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When Gay W. Seidman '78 was elected the first female president of The Harvard Crimson in 1977, she didn't expect hundreds of reporters to descend onto 14 Plympton Street. Yet within days of the announcement, she found herself the object of national media attention, with featured stories in the New York Times, Boston Globe and on most national TV networks.
"I tried not to let the attention I got affect my relationship with the people inside of the Crimson," Seidman says now, in a telephone interview at her home in Wisconsin. Along with the media attention came several post-graduation job offers at major publications, as well as an invitation to appear in an advertisement for Motorola. Seidman declined them all, not because she wasn't interested, but because she feared that her fellow Crimson editors would think she was using her status as the first female president of the Crimson as a stepping-stone to success. "I was aware that if I capitalized on anything, it would affect my relationships with people on the paper," she explains. "I had to be very careful."
Looking back on her years at The Crimson,Seidman claims that she received strong supportfrom the older women on the paper, many of whomstarting "grooming" her for the presidency hersophomore year. "Someone had decided that if Ikept on working as hard as I was, there was a verygood chance I could do it," she explains. "They[the other women] were incredibly demanding andtough, but in a very supportive way."
Almost two decades later, Seidman's story seemsalmost unreal at a campus newspaper where womennow comprise a sizeable proportion of the 122ndExecutive Board. Since Seidman's tenure, therehave been four more female presidents of thecrimson, two over the past four years. Yet evenwhen women have achieved such positions, they maynot feel completely comfortable and accepted--thewalls of the women's bathroom at the Crimson,scrawled with such slogans as "Crush thePenarchy," are an unusual testimony to some of theprevious female executives' discontent.
Today, about 40% of all officers in studentgroups are women, a number that rises to 48% whenonly the 200 most popular student organizationsare considered, according to Radcliffe PresidentLinda S. Wilson. "There's been quite a shift inthe last five years," Wilson says, attributingmuch of the change to the formation ofRadcliffe-sponsored groups such as the Women'sLeadership Project, which was formed in 1988 byundergraduate women concerned about the dearth offemale student leaders on campus. "Not all of themove to parity can be attributed to such programs,but they were begun as a way to encourage andempower women, giving them a sense of themselvesas they move into leadership roles."
Yet despite the statistics, and despite thesanguinity displayed by many Harvard and Radcliffeadministrators, sizable obstacles remain for manywomen in groups on campus. Organizations like theUndergraduate Council, which, after fourteen yearsof existence, has yet to boast a female Chair,demonstrate that the problems facing women oncampus are not merely a thing of the past. And asthe following stories illustrate, even where womenhave achieved success, there can be no denyingtheir frustrations and dilemmas.
Few XXs on the UC
It was just another Sunday night Councilmeeting when Vice-President David L. Hanselman'94-'95 pulled out a pair of pantyhose andpresented it to one of the male members in frontof the entire Council. Amid the guffaws andlaughter that followed, Hanselman, with a broadgrin, proceeded to congratulate the man on his"success" with a woman he had met at a recent IvyCouncil convention. But while the speech wasgreeted with appreciation by some of the men, mostCouncil women were not amused.
"It was right around the time of elections,"says Jennifer W. Grove '94, a former Councilmember, "and having someone who was Vice Chair atthe time do something that is blatantly sexist iskind of disgusting. It was meant to be a joke, butit was in poor taste." According to many past andpresent members of the Council, poor taste seemsto be in vogue at the UC when it comes to genderdynamics. While the Council's current atmospheremay not be so openly hostile to its female membersas it was two years ago, the lack of women on theCouncil today is still alarming: out of 86members, only 21 are female. Perhaps most telling,the current Executive Board, which consists of themajor elected officials and committee heads, hasno women, and those interviewed-both male andfemale-express doubt that any will rise to powersoon.
"I have a lot of women friends who were on theCouncil last year who decided not to run again,"says Rudd W. Coffey '97, a sophomore member whounsuccessfully ran for Council President this pastmonth. "While some were just sick of the Council,some also felt that women were not respected andgiven a full role at the table...it's very hardand frustrating for women because the Council hasalways traditionally been male-dominated. Theydon't want to go at it alone, but there need to beenough women on the boat to rock the glassceiling."
For years, the Council has been infamous forits Old Boys' Network, a system that members sayis not exactly conscious but is perpetuated by anall-male executive board that shows no intentionsof giving up the status quo. "I think that in oursociety, men still professionally tend to hang outtogether," says former UC Vice-Chair Melissa Garza'94. According to Garza, female Council memberswho spent hours working on a special project orcommittee often found their efforts ignored ormarginalized by male Council members. "Therewas-and still is-a tendency for men to speak tomen, which really works against the women [on theCouncil]," she says. "If you're looking for anyoneto notice your work as a woman, you can forgetabout it."
Garza, along with Grove and Hillary Anger '93,were instrumental in starting a women's caucus onthe Council which sought both to establish afemale network and offer younger female Councilmembers support. Their efforts were met withdistrust and suspicion from Council officials,most notably Chair Mike E. Beys '94 and Hanselman,who accused Garza of using the group as a foil forher political ambitions. (Beys refused to commenton the accusations for this article.) Hanselmaneven went so far as to write an editorial in TheCrimson accusing the female trio of "sour grapes"for having collectively lost four elections.
"At the time, I was pretty outspoken,"Hanselman admits. "It wasn't that I was againstbringing women up in the Council, it's just that Ithought that the method taken was exclusionary.Men have just as much a stake in it as women, andI
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