Jonathan Zimmerman: Barnard College Flap: Competition among Women Shouldn't be over Men





Jonathan Zimmerman, a professor of history and education at New York University, received his BA from Columbia in 1983. He is the author of “Small Wonder: The Little Red Schoolhouse in History and Memory” (Yale University Press).

...You can find [sexist comments directed toward Barnard College] on Columbia’s student blogs, which have lit up with vitriol since the March 3 announcement that President Obama will speak at Barnard’s commencement ceremonies in May. Part of the anger was directed at Mr. Obama, who graduated from Columbia but has never given an address there. But the major target was Barnard itself. Its students are promiscuous gold-diggers, posters wrote, stealing Columbia men from – yes – Columbia women....

Columbia was the last elite American college to admit female undergraduates. Women could attend the graduate schools as well as Barnard, founded in 1889 and named, ironically, after a Columbia president who had fought to admit undergraduate women on the same basis as men.

From the very beginning, Barnard attracted superb students. Indeed, professors found they were often more engaged in their academic endeavors than their counterparts across the street. “The Barnard students are interested in the subject, intelligent, and take hold of it in a satisfactory way,” wrote prominent anthropologist Franz Boas, who taught at both institutions in the early 1900s, “while the quality of the Columbia students is on the whole not as good as I should like to see it.”...

...Forty years after the feminist revolution, could it really be true that young women are defining their lives and selves in terms of relationships with men? And on Morningside Heights, no less, where the likes of Margaret Mead and Mirra Komarovsky urged women to look for more?...

But there is something wrong if this quest starts to trump all of the others. Despite their academic achievements – or, in some cases, because of them – too many bright and talented young women still think they need male companions to make them whole. And they don’t....




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