Discriminating Discrimination


On page 29 of its 2009–2010 Undergraduate Catalog, Bryn Mawr College makes the following statement:

“In conformity with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, it is also the policy of Bryn Mawr College not to discriminate on the basis of sex in its educational programs, activities or employment practices. The admission of only women in the Undergraduate College is in conformity with a provision of the Act.”

So, does Bryn Mawr College — which does not admit men to its undergraduate programs of study — “discriminate on the basis of sex in its educational programs”? According to Bryn Mawr College and the U.S. government, that would be a “no” (said with a bureaucratically straight face). In fact, according to BMC, it is their “policy… not to.” Of course, we all know that discriminating on the basis of sex would not only be illegal, but immoral, and downright illiberal. So, of course, Bryn Mawr College would never discriminate based on sex. That simply doesn’t happen at Bryn Mawr.

Now, I understand that such discrimination as a college admitting only one sex or the other is legal discrimination according to the definition of the law. But to say that Bryn Mawr doesn’t discriminate or to say that it is the “policy” of the College “not to” is simply preposterous.

In fact, nearly every private business, private or public school, and government office discriminates based on sex — at least if they have sex-segregated restrooms or locker-rooms. It is not uncommon for colleges and universities to have sex-segregated dorms. Every individual who is not bisexual discriminates on the basis of sex. Any time a business, educational institution, or government entity opts to use a sex-based title such as Mr., Mrs., Miss, or Ms. — there is discrimination based on sex. When the TSA uses only men to do whatever they do to male airline passengers, and vice versa, there is sex discrimination. And every time women are denied a stand-up urinal there it is — discrimination — shining like the glint in the chrome-plated flush handle. And what about the poor men whose toilets are bereft of sofas? Will this injustice ever stop?

We all discriminate based on sex. We might as well be man (used in a gender-neutral way, of course) enough to admit that everyone discriminates based on sex, and we do so shamelessly. It is our policy to discriminate based on sex because we are hard-wired to do so. And while government makes it illegal to do so in some matters, it apparently blesses the kind of sex discrimination that is shamelessly practiced by Bryn Mawr College (and all other same-sex institutions) — its Newspeak denial notwithstanding.

Only government (and their allies in the academy) can look us straight in the eye and claim discrimination is not discrimination. Of course, one of the definitions of discrimination is “to use good judgment.”

So maybe there is something to such denials after all.

May 27, 2010