Reflections of a Proud Duke Woman

          I am proud to be a woman. I am proud to be a student at Duke. Something that has come to my attention within the last few weeks is the fact that there are women at Duke who don’t feel like Duke creates spaces for women to be proud and that allow them to own this campus not just as students, but as women. And while I have continued to grapple with what that means for me as a woman here, and what that says about the culture at this self-proclaimed liberal institution, I was absolutely floored by the incredible women and stories at this weekend’s performance of All of the Above.

            This monologue show is the only Duke production that is directed, written, produced, and performed entirely by women, all of whom are Duke undergraduates. Anonymously written monologues about life at Duke as a woman are submitted and performed every year; this year is the fifteenth anniversary of this special production.

            I have never felt so proud and yet so pained to be a Duke woman as I did while listening to the raw honesty and experiences that my peers have gone through. The strength of these women amaze me, and yet at the same time I can’t help but feel discouraged and daunted by the problems that women encounter here, and everywhere, despite the progress we have achieved over the last few years.

Related: Musings of a Woman Living in a Man's World

            It seems obvious why someone like myself would want to attend an event like this: as a hardcore feminist and a strong believer in the power of stories and written word (some other themes of the show), it makes sense that I would find myself in the audience. I think a bigger question we must ask of the Duke community is how to get those who would never picture themselves sitting in those chairs to have a genuine interest in hearing these women’s stories, and understanding more women’s perspectives.

            This was a unique experience for me because sitting right next to me during the entire show was my dad. This was the case for me and many other women in the audience as the show we attended was special programming for a women’s group we are in that happened to be celebrating a father-daughter weekend. I never would have pictured my father attending a show like this, and frankly, I don’t think he ever saw himself doing the same. It felt strange snapping in agreement to some of the lines in the show that I felt to be particularly powerful or relatable. I often found myself wondering, “Will he be surprised to hear me snapping at comments like this?” or “Will he now better understand what it means for me to be a woman at this campus?”. Sometimes it was uncomfortable. But I can’t really imagine what it was like for him, and all of the other dads in the audience that night, to hear the stories of sexual assault, being a black woman at Duke, struggles with body image, labels surrounding sex, and more of these important issues and realize that their own daughters identify with many of these struggles. How does this change their understanding and relationship with these issues?

Related: Every Day Should be National Woman's Day

            I think one thing that was clear after leaving the show with my dad, who was still a bit in shock, was that the way he understood some of what the Duke experience meant for me had changed. I don’t think he would have ever had any reason to come to this show if it wasn’t for me. And it’s sad that men need to have wives or daughters or sisters to be involved. I wonder how many men challenge themselves to step out of their comfort zone, to have those meaningful conversations, to try to understand what it means to be a woman at Duke. I think for most men, what it means to be a man at Duke isn’t really a question. For them, they just get to be people. Their gender doesn’t factor in. I don’t know how to get more of them to come out to a show like this. I don’t know if it's my responsibility as a woman to convince men to come, and why the burden should fall on me. But I don’t know how otherwise to help them understand the rawness and vulnerability that surrounds many of these problems at Duke. If anyone has any suggestions I’d love to hear them. In the meantime, I know I’ll just have to continue to push for men to be involved even if I shouldn’t have to.

Photos via: All of the Above