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Babes in Boyland: A Personal History of Co-Education in the Ivy League [NOOK Book]


Offering a frank and observant look at gender, education, and identity at a critical juncture in the author’s—and America’s—development, Babes in Boyland brings to life a pivotal moment in the history of co-education. It was a time in which hostility to women was still rife (fraternity house banners at Dartmouth read “Better Dead than Co-Ed”), but one that promised equal education to promising young women.

Gina Barreca entered Dartmouth College as a freshman in 1975, a few short...

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Babes in Boyland: A Personal History of Co-Education in the Ivy League

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Offering a frank and observant look at gender, education, and identity at a critical juncture in the author’s—and America’s—development, Babes in Boyland brings to life a pivotal moment in the history of co-education. It was a time in which hostility to women was still rife (fraternity house banners at Dartmouth read “Better Dead than Co-Ed”), but one that promised equal education to promising young women.

Gina Barreca entered Dartmouth College as a freshman in 1975, a few short years after the college became co-educational. As a working-class girl of Italian-French Canadian descent raised in Brooklyn and Long Island, Barreca’s looks and style set her apart from Dartmouth’s blonder, better-heeled undergraduate majority.

Barreca’s story begins with a snapshot of her parents—their courtship and marriage, her father’s six-day work week sewing bedspreads and curtains in New York City’s garment district, and her mother’s death from lung and bone cancer a year before Gina receives news of her acceptance to Dartmouth. With the dubious blessing of her Italian aunts (“New Hampshire? You gonna go to school in New Hampshire?”), she leaves Long Island for Hanover, chauffered by her father in their 1967 Buick Skylark. His parting words of advice become a recurring mantra for the anxious freshman: “You can always take the next bus home.”

Surveying the campus on her arrival, Barreca is overcome with a paralyzing sense of inadequacy. But as freshman year gets underway, she makes friends, starts an unofficial sorority (Tau Iota Tau, or TIT) and begins to discover the joys of a first-rate education. Over the next three and a half years, self-consciousness gives way to self-confidence as she tests her wit, intellect, and sexuality in an environment more open to self-expression than her hometown.

Barreca takes the reader to fraternity parties, dorm gossip sessions, working-class dives, classrooms and dorm rooms. She chronicles the delight of her first romance, the humiliation of her first C-plus, and the first stirrings of feminist consciousness. Her tale winds up in London, where she spent her last semester, choosing to graduate ahead of her class with no formal ceremony. Distancing herself from graduation in this way underscores Barreca’s mixed feelings about her experiences at Dartmouth College, experiences that continue to inspire, haunt, and shape her writing, her teaching, and her life.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Barreca serves up a witty, episodic, chatty and decidedly personal account of being one of the first women on the [Dartmouth] campus in the 1970s . . . Barreca is an unfailingly winning narrator and if her book is more memoir than history, it’s a delightful tour of one woman's college experience, seasoned with a consciousness of issues of gender and class.”—Publishers Weekly

“Barreca's humor shines through.”—Library Journal

“Over four years at an elite school in remote New Hampshire, smack in the middle of the women’s movement, Barreca learned to do what any sassy smartypants would: challenge stale ideas and press buttons . . . ‘a good education can be subversive’ [Gina Barreca] writes in her recent book on the experience.”—Chicago Tribune

“Whether you attended college at the same time as Barreca, or have children in college now, or just enjoy reading a well-written memoir, you're likely to enjoy reading Babes in Boyland.”—Executive Times

