Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Subvert Those Expectations, Ladies! (Do Not Read This, It's Self-Aggrandizing Dribble. Even More So Than Usual.)

Last week I picked up my graduation gown, er robe? Whatever, there's also a scarf thing and a suspiciously marked hat. I woke up at 6:30 to stand in line for this thing, and it's wrinkled and dirty and reeks of mothballs. But as I'm about to graduate and leave these hallowed halls with the most useless degree EVER, instead of getting nostalgic, I kind of feel like that robe holds some sort of greater, symbolic meaning. HOLD ON, HERE COMES A METAPHOR.

To start, let me make something clear: I never wanted to go to college. Oh sure, I thought of it in a general way, in a, “Oh, I'll totally go to Harvard or something” way. But as time went on and I got older and it became clear to me I'd have to work harder if I wanted to go to some Ivy League school, my interest in college dwindled until senior year was upon me. So I made up some random parameters of small size, in particular states, good English department (which EVERY school has, by the way,) good dance program (whoops,) ability to study abroad for a year (score,) and lastly: really good financial aid. Like completely need blind, required to give you everything you need even if it's everything.

And that's how I ended up at my all-lady college, plain and simple. Women's colleges (or girl's schools, if you're willing to get beaten down by a passing feminist) have a fuck-ton of money and like to give it to you. My school gives you money for fucking everything if you know how to ask correctly: clothing and gas for interviews, internships, books, even food and transportation when I went abroad. Another all-lady college I almost went to promised to pay my airfare home and back to school whenever there was a break. I'm completely serious.

So I looked at my all-lady school on a visit to see family (my school is 3,000 miles away from what used to be home and has somehow, in the last three years, become my permanent home) and it was picturesque as it could possibly be and gets consistently rated in the top-whatever of whatever magazine for housing and food and here was the kicker: has NO GENERAL REQUIREMENTS. I could just read for four years, no need to fake exploration. So I went home, read Franny and Zooey, The Bell Jar, and Mona Lisa Smile, and imagined a life surrounded by women in a kind of natural solidarity where we'd have secret clubs and all be going crazy, but there would be a lot of pearls and tea and men waiting in the lobby of our houses.

No. Just, no. I probably should have done more research before I came here. Research about my college or colleges like it after 1955.

I was dropped into a liberal-feminist-a-bi-homo-sexual-social-construct-defying-patriarchy-smashing-heteronormative-is-a-word-socially-awkward-politically-correct-diverse-in-some-ways environment, and was totally taken by surprise. I grew up in a tolerant, accepting place with an understanding and liberal mother, but this was like a fucking explosion of hippie stereotypes. Basically, I came to my school expecting a pressed, silk gown, and was handed this fucking mess of dirty, stained robes with weird fingerprints on it.

What I mean is: taking Sociology and having everyone fight over gender stereotypes because everyone is from different places (states, cultures, countries) with different stereotypes while your poor, Swedish professor asks you what Thanksgiving is. Or having a boy visit you and getting asked who he “belongs to” every time he's by himself. Or saying you're sticking with the English major because you plan to marry rich and be a housewife, just to fuck with people. Or having more than one “that girl” in every class. Or watching porn with your housemates as a house tradition. Or everyone agreeing about everything that doesn't have to do with some sort of PC pissing contest, especially if it's the professor's opinion. Or sometimes thinking you might actually be “that girl,” but don't worry, as soon as the girl on the left of you talks, you'll feel better. Or there's always the weird, socially-awkward events, meaning all of them. Or how there's always one older woman in your class who quotes her life experience like an authoritative text. Or the way you have to self-correct most of your sentences in order not to offend someone, or possibly everyone in the room. Or how you will actually, at some point, get assigned a paper where you have to talk about your feelings about a poem, instead of a literary interpretation. Or how sometimes your dance classes turn into weird massage-parties where you roll around on top of each other. Or how you'll spend four years fending off lesbian jokes, even though you're straight and have a boyfriend, thanks Aunt Bunny. Or how there's a class about Vampires and about six on sex in its various incarnations, as well as concentrations in queer studies, archives, museums, and poetry. Or how this goddamn list could go on forever. Like the time...but no, I'll save that story for later.

Because I came from Southern California to here, and my longest foray anywhere else was a year abroad in London, the most multicultural city in the world (literally,) it's only starting to occur to me that I have in some weird way been blessed by these expectations being so terribly subverted. I have been shown the sometime annoyingly tolerant faction of the world, and even if it made me want to renounce feminism and pretty much my entire sex on a daily basis, I have been lucky to have been given this. In the end, it will make me a better and more understanding human being. Even in comparison to all this shit, the reality is still kind of bleak. Now it's time to subvert my expectations of the real world!

Oh my God, in some weird, fucked up way, I'm actually going to miss this. Dirty robe and all.

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