I Can't Figure Out Whether This College Study is Sexist or Not

Illustration for article titled I Cant Figure Out Whether This College Study is Sexist or Not

It was the 1930s, and America was changing. Women were going to college and communists were marching in the streets. But people really didn't want those two things to combine. And thus was born a study that had its heart in the right place and its head in the wrong one.


Here is the tale of one Stephen Corey. He was interested in human behavior, particularly the behavior of the students at his college. While studying them he administered a few enlightening tests. One, Professed Attitudes and Actual Behavior, provided the jaw-dropping conclusion that students, no matter what they answer on a questionnaire about the morality of cheating, will cheat when given a chance to grade their own papers.

In 1934, Corey turned his focus from personal morals to public ethics. The Great Depression was in full swing, and communists were using the catastrophic collapse of the capitalist system as evidence that communism was the better way. Cities, artist colonies, and academia were considered hotbeds of communist activity, and parents were concerned that if they sent their kids off to college the kids would be communized. They had to take the risk when it came to boys, but education was seen as a privilege for girls. Why chance it?


Corey decided to study whether or not higher education was just a way for the Red Army to get their hooks into the tender young flesh of American girls. Other studies had been done about whether communism started creeping in during college, but they took the form of surveys that were given to all the students in a college at once, which then separated out attitudes by year. Corey insisted that, to get more accurate results, one group of people should be surveyed when they were freshmen, and then again when they were sophomores.

Illustration for article titled I Cant Figure Out Whether This College Study is Sexist or Not

Corey found a slight drift towards "liberalization," but only very slightly. That "slightly" was, for him and many other psychologists, too much. This is where the story gets oddly endearing. No one wanted to be the cause of some poor girl being denied a college education, so when Corey started presenting his results, he also started spinning them. First of all, he emphasized that the women who had been liberalized were rated the least intelligent of the bunch - according to his tests. So, basically, Corey was playing a political version of The Emperor's New Clothes. "Sure you can send your daughter to college," he seemed to say. "There aren't going to be any problem with her turning communist. Unless she's stupid or something. Did you raise a stupid daughter? Did you?"

Furthermore, Corey assured people, while there might be a chance that the stupid would drift towards communism, the smart and accomplished would drift towards boys. Corey, when presenting his material, talked about how a woman's politics changed less than her dress and make-up skills. Apparently college was an excellent finishing school, giving girls a chance to improve their make-up skills, dress more smartly, and attend "stag lines." Female college students would rather get involved with fraternities than worldwide unions. Corey assured parents, "she won't talk about Communism — college offers too many other diversions."


I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, these were people who really wanted women to get a good education, and learn. They didn't want some survey showing a slight change in attitudes of teenagers keeping girls out of academia. On the other hand, there's something almost comically appalling about taking the line, "College makes women prettier! And they can meet boys there!" What do you think, comrades?

Top Images: Abraham Pisarek

[Via Professed Attitudes and Actual Behavior, Changes in the Opinions of Female Students after One Year at a University, Does College Makes Coeds Communists?]


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My grandmother was an awesome lady. She was born in the 20's and went to college in the 30's — engineering school just like her dad. Her father didn't want her to go to engineering school because she was just going to be a housewife anyway, so she told him that she would meet a great husband in engineering school someone just like dad. :-) He let her go and she later wound up being in one of the first women to get her Master's degree from Caltech (with two kids at home) and designed silicone chips for Hewlett Packard in the 70's. My grandma was one rad lady.