A Men’s College with Women: Masculinity, Sexist Laughter, and Stories of Solidarity during Bowdoin College’s Transition to Coeducation, 1969-1975
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Krista Van Vleet
In 2021, Bowdoin College will celebrate fifty years as a coeducated institution. Analyses of coeducation at formerly all-male institutions tend to highlight women’s stories, experiences, and perspectives and men students are positioned as unmarked background actors. When analytical efforts focus solely on women’s place within narratives of coeducation, they obscure the ways in which masculinity and men’s power—performed within stories, jokes, images, or other communicative events—were similarly articulated and negotiated in ongoing ways. This thesis also offers ways of understanding masculinity that are not restricted to a focus on male bodies. Through the concepts of “manhood acts” and “compulsive heteromasculinity,” this paper shows how variously positioned individuals were directly or indirectly involved with performances of masculinity on campus. Depending on personal context, individuals experienced and participated in the shift to coeducation, and what that transition meant for issues of gender and sexuality on campus, in a multiplicity of ways. By triangulating a variety of intersecting texts—cartoons, Orient articles, College documents, oral histories—this paper brings attention to dialogues about coeducation, especially between students, that circulated fifty years ago and today. Tracing a variety of narrative webs, especially “small stories,” it makes sense of the multiple ways in which individuals understood coeducation and themselves through broader discourses of sexuality and gender. Paying particular attention to performances of masculinity on campus, it examines how men and women articulated their own identity and carved out space for themselves within a rapidly shifting social environment.
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