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Campus Confidential: Finals And The Curse Of The Perfect Girl

Campus Confidential
campus confidential
All of Barnard freshman Julie Zeilinger's posts about college life. Read More »

The number one question my high school friends ask me when we chat now is, “So are you sick of being around all those girls yet?” Despite the fact that I have attempted to explain my decision to attend a women’s college a seemingly infinite amount of times, I always answer  ”no.” Being around women has been a really supportive experience, a nice change of pace and a really beneficial academic experience so far.

Or at least that was my answer up until finals. 

I go to an extremely competitive, academically rigorous school. I don’t really care what the official rankings are; all I know is that I am surrounded by the most hyper-motivated, incredibly intelligent people I have ever encountered. This was something that I immediately loved about my school. As a giant nerd myself, I felt (and still do) feel at home in this environment with these women. But then finals rolled around, and those girls striving for perfection, those girls I had related to, started to scare me. 

My peers go hard for finals — in all senses. One girl I know practically OD-ed on energy drinks. (Fun fact: the label on those drinks that advises against drinking more than a certain number over a certain period of time is less of a suggestion than it is a serious warning.) One girl was thought to be missing until she was found in the library, which she hadn’t left in over two days. In fact, she wasn’t the anomaly: it suddenly became trendy to post pictures of yourself and your friends surrounded by stacks of books and snacks in the library at 3 a.m. on Facebook. The overwhelming conversation in the dorm halls became an ongoing contest to see who had studied more hours and more subjects that day. Each otherwise interesting girl became conversationally confined to little more than a checklist of her academic duties. 

I realize the case could be made that this is the environment at any academically rigorous school, not just a women’s college. But somehow it felt different to me. I spent a lot of time during finals studying with a friend of mine who goes to an equally rigorous co-ed university in NYC and somehow having guys around made it different. It seems that while guys may take their studies seriously, they approach their work with less of a sense of cutthroat competition and perfectionism: they worry about themselves, know their own limits and are able to approach the whole thing with at least a little bit of humor. But girls are used to trying to live up to impossible standards and trying to tear each other down in seemingly mindless competition to get ahead in all other areas of our lives. Be it our bodies, popularity, competition for boyfriends – whatever the (admittedly stupid) thing may be, we’re constantly striving to be the best no matter what the cost.

When put into an academic context, our goals and approaches are no different. If anything, they’re heightened. Guys, no matter how motivated or ambitious they may be, don’t seem to approach achieving their goals in the same cutthroat, intensely perfectionist way — at least not as overwhelmingly as girls do, and at least without detrimental repercussions for themselves. While girls don’t second guess harming themselves to get ahead (energy drink ODing, complete lack of sleep, etc), guys seem overall less self-punishing.

 While I had always been aware of this reality about the competition amongst girls, finals seemed to put it into a new, glaring context for me. I tried to keep up — to be the perfect girl that my peers were all striving to be — but I just ended up exhausted, angry and frustrated. I tried to play into the competition, tried to go to the library longer, tried to make more intense study guides. But somehow I always ended up back on the Hulu homepage. I realized — fortunately sooner rather than later — that I’d rather keep my sanity than win some ridiculous, imaginary competition to be the Perfect Girl.

It’s a decision that ultimately ended up working out just fine for me. I just wish some of my peers had reached the same conclusion.

Want to contact the author of this post? Email her at JulieZ@TheFBomb.org. Julie Zeilinger also edits and blogs for The F Bomb

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