Monday, April 2, 2012

On "Coed"

So, some people still refer to female college students as "coeds."

This usage, while correct from a definitional standpoint, is strange right?

A coeducational college is one that admits men and women. A coed sports' team, seen in many recreational leagues, is one that allows teams comprised of men and women.
And yet, a coed is "a woman who attends a coeducational college or university."

Wikipedia has a (totally unreferenced*) theory as to the history of using coed as slang to refer only to female college students, and explains it as an artifact of when institutions only allowed men. To elaborate, the idea seems to be that the default institution used to be a male-only one, with default male students who were, and are, just called "college students." It was the presence of women that made it "co-ed." Thus, female students were, and apparently still are, "co-eds." As though it is women, rather than the combination of men and women, that makes an institution coed.

Some people still use this old-timey word to describe female college students. And, they do so despite the fact that most institutions of higher learning in the US are coeducational, most college students are women, and women are outperforming men in college (as evidenced by affirmative action programs for less-qualified male students that many colleges have instituted ).

When people use "coed" today to refer to female college students, I most often see it used in two contexts.

One usage occurs when the speaker is being sexist against women in some way.

The other usage occurs when female college students are being sexualized and fetishized (as the Wikipedia article also notes).

The intent, if I may speculate, seems pretty backlash-y. Now that women have proven that they are capable of not only performing as men's equals in college, but of outperforming them, women need to be reminded of their perpetual status as Inferior Other and/or sex object.

Lest anyone forget.

(*The Wikipedia Talk page for the word is.... an interesting conversation)

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