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Regardless of the worries of anxious yuppie parents, the women at Smith College (my small, all-girls liberal arts college alma mater) are not all lesbians. Okay, it's tough to find someone there who hasn't kissed a girl at one time or another, and one woman I knew used "lesbian" as a synonym for "person" ("hey, what're you lesbians up to?"), but many Smithies go to bat with the opposite team almost exclusively.

However, we at Duckett House felt that the straight girls shouldn't be missing out on Smith's positive lesbian stereotypes -- toughness, outspokenness, gutsiness, metaphorical balls of steel. These were attributes common to many Smith women, down to the girliest little Quad bunny. Thus were born the two sliding scales of Dykeitude and Lesbianality.

Lesbianality is straight-up (ha!) sleeping with women. The more you have sex with women (it can be all the same woman, of course), the higher your lesbianality. Sex with men is a low-lesbianality act but doesn't subtract from your lesbianality quotient.

Dykeitude is more complicated. Basically, anything ballsy, admirable, or done with attitude is high in dykeitude. If your actions make it evident that you're a smart, strong, self-reliant, take-no-crap kind of gal, you're gaining in dykeitude, no matter who you sleep with. (It also doesn't have to do with the way you present yourself; in this construction, lipstick dyke is not an oxymoron.)

A concrete example: A woman who lived in my house slept with Wyclef Jean when he was passing through Northampton. This is high dykeitude (she's not exactly a starfucker, she was just cool enough to go get what she wanted and the rest of us were pretty impressed) but low lesbianality. The same woman sleeping with her girlfriend is high lesbianality but low dykeitude. If she'd slept with, say, Patti Smith instead of Wyclef, it would be high on both scales. (Of course, high-dykeitude actions don't have to be sex-related... the sleeping-with-Wyclef example was just one of the first we used to crystallize the distinction.)

Hence, for instance, "dyke music." Lots of non-lesbians listen to Ani DiFranco, Sinead O'Connor, Tori Amos, Dar Williams, and other artists we considered "dykey." Lots of lesbians don't listen to them, and whether or not you enjoy them has nothing whatsoever to do with your sexual preference. But, like them or not, these artists and others like them display a high-dykeitude sensibility. (I'm not that into this type of music, but songs like "Not A Pretty Girl" just make me swoon with their straightforward, hard-edged attitude. Of course, my disillusionment with Smith had to wear off before I could feel this way.)

One of the major problems people cite with Smith is the heterophobia. I wish we'd spread the dykeitude/lesbianality distinction around a bit more, because it might have been useful to point out that straight and sorta-straight girls can have the gumption without the muff-diving -- and that the latter doesn't get you the former automatically.

It's been pointed out to me that this writeup may be getting downvoted because people wonder, if I'm saying these are two separate things, why do I use the word "dykeitude"? Why bother to use semantics that mark it as related to lesbians? My answer is that I'm very much in favor of reclaiming the words that have been used for degradation -- of women, of gays, of anyone (barring perhaps the most troubling word of this type). We used the expanded meaning of "dyke" to cover the traits we admired, but which were historically invitations to be called a dyke or worse. A similar reclamation project has been in the works for "bitch" for quite some time -- traits like assertiveness and confidence can still get you called a bitch, so some women choose to treat it as a positive term. Being students at an all-female and high-lesbian-content institution, we were more concerned with the word "dyke." One way for us, for all of us, to reclaim it from the insult file was to make it into something separate from sexual preferences, something that might apply to any woman who threatened some people enough that they'd try to take her down with words.