Leave Your Attitudes at Home

By Esme Valette, Middlebury Class of 2016

Donald Trump has proclaimed April as “National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month,” affirming his commitment to reducing and ultimately ending sexual violence in our Nation. Kind of ironic coming from the man who’s been accused of sexually assaulting more than fifteen women and caught on tape bragging about his right to “grab ‘em by the pussy.” While I do not support our country’s president, I am committed to raising awareness about sexual abuse and fighting against it. So in keeping with this month’s theme, let me tell you about some of the predatory pack behavior that I was privy to at Middlebury College.

I was studying for a biology exam when I got the email. Sleep-deprived and drowning in my pre-med workload, I welcomed the reprieve offered by the ping in my inbox.

From: Senior Dudes hunterandhunted6969@gmail.com

Date: May 7, 2014 11:23:34 PM EDT

Subject: Reverse Cougar Party!!! Top Secret!!!

Ladies,

If you are receiving this e-mail you are amongst the lucky few invited to the 50th annual Hunters and the Hunted Party. A group of senior guys have each selected one of you as their date for the night. Couples will be revealed upon your arrival at the party. This is a great honor and should not be taken lightly.

To clarify, the theme for the party is “Hunters and Hunted.” Each senior guy will be dressed up as a hunter while dates are expected to dress up as animals that are customarily hunted, either in the foothills of Africa, the backwoods of Vermont, or elsewhere.

The party will take place in Atwater Suite M Entrance B, 4th floor on Friday, May 9th at 10:30 p.m. Please leave your attitudes at home. If this party conflicts with your schedule, or any firm feminist ideals you may hold, please reply to this e-mail address so we can find a replacement date.

Beer, punch, wine, and Svedka will be provided.

Cheers,

Men of the Class of 2014

At first, I was flattered to be invited to such an exclusive party. This is a great honor and should not be taken lightly. Reader, I can feel you rolling your eyes at the “men” who composed this email, and also at me for my naiveté. But I’m a human being with an ego, and I did feel genuinely honored in that brief moment: validated, desired, and… well, cool.

The Senior Dudes responsible for these types of exclusive date parties were fraternity brothers. Although Greek life was apparently “banned for good” at Middlebury College after “a crudely battered female mannequin” dangled from a frat balcony in 1998[1], frat culture is still pervasive in the Middlebury social scene today. There are four secret frats that I know about, each with about 25 to 30 members.

It was only when I began to think logistically about the party that my “firm feminist ideals” set in.  Was I actually “expected” to dress up as a hunted animal? So I’d be dressed as a deer or an elk or something drinking Svedka next to an older guy who’d be playing the role of my “hunter”? Wasn’t that kind of…rape-y?

When I re-read the email, it occurred to me that the premise of the party was an unimaginative way of asserting sexual dominance. The Senior Dudes could not have picked a more blatant theme for perpetuating gender prejudice: “Hunters and Hunted,” artlessly clarifying that the guys were to be the hunters and the girls were expected to dress as the hunted. Also note the double 69 wedged into the email address, a wink to their sexual entitlement. This behavior was not only crude, unoriginal, and ultimately boring, but it was also rooted in cowardice. Unable to handle the strength and spirit of college-aged women, the Senior Dudes were asking us point-blank to “leave [our] attitudes at home.” They were hiding behind an anonymous email address and a predatory ritual instead of appealing to women using their own charm and charisma.

I responded to the email with a curt, “I can’t go.” Later that week, someone posted about me on Yik-Yak: “Esmé’s walk = does anal.” Being an anonymous social platform, Yik-Yak allows users to hide behind an app while spewing criticism. There’s no way to know who sent that Yak, but it certainly reflected the cowardice displayed by the “Senior Dudes.”

Receiving the “Hunters and Hunted” invitation wasn’t the first time that I’d been privy to predatory pack behavior at Middlebury College — a school reputed for its smart and progressive student body. Earlier that year, an ex-pseudo-boyfriend of mine (a frat-boy that we’ll call Tim) had coldly relayed to me the intimate details that had been shared about my sex-life in the proverbial “boy’s locker room” — the things I’d said, the noises I’d made. Never in my life had I felt so violated, so crushed with shame.  Tim claimed that he wasn’t trying to hurt my feelings, but instead to give me a “window into male psychology” with anecdotes about his fraternity — like the initiation ritual that required the freshman boys to yell out names of the “sluttiest girls they’ve fucked” on campus (because objectifying women is such a bonding experience).

Tim was justifying this kind of crude and misogynistic behavior by portraying it as an inevitable symptom of “male psychology.” Kind of like how Melania Trump defended the lewd comments made by her husband on a leaked tape with a perfunctory “boys will be boys.[2]” But Donald Trump is not a boy, and neither are the “Senior Dudes” that Middlebury is sending out into the world each year to fill high positions in society and in the workplace. Let’s stop dismissing sexist pack behavior with the notion that men are somehow wired to compete for, prey on, and ultimately debase women. Man is not an animal, but a cultural and intellectual being. He has the power to stick up for women in the locker room and not hide behind a pack.

Esme Valette ’16 writes about pack mentality on campus.

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