Girl Talk/Guy Talk
Girl Talk began in the Baker living room in 2005. I had a group of students who wanted to talk about gender issues. My own idea was to do a consciousness raising group of the 1970s variety but geared toward the 21st century, and toward conversations between generations of women (them, the RAs in their 30s, and me). We met, monthly, sometimes more or less, for several years. My own role was as a peer, not professor. So I led the group as a place to speak about my own challenges and experiences with sexism as a mid-life woman.
Guy Talk began when the guys at Baker got jealous enough of the supercool Girl Talk so that they convinced José Aranda, the other Baker Master, to host it. For several years Guy Talk met in the garage of the Baker Master’s Residence. They apparently talked about masculinity, homophobia, how to get dates (there was a controversial Valentine’s Day Challenge.) Mainly what the young women could hear was a lot of laughing.
Girl Talk talked about sex, pornography, asking out guys or girls, queerness, spooning, menstruation, sexism, birth control, the beauty industry and pressures to get cosmetic surgeries, aging, feminism, the problem of family and of the fact that Guy Talk never talked about family as a challenge for the Rice men. We did some crying. We walked out feeling better in our connections.
We talked new first year students into joining Girl Talk by linking it to Baker Powderpuff Football. I played on the team myself. The team was always trying to get players, and the O line and D line were the same players. We began to notice that girls who were doing sports were acting more powerful in their everyday lives in the college.
After a couple of years it occurred to us to institutionalize Girl Talk during Orientation Week, and instigate a conversation among first year female students about healthy behaviors in the first 8 weeks of the first year experience. The vast majority of sexual assaults happen to first year female students in the initial 8 weeks of the new school year. Alcohol is almost always involved. We had as one of our RAs at that point the incomparable Emily Page, Director of the Wellness Center. She posted information about these stats prominently on the Wellness Center’s website. The college leadership, the RAs, and I worked together so that we could make a point, during Orientation Week, to create a collective girl power culture capable of intervening on these statistical probabilities. Guy Week did its part to work with the men and be sure they understood how Texas state law defines consent (a drunk person cannot give consent).
Over time Girl Talk began to sponsor events on campus related to younger women’s feminism. Jennifer Baumgartner and Amy Richards visited a class taught by me and then came to lunch in the college. The writer Liz Funk gave a talk in the Baker House living room about ideals of femininity and perfection. The video game theorist Carly Kocurek, a Rice alum and grad student at University of Texas Austin, gave a talk.
Girl Talk caught on at other colleges, who wanted to have their own versions, as did the Women’s Resource Center. In the years following our term as Baker Masters, we learned that Girl Talk was repurposed and institutionalized as a regular part of O-Week — today it’s called “Healthy Relationships.”