Madeline Newton Driscoll: Most days I avoid Warner around mealtimes. For my first three years, I just didn’t have the capacity to hear about the ways in which women’s self-policing spilled over into our eating habits. Of course, not every woman at Davidson is as primed to read into situations like these as I am and of course not every woman at Davidson, nor in Warner, engages in the same attentive march towards self-containment.
For three years I’ve been recovering from an eating disorder based largely around self-denial and while my brain chemistry helped push me that to a diagnosable extreme, I am deeply convinced it’s just an extreme manifestation of some unrealistic expectations society has of women. And I’m not just talking about the whole looks thing. Many restrictive eating disorders are entirely based in some combination of the following: the denial of sustenance for the self, a belief of the self’s unworthiness, an obsessive need to take up as little space as possible and to follow the rules.
This has made some social events really difficult as I worried more about my caloric intake or how I looked in comparison to other women than I did about socializing and having fun. Somehow in the last year I’ve started to work past that and I can now revel with the best of them. Those nights (and mornings) of revelry, as Catherine Cartier pointed out, involve various layers of consumption. From alcohol to food to t-shirts to energy eaten up by booming speakers, the women of the eating houses can go what seems a little overboard.
But I argue it’s necessary. And more than necessary, it’s a release and a big “f*ck you” to the rules the type A women of Davidson tend to live by religiously. To begin with drinking: it’s hard for me to go out and have one glass of Andre and call that worth it. Why would those calories be worthwhile if I wasn’t gonna feel the buzz? (If you also think like this please get help). Further, I only feel comfortable getting truly drunk among women (s/o to fraternities who made it clear no matter how much work you put into encouraging a safe environment, you aren’t ever safe) and dancing loosely and crazily can, for me, only happen beyond the omnipresent male gaze (hey fellas, consider women might also dance certain ways for themselves not just your benefit). Beyond that, however, I’ve learned at Davidson that when women get very drunk they are either a) taken advantage of or b) supposed to feel some sort of shame for getting that “out of control.” Yeah, it’s dangerous to reach certain levels of drunkenness and consistently doing that can be an indicator of reaching dangerous levels of mental health. But the threshold for women’s “out of control” is a lot lower than for men. Even when I’m out having fun at any level of inebriation, if I’m around a lot of men I feel pressure not only to jealously guard my body and those of my friends but to aggressively police my behavior so as not to be “that girl that ______,” which far from making for a funny story at house meeting can undermine my work up the hill, my credibility at Davidson, and general perception of my competency and ability to be a woman in the staid, polite, always-in-control ways expected of me at this place.
Now to food. Oh, food. If humans are more likely to indulge in their deepest inhibitions, we expect to see drunken hookups especially in a culture that celebrates sexual freedoms but still condemns sexual availability. What perhaps flies more under the radar is the eating. Ya girls on campus can eat. And the nights we are given the excuse to eat as we please tend to coincide with celebrations, which in turn, coincide with drinking. Which for many makes eating easier and encourages them to eat to the point of being full or hell, past that! When for every other meal you’re more likely to hear rationales for eating (oh, I didn’t eat lunch so I can have this burger) than you are comments about how bomb Nancy’s food is, it should be no surprise there are nights where we take “Evil Carbs” to the face and noms on Cookout milkshakes until our stomachs ache. When you deny yourself for the majority of meals, over consumption when given permission and in a community makes total sense. Plus, take heart knowing all that chocolate sauce we pour just makes up for all the nights I (and others) didn’t have dessert because we somehow managed to convince ourselves we weren’t worth it.
And now for the shirts. Some might say it’s democratizing to have the same shirt on all these bodies. Certainly it’s mind blowingly affirming for me to see the lovely ladies of Warner bopping around in whatever other accoutrement makes them unique. I wore my Tims, others wore Sperrys. I wore leggings with my t-shirt, some wore jeans with tall boots. Yet there we all were sporting the shirt I’ll wear for years to come. For the shirts given out to the first years to wear to toppings, they were meant to democratize the whole “don’t wear something you value too highly” thing but somehow that message got wrapped up in the notions of consumption. Of course not everyone has the ability to go buy disposable clothes. I certainly didn’t my freshman year, digging out old shoes I had worn to F for the entire first semester (gross) and using some shorts I borrowed from a friend. We bought t-shirts at Walmart for a few bucks and I felt grateful to be able to do that. Could eating houses do a better job of acknowledging the cost barriers to entry and participation? Of course. But our inability to do much with that largely has to do with the eating house system in the first place. Alumni don’t donate to our coffers like sorority or fraternity alumni. We have no national scholarships to help support members through temporary or ongoing financial hardship. We were shut down in efforts to get the school to waive meal plan requirements if one also wanted to join an eating house. And any changes we make one year have no guaranteed stability the next year. Are cost-barriers an issue? Yes. Are they seen primarily or even largely in self-Selection night? I would argue no, especially after being involved in the conversations around PCC access for three years.
Warner is the only all female space I’ve had on campus– social or otherwise. And it’s been a rocky relationship as I struggled to eschew so many of the problematic compulsive behaviors that I saw many of my house mates engaging in, to similar or lesser extents. But working with women to raise money for Mwandi Christian Hospital and R.A.I.N, hearing about the badass jobs the senior class has, and watching us work hella hard on and beyond campus, in and beyond Warner, reminds me and affirms to me that despite nights of revelry and consumption, we’re going on to do some big things. Those relationships were built and struggled for over years, not made in one night. Had I dropped immediately after self selection I wouldn’t have my apartment mates, my best friends, experience working with an all female executive board, memories of crying and laughing in Warner, vomming in and cleaning up the bathrooms, losing myself dancing on tables and finding myself making announcements to 100+ women. I wouldn’t have learned how claim a space, let alone space for myself. I wouldn’t know about the battles raging to maintain the integrity and increase accessibility of PCC. I wouldn’t have any social space that was *mine* and I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to wrestle with the worst parts or celebrate the more joyous parts of being a woman. It was largely in that space, whether I realized it or not during the process of trial and (many) errors, that I made the most progress in transitioning from girl to woman without entirely losing myself in the expectations of society at large.
Madeline Newton Driscoll, ’17, is an Education Studies major from Saint Paul, Minnesota. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.