The Consequences of Doing Gender in College

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The Consequences of Doing Gender in College

The most commonly preached and accepted social path for an individual is to go through elementary and secondary school, and immediately follow that with some sort of a post-secondary education. We must take the skills we have learned in grade school and apply them, as we become adults. Schools where a student can receive a degree are regarded as the highest quality by society. We are lead to believe that the college or university campus is filled with equality and equal opportunity. In reality, college reaffirms the gender frames we have understood throughout our lives thus far and strengthens that reality even after we graduate. The gendered division of labor that we see in the workplace is formed long before we enter that arena. Both inside and outside the classroom, there are many examples of the socially constructed gender differences; violating these constructions would be a violation of our gender roles. This essay will argue that the college experience solidifies our gender roles as students experience the process of ‘doing gender’, resulting in a continuation of these patterns in our lives even beyond post-secondary school (West and Zimmerman, 1987).

Embedded within this argument are the theories of Barbara Risman. In order to explore the sociology of the effects of college culture, we must first acknowledge that we need to conceptualize gender as a social structure. The actuality that gender is so entrenched with the individual, interactional, and institutional aspects of society will help to explain the phenomenon of gendered differences in college life (Risman, 2004). In this case, we look specifically at gender at an interactional level, but not before recognizing gender at the institutional level. Gender is seen as a primary frame in our society (Ridgeway, 2007). The college campus is no different. Student housing as well as bathrooms and change rooms are segregated by sex. Students are asked what sex they are when they apply to any university or college. ‘Mixers’ or ‘socials’ are held for the purpose of meeting other students, but specifically so that students of the opposite sex can interact.

The gendered structure of college starts before students even apply to an institution. In the past 30 years, there has been an exponential increase in women’s enrollment in post-secondary schools, to the point where there are now more women then men in Canadian universities; 58% women in 2004 (Andres and Adamuti-Trache, 2007). While this is extremely positive in terms of gender equality, there is still a very significant discrepancy in terms of what faculties men and women are entering. Women are the large majority when it comes to social work, household science, and nursing and the minority in mathematics, physical sciences, engineering and applied science. Why is this happening? Even after the boom of female enrollment in the 1980s, women are still expected to follow a particular life path that consisted of marriage and family as a priority. As a result many woman may not take the pre-requisites in high school to even be eligible to enter the fields of mathematics or engineering. This of course will have long-term effects.

Outside the classroom, the gender divide is executed through physical action and behavior. Students must learn how to interact with one another in a social setting. These interactions outside the classroom provide students the opportunity to be independent. Students are encouraged to try new things and be open-minded, but we discover that the act of doing gender controls many of their decisions. Parties and dances are a very popular place to meet people and interact with the opposite sex. There are several unwritten rules associated with this form of nightlife that create gendered expectations that participants must follow (Ronen, 2010). While it is never explicitly stated, parties and clubs are places where “hook-up’s” are most likely to...
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