I usually get attention because of the combination of my copper-toned skin and curly red hair. Since becoming a graduate student at Mills, I’ve added having XY chromosomes to that list.
Not noticing the “College for Women, Coed Graduate Programs” heading on the Mills homepage while searching last year for schools in California, I immediately clicked on the “Graduate Programs” link, which prominently featured a photo of a smiling dude between two women. I then clicked on the “English” link, which again featured a smiling dude between two women. I noticed the pattern, but thought little of it.
I read about the prose program, liked it well enough, and decided to ask a friend familiar with the college for her opinion. It was then that I learned the ratio of women to men was significantly higher than 2:1, and that I might be the (nervously) smiling dude between women. So, after reading the mission statement and thinking it to be righteous, I applied.
Being a former New Yorker and Mid-Westerner, I thought any culture shock I experienced would be due to moving west. But after a week on campus, I wondered if it was rude to be first in line for the shuttle. I wondered if casual questions would be misunderstood as pick-up lines. I wondered if I smiled enough. I wondered if the women walking ahead of me at night thought I was dangerous. I wondered if the feeling of being a party crasher would ever fade. I wondered.
Not sure if I was overreacting, I consulted several second-year male grad students.
The first said he understood that Mills was historically a campus for privileged Caucasian females, and being both brown-skinned and male could upset that tradition. He added, however, that he was greeted with nothing but warm smiles and friendly hellos from undergraduate women. “Me being male was more of an issue for me than it was for them,” he said. He also mentioned that being a Mills man has enlightened him about women’s issues as well as made him more aware of his habits. “I’m a feminist, but I’m still learning about my male privilege. I try to use gender-neutral language.”
The second student said he “expected all the undergrads to be indoctrinated and somewhat anti-male,” but he’s gotten only a few dirty looks and sensed nervousness from a small number of undergraduates.
“The actual experience is pretty normal – save for the little-used men’s rooms being cleaner and the gym having lighter weights,” he said. “Also, as men tend more towards ranting and interrupting, it’s nice to be the only one slamming a fist on the desk. Okay, it’s embarrassing.”
When asked whether or not they came to Mills just to score with the ladies, both men replied they would be more successful pervs at a larger coed institution.
These experiences are similar to my own. And even when I feel like the odd man out, I’m vastly more comfortable in my size 12 shoes now than at the beginning of the semester. I still board the shuttle last, however.
-Ishmael Elias, graduate student