Committee on women leadership reports changing views on gender
The research, which stems from President Shirley Tilghman’s December 2009 call to create the committee, is intended to explain the disparity between men and women in top student leadership positions at the University.
While officers of the USG and eating clubs have been predominantly male, many women hold less visible roles, such as leading community service projects. Women also tend to assume behind-the-scenes positions for which they are “tapped,” according to the committee, while more men gravitate toward competitive elections.
In addition to holding a series of focus group discussions, the committee has interviewed individual leaders and surveyed both current students and alumni.
One possible trend revealed by the interviews is a changing attitude among female students. Amada Sandoval, the director of the Women’s Center and a member of the committee, said that women today feel pressure to dumb themselves down.
Some women, for example, feel pressure not to act overly intellectual when talking with male students on the Street, said Lydia Dallett ’12, a member of the audience.
Sandoval cited a conversation with a member of the Class of 1988 who recalled that when women made up only one-third of the student body, “any woman that was there had to be awesome, amazing,” she said.
“As the population of women grew at Princeton over the ’80s and ’90s, so did the trend of women’s leadership,” Sandoval added. “But then it started going down.”
Yet women today may still feel pressure to prove themselves, since a survey of 120 students showed that a majority of women think that male students view them as less intellectual in the classroom.
A major topic of discussion was the involvement of women in student government.
The gender disparity in the freshman class president campaign — while four of the 10 candidates this year were women, all seven were men last year — may be rooted in the nature of the election, which is held only a few weeks into the school year and often devolves into a popularity contest, according to committee members.
“You have to be prepared to have a lot of judgment heaped on you, and that judgment is just different for men and women,” said Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux ’11, a member of the committee.
Thomson-DeVeaux noted that the committee interviewed Blaire Bloxom ’14, who lost a runoff race for class president after distributing racy business cards featuring the slogan “Don’t be square, vote for Blaire” and an image of a shirtless man and woman.
Bloxom told the committee that she assumed she would not get votes from women, so she targeted her campaign toward men, Thomson-DeVeaux said.
In October, Bloxom told The Daily Princetonian in an e-mail that the business cards were designed to pique interest in her candicdacy, and that she hoped students would “know the person behind the business card, not just the name.”
Catherine Ettman ’13, who was elected a USG senator in December of her freshman year, said she initially decided not to run for class government because she did not identify herself as a leader when she arrived on campus, despite her involvement in student government in high school. She explained that her attitude changed after hearing a speech by Tilghman during Freshman Parents Weekend.
Ettman said that she feels a need to prove herself “a lot more than my male competitor” in her upcoming race for USG vice president. She said she faces a “strange dichotomy between wanting to attain a leadership position while staying true to myself and the awareness of my gender.” Candidates will be announced on Sunday, and begin campaigning next week.
Thomson-DeVeaux said the ultimate goal of the committee is to “empower students to feel that they will be ready to serve as leaders after they graduate from Princeton.”
Along with reforming freshman class government elections, other potential recommendations include a new women’s mentorship program, an emphasis on leadership during freshman orientation and a freshmen retreat during fall break.
Debbie Bazarsky, the director of the LGBT Center, who attended as an audience member, said the committee should consider the specific concerns of lesbian, bisexual and transgender women, a suggestion that was met with consensus agreement by committee members.
The committee plans to release its final report of findings and recommendations in February.