Not a Goodbye Letter: The Push for Real Inclusivity

By Guest Contributor

After Nathan Weil’s piece, “A Call for a More Inclusive Movement,” came out in last week’s issue of the Campus, I heard responses that generally fell into one of two camps. The first sort praised Nathan’s article for finally giving voice to a long harbored but scantly spoken sentiment. These responses were from men. The second sort of response expressed frustration at the broad generalizations and simplifications rampant in the piece. These were from women.

I sit on the fence between these groups, and in this article, I hope to weave the salient points from each “side” into an argument more conducive to encouraging the “inclusive movement” of which Nathan speaks than any galvanizing but polarizing article ever could.

I agree with Nathan’s central point, which I have identified as the necessity of male inclusion in feminist practices. If the women’s rights movement of the ’60s didn’t illustrate the imperative for male and female partnership, I don’t know what could have. I see women’s empowerment not as a “women’s issue” but as a human issue. When women are safer, the world is safer; when women are economically independent, the world market grows; when women are educated, the world takes strides towards more democratic, peaceful politics. Since everyone benefits by women’s advancement, everyone should be encouraged to push for it.

If you believe in this advancement towards equality (which is different from sameness), you are a feminist. I have not fingers enough to tabulate the number of conversations I have had with young men and women who in one breath express support for equality and in the next make the urgent disclaimer that they are not “like, a feminist or anything.” Why is this? Well, the word “feminism” conjures a picture that looks something like this: a woman who never shaves, hates men and cares nothing for sex. Since I cannot give the concept of gender equality a new name, I have waged a grassroots battle against this misperception because it has repelled scores from embracing a movement working for basic human rights.

Unfortunately, the name is not the only thing that has discouraged many from considering themselves feminists; there is also the issue of tactics. Nathan speaks in his article about one woman, Sam Kaufman, and her actions. He cites her “radical” feminism as representative of the entire climate of gender work at Middlebury, and identifies her use of buzzwords such as “bro,” “econ” and “ADP” as alienating for a white, privileged male like himself. It is this alienation that has led him to opt-out of both feminism at Middlebury and feminism writ large.

Though I cannot dispute Nathan and others’ feelings of alienation, in the same way that he cannot argue that the perception of discrimination in the economics department is “false and manufactured,” I would question the productivity of disassociation. If one “believe[s] in equal rights for all,” and merely disagrees with the manner in which identity politics are being treated at Middlebury, would it not be more constructive to enter the dialogue and reshape it to be more inclusive? The beautiful thing about student groups here is that they are highly responsive to the needs of their target audience: us. If any student — especially a white, male and privileged one — were to approach the leaders of FAM (Feminist Action) with an idea for a gender inclusion campaign, I strongly suspect the idea would be well received.

If one believes in the principle (i.e. gender equity) but disagrees with specific manner of mobilization around that principle (i.e. perceived anti-male at Middlebury), engaging the movers and shakers in said movement is infinitely more productive than leaving a farewell note, which is essentially what Nathan’s article represents. Though he calls for “a more inclusive movement,” he suggests he is not willing to help build one by calling himself a feminist and entering the trenches to shape the dialogue; signing out of a conversation cannot be mistaken for participating in one. I view Nathan’s feelings of alienation not as motivation to quit the movement, but to join it, because like him, I know feminism can’t continue without supportive men and women pushing forward.

That said, I encourage men who were galvanized by Nathan’s article to consider experimenting with self-identification as a feminist or attending a FAM meeting and presenting a proposal for a male-inclusion campaign. I would also encourage these students to play the feminist field, so to speak; like everything else in life, feminists cannot be lumped together without qualification, and they do not all behave and think like Nathan’s “radical” Middlebury feminist archetype (hint: the author of this article is one). I challenge you to find individuals you can relate to and see how you can lean in instead of opt out.

Similarly, I press upon the women of this community the necessity and desirability of inclusion. Though historically white males have been largely responsible for repressive gender policies, there is no reason to blame white male students at Middlebury for errors they didn’t commit. Instead, they should be accepted as allies.

My hope is that if both sides engage in debates about feminism and its practice at Middlebury, the stark line between “us” and “them” will begin to blur, and one day, feminism will be a word embraced by most and needed urgently by none.

Written by BREE BACCAGLINI ’15 of San Francisco, Calif.