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Saturday 03 May 2003

Smith College and Gender

The Smith College student government is excising gender-specific pronouns from its constitution in order to be less exclusionary.

Since one of the defining characteristics of Smith is that it excludes students who are not female, this might seem odd. According to the Hampshire Gazette though:

The student government vote is an indication of a deeper issue facing Smith College, and other same-sex institutions, which is that a growing number of students identify themselves as transgender, and say they feel uncomfortable with female pronouns.

“Smith College is a college for women, and within that there is a place for all kinds of women,” said Brenda Allen, director of institutional diversity.

So. If you were born physically female but feel yourself to be psychologically male, you are welcome at Smith College. It seems to me that the proper way to ‘celebrate’ the transgender ‘community’ at Smith would be to throw them out. If having feminine pronouns applied to them could make them feel uncomfortable, every moment they’re students at Smith must be a psychic horror.

In addition to the issue of gender identity, within the transgendered movement there is also the matter of sex-reassignment surgery, formerly known as sex-change operations.

Dean of the College Maureen Mahoney said there is no policy in place at Smith that prevents students from undergoing sex-reassignment surgery while students are at the college.

Does this include male-to-female sex-reassignment surgery (formerly called sex-change operations)? I understand that it’s almost impossible to undergo the surgery as a minor; there’s a lot of psychological counseling involved, and it’s generally felt that you have to have the perspective of an adult to make the decision.

Most of Smith’s entering freshmen would be 18 or 19 years old, so it’s unlikely that a ‘woman’ who was born with a penis and testicles would have been able to have her surgery before entering. Or does ‘all kinds of women’ mean ‘all kinds of people born physically female’? I rather suspect that it does.

[Dean Mahoney] said that though Smith is a women’s college and only accepts women, the school has no intention of rejecting students who undergo a sex-reassignment surgery while a student.

I don’t expect this to happen, but this might be a good time for Smith (and other women’s colleges) to re-examine their premises. The student government at Smith — and thus, I assume, the general Smith vibe — holds that those students who are psychologically male should be accomodated and respected.

Unless, of course, those psychologically male students are also physically male, in which case they must not be allowed to enroll. In the past, the justification for maintaining single-sex colleges for women while forcing all-male institutions to allow women to enroll has been that women perform better in a single-sex environment, and that they’re imtimidated and harmed by, for instance, the generally more competitive, more aggressive style of men in classes.

However, while all natural-born men and women who were born with male genitalia are assumed to be a drag (no pun intended) on women’s education, a man in a Smith class who happens to not have a penis, or who happens to have a surgically-constructed penis, is not.

You can’t have it both ways. If you are determined to see gender as a social construct (and indeed if you’re determined to see sex and gender as discrete things in human beings), you can’t bar the door to people based on what equipment they have.

Posted by tino at 22:51 3.05.03
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I just wanted to say that i am the head of Tangent, the primary gender awareness organization at Smith, and, though i am man identified (female born) and thus am greatly appreciative of the pronoun change, i think that you make some great points in your article and i appreciate the logical analysis you have given, especially since most arguments that aren’t necessarily gung-ho about the change are illogical and poorly articulated. Thanks for discussing these issues and giving a well-thought out and respectful opinion, even if it differs from my own. - Lucas

Posted by: Lucas at October 13, 2003 03:57 PM