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 created on: Monday, February 16th, 2015

 category: 
global, USA

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English, Arabic

Many Americans refer to their high school experience as a nightmare, but this was absolutely not the case for me. I thrived both socially and academically; I felt comfortable vocalizing my opinion during class, and I was active in the student leadership circles. The notion of ‘sexism’ remained a concept in abstraction – I never imagined it could affect me personally.

Now, I’m finishing a Gender Studies degree at one of the most prestigious institutions in the US, which also happens to be a women’s college. At 22 years old, I’m the chair of the feminist student group and a Gender Studies liaison. My high school self would be scoffing at my current situation.

After finishing up traditional American high school, I spent a year working and traveling around Europe. Winter brought the college application process, and I was cajoled into applying to my current university by my older brother. I argued with him about it for ages. Why would I want to spend four years at an institution that excludes men? I didn’t even hang out with that many girls in high school. A bunch of girls living together wouldn’t that just be catty and dramatic?

Eventually I chose to trust my brother’s wisdom.

Springtime finds me working at a backpacker’s hostel in Istanbul. I’ve been accepted at almost all of my top schools, and I have yet to make a choice. There are three American boys sitting in the lobby, chatting and joking. I take in their casual confidence, their cheeky grins and floppy hair. There is nothing particularly striking about any of them; each represents the easy masculinity of the young American male. One makes a bad joke and I giggle reflexively.

I’ll never forget this moment. The giggle bubbles up out of me like an involuntary throat contraction. It’s girly and sweet. The boys continue talking, but I’m stuck listening to the reverberations of that giggle. That giggle, reflexively bunched at the base of my subconscious, is an effort to feminize myself around what my body recognizes as a masculine presence. The boy’s joke was not funny. I had giggled myself into a moment of clarity. I was feminizing myself around them. I have to work out these issues, I realize. Why should I have to do that work at the same time as my studies?

One part of my high school self has never changed – I am still dedicated to my academic work. At my women’s college, the emphasis on collectivity and community leaves no room for cattiness or vicious competition. The absence of the male gaze fosters an environment of body-positivity and self-love. This structure allows for a a sense of welcome for women from all walks of life. I’ve never encountered peer support in an institution that could rival what I’ve experienced. The goal is to foster a community in which women have greater access to engage in academic opportunities.

I wish I could tell my high school self all the things I know now. My journey from strong-headed adolescent to ardent feminist has been literally life-changing.

In America, oppression of women has been largely absorbed as infrastructural violence. Femininity is associated not with strength, but passivity. A long history of sexism has erased the femaleness from the cultural narrative, so the majority of celebrated historical figures are men. A women-only space, specifically in an institute of higher learning, cultivates a healthy relationship with one’s ego and advances opportunities of academic advancement.

I was lucky that high school was never a nightmare for me. Nowadays, I am confident that attending a women’s college will help me fulfill my dreams.