“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
A humorous and provocative account of being a female undergraduate at Dartmouth College in its turbulent first years of co-education
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.
“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
From the Book:
“In retrospect, I think I both exploited and evaded the confines of the role of working-class-kid on campus. True, I saw social and economic spikes everywhere and rushed to impale myself on them, but I also, in time, came to accept that the education and experience were mine for good . . . A good education can be subversive, even when it apparently endorses conventional moral and cultural doctrines. I suspect, therefore, that only a very good education could have prepared me to be a troublemaker. I came to Hanover fearing trouble. I left looking for it.” —From the Book
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).