Things We Won’t Tolerate

By Guest Contributor

Last week, our fellow editor Edward O’Brien ’17 wrote an interesting Notes from the Desk calling out a group of straight Middlebury guys who verbally berated men who tried to dance with them at a Q&A (Queers and Allies) party, telling them to “fuck off.” We were talking about that situation that Edward presented and think that the conversation we ended up having hit on an issue that we at Middlebury spend a lot of time thinking around, yet never seem to talk about. What follows is our (corny) attempt to recreate that conversation:

Fritz: Yeah. So. What do you think?

Olivia: I think he has a point because if I yelled that at a guy at the social house formerly known as ADP, I would’ve gotten called out.

Fritz: But should that be okay?

Olivia: What do you mean?

Fritz: Random sexual advances that are totally unsolicited. Are you in the wrong for getting upset at a guy who comes up to you at an Atwater party and starts grinding on you?

Olivia: As someone who’s dated and flirted with both men and women here, I feel like at one of those parties, that’s happened a lot, and I’ve just kind of run away if I didn’t want to do that with them. But I would never flirt with a girl at one of those parties because I’d be so afraid that I’d make them uncomfortable. That feels messed up to me is that I feel like a guy can hit on me whenever he feels like it without worrying about making me uncomfortable, but a guy can’t hit on another guy without getting yelled at.

Fritz: But is it messed up that you feel uncomfortable making unsolicited sexual advances towards women or that men feel comfortable making those advances towards you?

Olivia: I would never go up to a random woman and start grinding on her at a party.

Fritz: But is that a good thing? Should everyone maybe feel a little less comfortable about making sexual passes at people when it’s not wanted?

Olivia: Yeah. I mean, I guess I don’t think anyone should be able to just go up to someone and grind their genitals on them. And it’s not all that different from my being angry with some guy making cat calls at women on the street is it?

Fritz: Exactly. My point is that I think that more of us should be telling people who make unsolicited sexual advances to “fuck off.” Those two words go pretty far towards sending the message that overtly sexual attention — at least in the context of a sweaty dance party — is never flattering. I’d like to think that message transcends the boundaries of sexuality. Random dance-floor creeping is never the move. End of story.

So the point of us typing up our relatively casual conversation for you all to read is to deconstruct the ideas that Edward brought up and the reactions that we had to them. For both of us, Edward’s op-ed inspired an instinctive emotional response. Olivia’s was inspired by her experience as a queer-identifying member of campus and a MiddSafe advocate; Fritz reacted as a straight guy with firm beliefs surrounding consent.

It’s important to understand that a display of verbal aggression towards a gay man for expressing his sexuality at a party specifically designed to be a safe space for the LGBTQ community is absolutely unacceptable. Having different standards for how people interact with you based on their sexual orientation is also unacceptable. However, it should be understood that it is — or should be — unacceptable to make unsolicited physical contact of a sexual nature with another member of this community, regardless of the environment or either party’s sexual orientation.

The conclusion that we have come to is that the real issue in Edward’s story is that there is an unspoken code at Middlebury that we are not allowed to feel threatened by those who make unwanted sexual advances on us and that we are implicitly told we should feel “flattered” by these advances. Perhaps the unwanted attention that people experience — regardless of sexual orientation — is the real issue.

OLIVIA ALLEN ’15 is a Design Editor from Charlottesville, Va. and FRITZ PARKER ’15 is a Sports Editor from Arlington, Va.