Adventures in damseling: remembering Shannon Faulkner

Shannon with Oprah after interview in 1996.

(AUTHOR’S NOTE:I wrote this piece in the Spring of 1995 in my past life as a columnist for the University Of Arizona Daily Wildcat. It first appeared in the April 21, 1995 issue. The original link is here.

For those who don’t recall the story, or are from other countries, Shannon Faulkner sued a school called The Citadel on the grounds that the military-structured private college’s all-male admissions policy was unconstitutional. She had won admission after submitting an application that omitted any reference to her gender, and the school rescinded their acceptance letter. Judge C. Weston Houck ruled in her favor in 1993, but Faulkner was only allowed to attend day classes, not full cadet activities pending appeal. After The Citadel’s appeal was denied, Faulkner was the first woman to attend the institution with full cadet privileges… and responsibilities. It’s the responsibilities part that was, well, problematic in her eyes [sound familiar?]

For her part, Faulkner did endure opprobrium and scorn on a massive scale, including some death threats and written threats to her safety, all of which cannot be excused. In the face of the criticism, Faulkner quit the program after five days.

The institution continues to admit women, and there is still friction from male cadets, some blatantly sexist, but others questioning the relaxed hazing and initiation standards women are still held to. This focuses on how Faulkner set those standards with her demands to be “more equal than others.” Read On.)

Faulkner should conform

Imagine fighting for the right to skydive, and deciding after the jump that you don’t want to hit the ground.

Pretty silly, right?

Well, imagine someone fighting to get into a private military academy where no head goes unshaved, where there are no locks on doors, where no earrings, tattoos, makeup or other expressions of individuality are allowed, getting in, and wanting to wear a ponytail, have locks put on her door, have her own shower, flaunt her individuality, and saying with a straight face, “I want the full experience of this institution.” People would be quite within their rights to question this person’s honesty.

Well, this duplicitous description belongs to one Shannon Faulkner, the young woman who was ordered to be the first female cadet in the 150-plus year history of the Citadel. Now, it seems, she will embark on a new mission; to become the first maverick at an institution whose rules conscript uniformity.

Shannon doesn’t get it. Her supporters don’t either.

This is not the State U., where the atmosphere encourages dissent. At the Citadel, conformity is mandated.

Shannon’s supporters say that the demand for Shannon to shave her head is a deliberate attempt to make her miserable, thus deterring future female applicants, and that it exemplifies the backlash that awaits all women who dare to buck tradition.

They don’t get it.

Imagine the first black cadet coming in with dreadlocks and demanding they not be cut, on the grounds that it is punitive. How absurd would that be?

The purpose of the tradition of freshman subjugation is to make them miserable. Ironically, this specter of misery is what draws new cadets. The idea is to persevere and sacrifice to the whole, thereby strengthening the mind and the soul. That is the Citadel mission. Without these rules, it ceases to be the Citadel Shannon purports she is so anxious to experience.

Supporters of Faulkner complain of incessant stubbornness of the “Ol’ Boy Network.” But most of these same people had a collective conniption fit when the administration at Mills College in California decided to admit men in 1989. We saw images of women sobbing like they were at a funeral. Where were the cries of “equal access” then? Traditionally black colleges admit whites. Fact is, women’s groups want to end all-male education, but at the same time want to have their own spaces where men can’t enter. At last count, these spaces numbered 84, including Mills, whose trustees eventually ran scared and reversed themselves. The rationale for this toxic sexism toward men is that women often are short-changed in a co-ed atmosphere, and need a place to develop self-confidence.

I don’t get it.

This is 1995. Where have these women been hiding?

Most men and women want women to have access to all avenues in life they are willing and able to pursue. But equality is a tricky business, and being seen as an equal is not always fun. Equality can mean having to sacrifice, endure, and sometimes, be humiliated by the group. It is under these circumstances where all too many people expect women to be pampered. It seems that some women only see equality as something uplifting; something that boosts confidence, and gives one a warm fuzzy feeling inside. It is disturbing to men against sexism that some women, when things get tough or call for sacrifice, insist on falling back on the same archaic “fairer sex” stereotypes and gender dichotomies feminism tried so hard to eradicate. The paradox is that so-called feminists want these allowances to be made.

Repeat refrain

Men get these mixed signals and become frustrated, and, as a result, often don’t take women seriously.

In this case, Faulkner and her supporters think she is rightly entitled to the full Citadel package with only partial payment. Does anyone truly believe having her hair cut will scar her for life? If so, why did she apply there in the first place?

Because Shannon Faulkner is a poser. She wants to tailor the Citadel to meet her needs, not to become a cadet. If she did, her first questions after the first decision would’ve been, “Where’s the barber, where’s my uniform, and where’s my room?”, and not “Do I have to cut my hair?”

But Shannon can prove all of the critics wrong, even those at the Citadel. Instead of being a whiner, be a cadet. Endure the first year, insisting on being with the men and enduring the same humiliation. Move up in the ranks, graduate with honors. Whether you believe it or not, men, particularly military men, respect a woman who can take it and still dish it back. If you do the things mentioned above, you will get respect. And, oh yeah, cut the hair.

After all, you’re only 20. It’ll grow back.

Tyrone Henry is a political science senior.

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