In second grade, I spent almost every recess wildly flailing my arms and screaming, “Girls go to college to get more knowledge, boys go to Jupiter to get more stupider.” I was basically offending almost every 8-year-old boy on the playground. This schoolyard rhyme was my girl power anthem. It told me that my place could and will be in a university. But I was hit with the reality of the school system as I went through the educational system. I saw very little females in my textbooks. No female artists. No female narratives. And definitely no female political leaders, unless they were viewed as assets to men- such as Sacajawea and Cleopatra.
This trend continued to carry on to University, where I continued to see a lack of women’s narratives in my classes. But in University, this extended much more further than textbooks. It extended to faculty, class dynamic, and school policies. Because of the lack of female representation, my girl power anthem stopped working. I started to second guess my abilities, and I felt like an impostor within the educational system. It became more and more intimidating to participate as I progressed to higher-level classes. This feeling is something most women feel while navigating the educational system: the sense of being an impostor and not feeling like one can belong or perform in the sea of white men.
The lack of representation of women in textbooks utilized from primary school to university adds to this crushing sense of inadequacy. In a study conducted by Mary Ruthsdotter, Ruthsdotter examined the most commonly used history textbooks in the United States for the number of women that were featured. She found that in the textbook, A History of the United States, women constituted less than 3% of the content. Furthermore, in a study conducted by C.G. O’Kelley, fine arts textbooks were examined to find female representation in text and illustrations. O’Kelley found that women appeared in 30% of the textbook versus their male counterparts, who appeared in 70%.
These studies show the egregious lack of female representation in educational books, which is one of the main reasons women, like myself, have a more difficult time navigating the higher education system. A tool to better societies, specifically female education, is education. Female education has shown to improve social, political, and economic systems; thus, it is disheartening to see that although women have pushed for female rights, there is still a lack of representation. Because of this, women and other minorities feel excluded from college campuses, thinking the only reason they have a spot at a university was due to factors such as affirmative action. Women also often experience being interrupted by men in classroom settings or tend to feel less entitled to their viewpoints, even if they are veritable.
This lack of female narrative has also been apparent in the university’s healthcare systems. Currently, the University of California (UC) system, lacks medicated abortion in their student health centers. This is laughable because the student health centers offer Viagra, which is less safe than medicated abortion. Students and assembly members have been trying to push for medicated abortion, and the bill finally made it to the state capitol last year. It passed through both the assembly and senate but was vetoed by the former governor Jerry Brown. This bill (SB-24) is currently on the table again this year, and students hope that the bill gets passed to grant female students better and more equitable access to sexual health.
Lastly, one of the biggest issues with the exclusion of women on college campuses is the lack of justice females receive in regards to sexual assault. In November of 2018, Betsy Devos, the United States Secretary of Education, proposed changes to the title iX ( set of policies against sexual discrimination) policies within higher education. Many of her proposed changes are an attack on female safety and victims of sexual assault. These changes include limiting the definition, location, and faculty members able to conduct reports of sexual assault on campuses. These changes fail to take into consideration the realities of sexual assault. Sexual assaults can range a variety of actions, and these actions can be taken upon a variety of sexual identities and locations. Limiting the definition, location, and reporters limits the number of victims (who often tend to be women) and protects the universities from liabilities.
Furthermore, universities already lack efficient systems to protect students from sexual assault and violence, even though the universities capitalize on female/LGBTQ+ representation. This was very much apparent in my experience at the University of California, Riverside, where the Chancellor, Kim Wilcox, often came to events to support the Women’s Resource Center. Wilcox was also Chancellor of Michigan State University from 2008-2013 and covered up years of assault by the university’s faculty member. During his time as Chancellor of UCR, Wilcox also granted the former Vice-Chancellor of Student Affairs James Sandoval an early retirement after multiple women came forward accusing of Sandoval of Sexually Assaulting them.
These assaults had gone on for 20 years until Sandoval finally stepped down from his position, but he still receives a pension from the university. Through the lack of female representation in the academic and political level, one can see the misogyny ingrained within the educational institutions in the United States.
Although we as women lack representation and continue to struggle in our plight for empowerment, we must turn towards the women that surround us and empower one another. We must be the safety net and the open arms to those women who have been less privileged to us. And we must continue to use our privilege to uplift and make room for those who are less privileged. After all, there are more women than men in the world and perhaps if we support each other, we can slowly change the systems ingrained within our society and make it a reality that women belong in universities.