Where the Girls Are: Women’s Groups on Campus
Unfortunately for the feminist-identified students of Madison College during the 70s, there was no student equivalent to the Madison Women’s Caucus. If female students at Madison College wished to join a group that would give them a much-needed women’s only space on campus, there no consciousness raising groups or feminist clubs to choose from. In fact, the majority options open to these women were groups reinforced traditional women’s roles and focused on primarily on ideals of femininity, service, entertainment and generally providing a supporting role to the guys.
These ideals were perhaps best represented by the group known as the Madison Dollies. According to the entry describing the Dollies in the 1973 Bluestone, they were “Known as the official hostesses of Madison College.” The entry further informs the reader that they “are available for social events to college and to off-campus groups using campus facilities.” Based on their outfits and yearbook pose, the Dollies were meant for more than their utility as servers. Their fairly revealing outfits suggest that they were also meant to serve as eye-candy for any male students attending these events, so that they might have a more enjoyable time. By the time the 1978 Bluestone came out, the Dollies had been replaced by something else: the Dukettes. The Dukettes apparently also served in the role of hostesses, much like the Dollies before them, but they would also “provide dance entertainment at basketball games.” Furthermore, the name Dukettes implicitly marks them as the female equivalent of the male Dukes. While the Dukes were playing the active role on the field, the Dukettes, serve as their supporting players. This blatantly reinforces traditional gender roles between these two groups.
Sorority life also existed and was active during this period, and while it talked about sisterhood, it was not exactly the sisterhood most feminists were looking for. Sororities of the time no doubt engaged in positive charitable work, social outreach, and provided a positive and affirming group of like-minded women to bond with, but it was still firmly rooted in traditional gender scripts and offered little in the way of alternative roles for those women that were involved in it.
Women’s athletics were perhaps the one area in which women could actively engage in activities that did not work to reinforce traditional gender norms. While, perhaps the majority of sports teams available to women in this period were so-called “women’s sports”- cheerleading, gymnastics, horseback riding, lacrosse, field hockey- they were also able to engage in sports that did not fit into the traditional feminine norm. The most important of these sports was almost certainly basketball, which Madison women tended to be dominant in, much like they are today. Club teams offered even more exciting alternatives for athletically inclined women, such as women’s rugby.
Overall, even with the existence of athletic alternatives for Madison women, the opportunities for women, particularly feminist-identified women, to find meaningful female-centered extracurricular experiences were far too few during the 70s. Perhaps it was due to the relatively recent surge in male population in the university, but Madison women certainly lacked for strong, affirming, women’s-only spaces on campus.
Bluestone. Harrisonburg: James Madison University, 1973, 1974, 1978.