Captain of Two 'Cliffe Teams Talks About Women, Athletics


Jeanie Guyton lowers her round blue eyes, flashes her shy smile, and, in a soft, breathless Southern drawl, confesses. "I guess I'm not really a women's libber at all. Except as far as sports are concerned."

Guyton is one of Radcliffe's best-known athletes. She started out as a freshman on the swim team, branched out, and now as a senior is captain of both the Radcliffe water polo team and the basketball team. On the two days a week when she doesn't have team practice, she plays in House sports like volleyball and coed touch football.

"My life revolves around sports," she says.

But she's also found time to major in Engineering and Applied Physics, complete all the premed requirements, and make grades good enough to get her into Phi Beta Kappa. And when she's not playing or studying, she likes to bake cookies.

When Guyton first got to Radcliffe from Jackson, Miss., she enjoyed telling people that she wanted to be a housewife--partly because she really did want to be a housewife, but partly for the "shock effect."

"The guys would sometimes react favorably," Guyton recalls, "but the girls would always have really violent reactions. I would say to them. 'But I like to cook and sew.' And they would just yell at me. 'But you can't, you just can't do that?"'

Guyton disliked those women "violently," she says with a hint of exasperation in her smile. And she was also annoyed by the Northerners she encountered who made fun of her Southern ways.

"People would joke around--they didn't really mean to be cruel," she says. "But you can only stand just so much teasing about your accent in one day before you blow up. And they would say things like. Oh, do you have sidewalks in Mississippi? Do you wear shoes when you're down there?"'

Guyton attributes her conservative attitude toward "women's lib" to her Southern upbringing. She says that enough of the "propaganda" at Harvard has "seeped through" so that she is now intent on pursuing a career as a doctor, but she still retains a firm belief in what she calls "chivalry."

The Man Rules

"I believe in men being polite to me because I'm a woman, and just because of that," she asserts. "I believe women should get an equal salary and things like that. But if it came down to who was the head of the household. I guess it would have to be my husband."

One thing Guyton does not believe in is women's groups--at least not for her, she says.

"I've been to a couple of women's group meetings," she says. There's always been a gaggle of women sitting around smoking cigarettes, talking about something I know nothing about."

Like what? "Oh, like why women can't make it in the business world or something, something I have no interest in," she says a little impatiently. "My feeling is, if I want to do something, I'm going to do it--I don't need to talk to a lot of other girls about it first."

But what about women's sports? "Oh, sports, that's different." The slight smile fades and she leans forward earnestly. "In sports, women need to band together."

Guyton says that Radcliffe is not getting a fair deal from Harvard as far as athletics, but, she adds optimistically, things are getting better.

"As far as facilities, they're doing the best they can," she says. "The big problems now are in coaching--and in attitudes. The coaches find it hard to take us seriously as athletes. They're sort of scared to push us as far as we can go, because they're scared that girls will quit. The attitude towards women athletes here is that academics are more important to us anyway, so why are we doing it?"

Guyton says that another big problem is the lack of opportunities for women athletes here. "It's easier for men--they have varsity teams, junior varisty, freshman teams, and they also have House teams," she says. "But women just have varisty. If a woman is good enough to play on a House team, then she's probably good enough to play on the varisty team."

It is through the teams she has played on that Guyton has made her closest women friends. "We eat together, on weekends we go to movies together," she says. "A lot of the girls who come out for the teams do so just for that comradeship."

But the majority of her friends are men. The male athletes that she knows in Kirkland House, where she lives, respect the effort that women athletes put into sports. "Sure, sometimes we come into the dining hall in our warm-ups, and I guess we don't look too pretty," she laughs. "But the guys recognize our dedication and respect us for it."

Guyton says she loves the four-to-one ratio in Kirkland, perhaps because she's used to a male environment. She has eight brothers and one sister. "The ratio in my family is four to one," she says.

Her four oldest brothers have gone through Harvard Medical School, and her older sister, whom Guyton describes as "sort of a rebel," is doing graduate work in chemistry. Guyton herself will enter Duke Medical School next fall.

Has she ever considered being a professional athlete? "Oh, I've entertained dreams of it," she sighs. Later, she adds, "I think if I were a guy I would definitely have considered it. But there just aren't the same opportunities available for women as there are for men.