Library Journal
What's it like to be one of the first people to travel new territory? Barreca describes her experiences as one of the first females to "invade" previously all-male Dartmouth College. In addition to being gender-challenged, Barreca found herself on the lower end of the socioeconomic ladder at this affluent institution. She didn't ski, her family couldn't afford overnight hotel stays when visiting, and her wardrobe didn't bear designer labels. However, this isn't as much the story of a female conquering a previously all-male institution as it is a nostalgic look back at her college days. Written in snippets instead of chapters, it can be read at one's leisure. As in her previous works, They Used To Call Me Snow White but I Drifted and Perfect Husband (& Other Fairy Tales), Barreca's humor shines through, although her narratives don't always flow smoothly. This is by no means an essential purchase, but it may be of value in collections with an emphasis on education or women's studies.-Terry Christner, Hutchinson P.L., KS Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
An engaging chronicle of Barreca's ups and downs as one of the first female students at Dartmouth. Women faced plenty of trials in the just-barely-coed-Ivy-League of the mid-1970s, writes Barreca (English Literature and Feminist Theory/Univ. of Connecticut). Male students leeringly asked if she was a lesbian ("you learned to answer, 'Are you my alternative?' ") and cluelessly mocked Fear of Flying when a daring female prof assigned it. Barreca also had to contend with class issues. At ultra-preppy Dartmouth, she was the only student whose last name ended in a vowel. She wore cowboy boots, while the other coeds opted for Talbots and Laura Ashley. Her blue-collar relatives back home wondered whether she'd really gone to New Hampshire for college-or just snuck off to have an illegitimate baby. Fans of Barreca's work (Perfect Husbands, and Other Fairy Tales, 1993, etc.), which ranges from scholarly to pop but always includes humor, will expect hilarity here, and from the alliterative, cheeky title to almost the very end, she does not disappoint. (The last few pages, where she recounts the end of college and her first trip back to Dartmouth 12 years later, veer toward the maudlin.) Emulating the delightful miscellany of a 19th-century scrapbook, Barreca includes extracts from the diary she kept as an undergrad, photographs, and copies of a few report cards and other official college communiques. This approach has its limitations. Subtitle notwithstanding, her latest is less "personal history" and more straight autobiography. Had Barreca made more of an effort to contextualize her experience-a few pages on the history of women's higher education in America, say, or even a broader treatment ofthe Ivies going coed-the result would have been stronger. And her habit of referring to herself in third person ("She arrives in Hanover to discover there is more to learn about the college and its traditions . . . than she ever could have imagined") is an annoying distraction. Amusing and eye-opening, if flawed.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781611682021
  • Publisher: University Press of New England
  • Publication date: 9/13/2011
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 168
  • Sales rank: 888,704
  • File size: 2 MB

Meet the Author

GINA BARRECA, Professor of English Literature and feminist theory at the University of Connecticut, received a B.A. from Dartmouth College, an M.A. from Cambridge University, and a Ph.D. from the City University of New York. An award-winning columnist for the Hartford Courant, she has served as an advisor to the Library of Congress for work on humor and the American character, and was deemed a “feminist humor maven” by Ms. magazine. With Gene Weingarten of The Washington Post, she wrote I’m With Stupid: One Man, One Woman, and 10,000 Years of Misunderstandings Between The Sexes Cleared Right Up (2004). Barreca’s works, which have been translated into five languages, include the best-selling Sweet Revenge: The Wicked Delights of Getting Even (1995); Perfect Husbands (and Other Fairy Tales) (1993); and They Used to Call Me Snow White, But I Drifted (1992).

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 4, 2005

    getting the story right--and making us laugh, too

    Babes in Boyland is a memoir that captures the spirit and culture of a world that is still with us. while the author is talking about her time in college about 30 years ago, she is also describing, in a funny, engaging way, what life is like for girls and women today when they try to break away from the expectations of their families and the institutions they're dealing with. The book is a fast, fun read and should be read by every girl applying to a 'good' college.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 9, 2005

    Not the true story

    While Babes in Boyland is sold under the guise of a story about coeducation at Dartmouth, it is nothing more than Barreca¿s autobiography of her college years (highlights from her college scrapbook). The novel, filled with self-praising and clichés, fails to really capture what it was like to be a women at Dartmouth during that time. Barreca¿s struggles with assimilating seem to have more to do with her cultural background than her gender. This novel makes no serious attempt to really expose the culture that prevailed at that time.

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