What I’ve Learned About Feminism at Middlebury: A Manifesto of Sorts

By Sam Kaufman

As I approach the very end of my time here, I occasionally wonder how much my perspective has changed over the years. I still worry about many of my freshman concerns: Am I happy? Do I have enough friends? Do I like them? Did I take the right class? Presented with an absurd time crunch, these issues jump between irrelevant and tired. We like to think we’ve changed irrevocably during our time at Middlebury, but sometimes I wonder about the difference between how much we change versus how much we let ourselves change. How much does stubbornness push back against maturation?

I’ve thought a great deal about what I should be doing to affect the types of positive change I’d like to see on campus. Despite my focus in print, I never chose to get involved in any sort of organized feminist group here. Up until this column, I’d say, feminism has been a very proud badge I’ve worn, but truthfully, I’ve done very little to push the issue in the way that I’ve organized on other issues. Writing here every few weeks has forced me to examine that choice, and this last column is a culmination of sorts.

Last week, sitting down to lunch with two friends, I wondered aloud about possible topics for my last column. I think my friends — two white, cis-gendered, heterosexual men — represent a pretty large demographic at this institution. Throw in unavoidable privilege for good measure, and we’ve got a sizable group that I’d like to think is my target audience for this column. Firing up the base is something I thought less about initially. I now wonder if that was the wrong tactic. Should I have spoken more to the established feminist community?

So, have I learned anything about feminism at my time here? I like to think I have. I’ve learned that women need to speak up in classes dominated by male professors and male students. Feminism in college means talking about rape culture. It means talking about the advancement of female professors in departments where they are historically underrepresented. I’m looking at you, economics department. Feminism at Middlebury means having these conversations in the basement of ADP, but also in the fitness center and at the salad bar at Proctor.

The bigger question is: did I share that knowledge? Maybe not enough. I didn’t join FAM and I didn’t major in WAGs.

Throughout my academic career, I’ve seen feminism as a hobby, one that’s taken a back seat to my other, more “legitimate” academic interests. Now I wonder if I should have thrown away those preconceived notions about what to study. I’ve never been nearly as successful or interested in the “practical” arts of economics and languages as my side hobby of reading and thinking about feminism.

Because what I’ve found most fascinating here at Middlebury has always been how those hobbies translate into our weekend social scene. The college environment is the petri dish for these ideas we throw around in modern feminist discussion. We are living experiments here, and our weekends consist of feminist blog fodder. We live in the exact societies of under-reported sexual assault, of the possibility for women to be silenced in classrooms, where the next generation of female leaders learns how to interact with a world that is still largely run by men. We take courses with the same men who will run boardrooms in 30 years. This is exactly where we should be talking about feminism and female empowerment.

So what does all that mean about feminism on Middlebury’s campus? Well, for starters, there isn’t enough of it, and it’s improperly labeled: for women only. This false advertising is inherently tied up in the gendered makeup of our college departments. It’s tied up in the fitness center and salad bars and our woeful apathy around so many issues here. Why is the economics department largely made up of men? Why is our WAGs department primarily female?

I’ve learned that women who don’t consider themselves feminists simply don’t understand their own history, or the stakes involved. If you are a female student and don’t call yourself a feminist, you are biting the hand that led you up the path to Mead Chapel, so you could pass along a silly old cane that was once only passed from white, Christian man to white, Christian man. You are here because generations of women built upon the legacy of their predecessors. So if you do not call yourself a feminist, then you don’t belong here. You don’t deserve to walk these ridiculously ice-covered pathways that were fought to be slipped on by you.

And don’t worry, I didn’t forget about those men I talked about earlier, although at this point they may have stopped reading. Men are the luckiest here, really. How many would still be getting warm at ADP without feminism to grease the wheels of hookup culture?

This is the challenge I lay out to feminists still here: get feminists like me involved. Find a way to convince me to do something other than sitting in a corner and whining about gender relations on this campus. And then convince the bro in line at Ross that he should care, too. Make sure every woman here knows who got her here and what she can do for her own future. Let’s stop talking about glass ceilings — those ridiculous litmus tests for equality should be irrelevant. And in the mean time, let’s start passing out a bright pink cane along with Painter’s. Or maybe something a little less kitschy.

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.