Wonder Womenby Sharon Rosen Leib June 29, 2017
After watching Middle Daughter graduate from Scripps, a revered women’s college, and seeing the DC Comics-inspired film “Wonder Woman” this past month, I’m convinced we desperately need an army of powerful, educated women to save the world. Like the movie’s fictional all-female island of Themiscyra, where Amazon women learn to be brilliant warriors for peace, women’s colleges breed wonder women poised to be our next generation of leaders. I’ve witnessed the transformative effect an all-female educational environment had on Middle Daughter and her classmates as they developed from diffident freshwomen to confident, empowered seniors.
Yet many high school girls, and some of their parents, feel queasy about women’s colleges. I’ve heard the troubling parental worries/stereotypes as in “How are they going to find guys to date?” “I don’t want my daughter to become a militant feminist” and, most offensive of all, “Aren’t those schools full of lesbians?” I confess that as a boy-crazy high schooler, I refused to apply to all-women’s colleges. This type of reductive thinking implies that women can’t thrive socially and educationally without men in the immediate vicinity. The Amazon women would find this assumption laughable.
Middle Daughter and her classmates supported each other through their academic, creative and athletic endeavors and achieved Amazonian heights. Each graduate wrote a rigorously researched senior thesis. Many of them won Fulbright Scholarships, received prestigious fellowships and were inducted into multiple national honor societies. They made lasting friendships and, if so inclined, dated guys at neighboring colleges. Most importantly, they derived pride and strength from being surrounded by other brainy, motivated young women.
As Ellen Browning Scripps, the famed San Diego newspaperwoman, suffragist and philanthropist (beneficiaries include Scripps Hospital and Scripps Institute of Oceanography), said 90 years ago, “The paramount obligation of a college is to develop in its students the ability to think clearly and independently, and the ability to live confidently, courageously, and hopefully.” Her educational manifesto resonates like a gong.
As the Trump era progresses, young women must be taught to be loud and proud advocates for change. They need to learn how to vanquish misogynist trolls and speak truth to power in all its forms – whether a frat-boy sexual predator maneuvering them into a dark corner; a male boss making sexually harassing innuendos; or a presidential candidate who bragged that his reality tv celebrity entitled him to grab “pussies,” called his female opponent a “nasty woman” and led his supporters in chants of “lock her up.” His opponent Hillary Rodham Clinton, a graduate of the all-women’s college Wellesley, handled his egregious behavior with intelligent grace. She continues to encourage young women to remain strong and hopeful.
Personally, I regret my high school self’s close-minded dismissal of women’s colleges. I’m grateful that my daughter and her classmates chose to be Athenians (Scripps’ mascot). Athena – the Greek goddess of learning, justice and wisdom – represents intelligence, humility, creativity, enlightenment, eloquence and power. Ancient Greeks regarded her as tough, clever and independent. As the goddess of military strategy, she encouraged people to use intuitive wisdom rather than violence to settle conflicts.
So to all high school girls and their parents – I make two entreaties: 1.) Please keep an open mind about women’s colleges; and 2.) Go see “Wonder Woman.” The incandescent Gal Gadot, an Israeli army veteran turned actress, portrays Wonder Woman as an embodiment of Athenian and Jewish values. She demonstrates that women can be tough, independent, intelligent, beautiful, passionate and loving warriors. I can’t imagine a better Jewish role model for women of all persuasions.