Tuesday, April 19, 2016

On coeds, sexism, and rape

While doing the NEA crossword puzzle in our local newspaper yesterday, I was struck by one of the clues.

40 Down: Women on campus

Answer: Coeds

Now, this isn't an unusual crossword clue (or answer). I've run across it before. It isn't even unusual to run across the word "coeds" in the news.

But the words we use matter. They have meaning.

I don't know the etymology of coed, but I can use Google. And found this interesting discussion on just that topic at English Language & Usage on Stack Exchange. The logic seems reasonable: when male-only institutions became co-educational, starting in the 1870s, the new female students were called coeds.

Thinking of the implications of this, male students were the default, were educated. Female students were out of the ordinary, the special case. They weren't called students; they weren't just educated, they were "co-educated".

And we still use this term. Or, some people, including the media, still use this term.

So why does it bother me? Why did it suddenly jump out yesterday, while doing the crossword puzzle in the newspaper?

Because the big headlines yesterday were about the rapes of some women in conjunction with Little 500, the so-called "Greatest College Weekend".

Only it wasn't so great for some students. Because some of those students are female. And some men see women as playthings, objects here for their enjoyment.

Some students are female, but they are students. Calling them coeds implies that college campuses aren't really their place. That they aren't really students. That college is for men, and women are allowed to attend classes but aren't really there to be educated.

Language matters. Words matter. Words have meaning.

Women on campus: students. Unless they are faculty, or staff, or administrators....

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