Otherwise, rad post indeed.

    • #19
    • June 14, 2017 at 5:14 pm
    • Like3 likes
  20. Profile photo of Mike LaRoche Thatcher

    drlorentz (View Comment):

    Aisha O’Connor: In high school, I was a fan of his television interview program, Firing Line, an interesting, much more conservative version of My Dinner with Andre.

    I never thought of Firing Line and My Dinner with Andre as belonging in the same category, nor did the latter strike me as being either conservative or leftist. I just thought it was a pretty good flick.

    Otherwise, rad post indeed.

    WFB (portrayed by Ricochet’s own @joeflaherty) made a monkey out of Meat Loaf on SCTV:

    http://dai.ly/x2hds20

    • #20
    • June 14, 2017 at 5:29 pm
    • Like7 likes
  21. Profile photo of drlorentz Member

    Mike LaRoche (View Comment):
    WFB (portrayed by Ricochet’s own @joeflaherty) made a monkey out of Meat Loaf on SCTV:

    http://dai.ly/x2hds20

    Hilarious. Is the other guy John Candy?

    • #21
    • June 14, 2017 at 5:40 pm
    • Like1 like
  22. Profile photo of Mike LaRoche Thatcher

    drlorentz (View Comment):

    Mike LaRoche (View Comment):
    WFB (portrayed by Ricochet’s own @joeflaherty) made a monkey out of Meat Loaf on SCTV:

    http://dai.ly/x2hds20

    Hilarious. Is the other guy John Candy?

    Yep!

    • #22
    • June 14, 2017 at 5:50 pm
    • LikeLike
  23. Profile photo of jonb60173 Member

    Wow, just wow….

    • #23
    • June 14, 2017 at 5:51 pm
    • Like1 like
  24. Profile photo of Midget Faded Rattlesnake Moderator

    Chris O. (View Comment):

    Arthur Beare (View Comment):
    Is it just me, or does more of this stuff happen at highly selective, prestigious, and pricey colleges than at less famous schools? Once again a demonstration that a high IQ (students, faculty & presumably the administration of such places) bears no necessary relation to common sense.

    You can avoid it at a larger school and keep to yourself. My college had an enrollment of 1,900 and pretty much everyone knew everyone else’s business. It is much easier to shame a larger number of people when everyone knows you.

    My school was one of the larger selective ones, and yes, I was able to avoid it. (It also advertised being a bit more meritocratic than other schools in its “league” – which maybe they all advertise – but the crowd I ran with had plenty of rednecks and immigrants in it, not the stereotypical elite.)

    While it is true my school had a high suicide rate, the craziness causing that wasn’t political. I think the most typical trigger was romantic passions thwarted badly enough to affect academic performance. Youth who are so busy proving themselves at other things may not have spared time to learn to guard their hearts.

    • #24
    • June 14, 2017 at 5:56 pm
    • Like2 likes
  25. Profile photo of Hypatia Member

    BMC is my alma mater too. I was always so proud of it. I was always so glad it never went co-ed.

    But your post doesn’t surprise me. My daughter just graduated from Penn, but had a friend from BMC. It sounds awful. This girl is straight, or as the Sapphites who now make up most of the student body called her, a “breeder”. Then there was the awful incident where some student from the South had a little confederate flag in her rom, that others could see if the door was open. We alums got sober letters assuring us that the administration was very concerned about “the incident”. It took me three inquiries to find out what the hell had happened. ( Nothing.)

    • #25
    • June 14, 2017 at 5:58 pm
    • Like4 likes
  26. Profile photo of Hypatia Member

    #28 continued: Then…The Letter. They were going to “explore” whether they should admit “trans” students. Men.

    I knew that meant they would do it.

    Still I wrote to them:

    Do you think trans-abled people who “Self-identify” as blind or deaf ( but aren’t) should be able to go to,Gallaudet and special schools for the blind?

    No, because born-that-way students NEED those schools.

    And born-that-way women need Bryn Mawr.

    It was a byword for academic excellence, and it was all ours.

    No more.

    Sorry to read this report. Anassa kata! to you anyway.

    • #26
    • June 14, 2017 at 6:06 pm
    • Like6 likes
  27. Profile photo of profdlp Coolidge

    Arthur Beare (View Comment):
    Is it just me, or does more of this stuff happen at highly selective, prestigious, and pricey colleges than at less famous schools?

    In addition to the other excellent answers already noted, I think so, although maybe we notice it more because we (foolishly) expect better. I would add that, while idiocy is common among the poor, it also seems to be a luxury that only the rich can afford. Those of us in the middle class can’t buy our way out of too many goofs so we tend to be, on average, a little more practical.

    By the way, I went to a women’s college, too. They caught me, though…

    • #27
    • June 14, 2017 at 6:08 pm
    • Like5 likes
  28. Profile photo of Ansonia Member

    I really enjoyed this coming out post.

    • #28
    • June 14, 2017 at 6:10 pm
    • Like1 like
  29. Profile photo of Midget Faded Rattlesnake Moderator

    Aisha O'Connor: I had no close friends, preferring mostly to hang out with boys because they made little personal demands on me.

    I had some close friends in high school. Not nearly enough to make me comfortable applying to any all-women’s college, though. Academically, I blended in better with the boys, as it sounded like you did, too, in high school.

    • #29
    • June 14, 2017 at 6:13 pm
    • Like2 likes
  30. Profile photo of Judithann Campbell Member

    Such a great post, thank you! 20 or so years ago, I was a spokesman for our local pro-life group; they asked me to man a pro-life booth at a local women’s college. I was busy and distracted when they made this request, so I just agreed to do it without giving it any thought. It wasn’t until I was driving through the gate that the gravity of what I was doing hit me-thoughts like, OMG, what am I doing? Why did I agree to this? started going through my head, but it was too late.

    It actually turned out fine. I wasn’t alone; there was an older married woman with me, who had attended the college, and she was very nice. We spent a couple of hours chatting while everybody totally ignored us, except for one older woman who came along to lecture us about contraception.

    The nice older married woman spent the whole time telling me about what a crazy place her alma matter was; at one point while she was a student, a group of other students objected to some dance they were holding with a nearby all men’s college, because they said that it encouraged heterosexuality. Still, 20 years ago, two pro-life women were able to spend 2 or 3 hours at a pro-life booth at an all women’s college without being mauled or even verbally accosted. I wonder if that would be possible today.

    • #30
    • June 14, 2017 at 6:15 pm
    • Like7 likes
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