A Silent Minority

LONG before there was a women's movement, it was assumed that boys would study about politics, wars and leadership, and girls would learn how to take care of the home. Supposedly, in the last few decades, these deeply ingrained differences have gone away. But at Harvard in 1988, the overwhelming majority of men are still studying traditionally male subjects and dominating the main forums for campus opinion, while women are shying away from them.

Harvard's student body is 41 percent female, but:

. In Government, women concentrators comprise 28 percent of the department, in Economics 24 percent, in Social Studies 37 percent and in History 30 percent.

. In Sociology, women comprise 59 percent of the concentrators, in Literature 67 percent and in Psychology 62 percent.

. Only 31 percent of the recently elected Undergraduate Council representatives are women. Last semester only one of the committee chairmen was a woman and none of the council's executive officers was.

. Out of 33 members of the Institute of Politics Student Advisory Committee, only eight are women.

. This fall, The Crimson advertised for its news and editorial comps with a simple sign saying, "Comp Crimson." None of the 30 people expressing a strong interest in the editorial comp were women.

. In a 1984 study of 24 Harvard classes, conducted by Lecturer on Education Catherine Krupnick, women underparticipated in every section with a minority of women. In fact, women only participated as much as their male counterparts when women were in the majority and there was a female section leader.

WHY are women participating in certain forums less than men, and why are they overrepresented elsewhere? In part, many women undergraduates say they fear voicing their opinions in a public forum, even though they would like to do so. But women are not only avoiding intimidating situations, it seems they are also choosing comfortable ones, areas where the focus is on personal relations rather than systemic power plays.

Because of the 1960s and 1970s women's liberation movement, our generation was the first to be educated in classrooms that sought to equalize the situation for genders. Harvard is the ultimate step on this educational continuum, the ultimate sign that women can achieve as much as men. But if women here do not rise to the top in a rate commensurate with men, then it becomes that much harder to compete after graduation.

At the very least, men have gained an advantage in resumes and self-esteem. At the most, women have been self-selected out of the departments that prep students for government, business and other professional leadership.

The system is such that the brightest young women come to the most prestigious schools, only to see their leadership skills wane. Krupnick notes that many women who were vocal leaders in high school and now attend schools like Harvard are intimidated by the intensified competition. Coming here decreased their leadership potential in the long-run, she says, adding that they would have fared better at a smaller school or a women's college.

IN short, when Harvard opened its doors to women, the battle was only half over. Many sections and activities here prize qualities that have been discouraged in women--agressiveness, assertiveness, courage, independence.

In a typical Government section, there are 15 men and three women. A vocal male asserts that the international balance of power is caused by something, another argues that it is caused by something else. The discussion speeds along like a ping-pong match, until the male section leader intercedes to make a point--only to be interrupted by another male student.

Speaking out in section entails putting your opinions on the line, interrupting someone else to do it, arguing against someone else's idea in order to boost your own.