Jennifer Weiner on combating Ivy League gender discrimination

CBS News asked noted figures in the arts, business and politics about their experience in today's civil rights movement, or about figures who inspired them in their activism.

Jennifer Weiner, novelist ("Good in Bed," "In Her Shoes"); critic of gender bias in media

Please share an experience in which you realized that the U.S. has/has not achieved equality in race, gender or sexual preference, and its impact on you.

Jennifer Weiner
Andrea Cipriani

Princeton University admitted its first class of women in 1969, so by the time I showed up as a first-year student in 1987, women had been integrated into almost every aspect of campus life. We could take any class, participate in most sports, write for the paper, audition for plays or performance or a capella singing groups.

What we couldn't do was join all the eating clubs.

Instead of Greek fraternities and sororities, Princeton has eating clubs, housed in distinguished mansions on Prospect Avenue, where upperclassmen take their meals, attend parties, and spend their free time, and where alums return during reunions to network with each other, and with undergraduates. Two of the bicker clubs -- Ivy and Tiger Inn -- were still all-male.

It didn't make sense to me. Women paid the same tuition, took the same classes. Why were two clubs off-limits, just because of biology?

In 1979, an undergraduate named Sally Frank filed a sex discrimination lawsuit against the clubs. By the time I got to campus, Frank was typically dismissed as a feminist crank, a malcontent who did not speak for the majority of female students. But my friends and I thought she was right . . . and we made the coeducation of the clubs a campus-wise issue.

We picketed the clubs' bicker, and enlisted alums to march with us, holding signs asking why their daughters couldn't join their father's club. We got professors and administrators to wear pins and sign an open letter asking the clubs to do the right thing. We organized rallies. We wrote op-eds. We participated in debates. We gave speeches. And, in 1991, months before I graduated and a year before the courts ruled in Sally Frank's favor, both T.I. and Ivy voted to admit women.

Ten years later, as a debut novelist, I found myself asking why another old, powerful institution -- The New York Times -- treated women differently than it treated men. I wasn't happy to have to take up my sword and shield again, but my experience at Princeton prepared me for the fight.

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