Bachelor of Arts
Gender, Gender identity, College students, Oberlin College, Cisgender, Gender norms, Masculinity, Femininity, Interview, Heterosexual
This thesis explores the ways in which straight, cisgender Oberlin College students conceive of gender, and is based upon ethnographic data collected from interviews the author conducted with fifteen informants. Oberlin College is known for its acceptance of gay and transgender students, and the ways in which Oberlin College students self-actively challenge gender norms is visible everywhere, from the gender identity oriented course offerings to the all-gender bathrooms common across campus. The overarching conception of gender at Oberlin College that is prevalent and dominant challenges traditional ideas of gender and gender identity as being fixed to the body, biological, and rooted in sexual dimorphism, and instead asserts that gender is fluid, socially and culturally constructed, and one’s own choice. After attending Oberlin College, the author's informants do not subscribe only to the Oberlin conception of gender or the traditional conception of gender, but rather see gender and their own gender identities through dual, competing conceptions. The informants’ experiences integrating such different conceptions of gender range from jarring collisions to graceful adaptations and mixtures of each. These differences in reactions are influenced by their experiences prior to Oberlin—the more familiar they were with the ways gender is presented and discussed on campus prior to coming here, the more likely they are to accept and embrace them. The Oberlin conception and the traditional conception of gender have distinct implications for the ideological formation of male and female informants as pertaining to gender; the male informants tend to feel more comfortable with, and embrace, the traditional conception of gender, while the female informants feel liberated by, and tend to embrace, the Oberlin conception of gender instead. All informants have been affected by their exposure to Oberlin’s ideas about gender, whether or not they embrace them wholeheartedly.
Witheridge, Rebecca Elizabeth, "From Graceful Adaptations to Jarring Collisions: Oberlin Students’ Experiences Integrating Divergent Conceptions of Gender" (2010). Honors Papers. 396.