Earlier this month, seven women from the Kappa Kappa Gamma house at the University of Wyoming filed a lawsuit against the national sorority organization, the national council president and a transgender woman who became a member of their chapter last fall.
The trans woman, who is 6 foot, 2 inches tall and weighs 260 pounds, does not live in the sorority house, but is there often and has been described as a “peeping Tom.” Needless to say, the women are not happy.
Some of the women who have been victims of sexual assault in the past are particularly disturbed. One woman, appearing on the Megyn Kelly podcast, said, “It’s a weird feeling just to know that I could run into him anytime … (he has) full access to the house. But this just goes to show like we need women’s spaces for that reason.”
Another explained: “It is seriously an only-female space. It is so different than living in the dorms, for instance, where men and women can commingle on the floors. That is not the case in a sorority house.”
How have we gotten to a point where women who want to live in safe, single-sex settings now have to leave campus in order to get them?
If the effect of this national conversation we are having about whether biological men can really be women is for us to revisit the need for single-sex spaces, well, it won’t be a complete loss.
While much of this discussion has focused on locker rooms, bathrooms and even domestic violence shelters, few have noted that the vast majority of college dorms are now coed, with men and women living on the same hall and even sharing bathrooms.
It’s been almost three decades since Wendy Shalit wrote “A Ladies Room of One’s Own” for Commentary magazine. Shalit, who was a student at Williams College at the time, described how the students in a particular dorm hall would get to decide whether they wanted to share a bathroom with the opposite sex. But the decision would always be yes, because “each young woman tries to outdo the last by advertising how ‘comfortable’ she is with her body, how relaxed, how generally serene.” The men are only too happy to go along with this.
Women who, like Shalit, were not comfortable finding men using the bathroom when they came out of the shower were told to get with the program. Which sounds a lot like the way women are treated when they object to trans women using their facilities. Except that while they were once accused of not being comfortable with their own bodies, now they are accused of bigotry because they don’t want someone who is biologically male to share women’s spaces.
One might wonder: Is there any going back?
In 2011, John Garvey, who was then president of Catholic University, announced that the school would be be reinstituting single-sex dorms after having coed ones for decades. In an article he wrote for The Wall Street Journal, Garvey explained that men and women living together in the dorms had some pretty poor effects.
He cited studies showing that “students in co-ed dorms (41.5%) report weekly binge drinking more than twice as often as students in single-sex housing (17.6%). Similarly, students in co-ed housing are more likely (55.7%) than students in single-sex dorms (36.8%) to have had a sexual partner in the last year — and more than twice as likely to have had three or more.”
The combination of these factors undoubtedly led to a lot of unwanted sexual encounters, not to mention sexual assaults.
Most college administrators would never acknowledge such realities today, let alone agree to the maintenance of even nominally single-sex spaces on campus. The admittance of transgender students into sororities and fraternities further complicates a system that has been failing female students in this way since coed dormitories became the norm.
Perhaps all young women can hope for now is that off-campus organizations will offer them the opportunity to live comfortably. As one Kappa Kappa Gamma sister said, “Our house is our home. Just like anyone else’s home, like, you go home at the end of the day to feel comfortable and relaxed in your own skin.”
Let’s hope the court agrees.
Naomi Schaefer Riley is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Deseret News contributor and the author of “No Way to Treat a Child: How the Foster Care System, Family Courts, and Racial Activists Are Wrecking Young Lives,” among other books.