Diversifying the Dialogue

Feminism is Equality (F=E) has garnered the attention of Phillips Academy students, faculty and the broader community. Yet while the movement purports to promote dynamic and inclusive dialogue, it instead has only resulted in a one-sided monologue. Because Andover has been consistently supportive of F=E and no students dare to criticize the group in public, one wonders if the movement faces any actual opposition at Andover. Students who really want to start a meaningful conversation on gender should question the universal acceptance of F=E and other similar supported movements. In last week’s issue of The Phillipian, Antonia Leggett ’14 called for a “shift [in] the institution’s inherent attitudes… toward a more equal community.” This statement is either mistaken or misleading. The use of the term “shift” to describe what is requested of our institution is erroneous simply because the post civil-rights academia has been moving towards “a more equal community” for 40 years. A shift isn’t needed because we are already moving in the right direction. A more accurate call would have been to continue the institution’s increasingly open attitudes toward a more equal community. Furthermore, F=E’s letter employed combative rhetoric, invoking Race, Class & Sexuality in a manner that could be likened to God, King & Country. Anyone who might criticize the wielders of these words could be labeled as racist, elitist or sexist. Moreover, these sensitive three words are highly volatile; any one of them could transform a discussion into a group outrage about injustice. The point of these conversations is to initiate a dialogue, not a one-way path of frustration. F=E’s letter to the Editor is therefore a call for one-sided monologue. In fact, the real dialogue has only just begun and must continue if we wish to see positive change. Those who feel privately that their worldviews conflict with the universalizing language of F=E should speak out about their experiences instead of struggling alone. As a personal example, is a mother guilty of working towards inequality if she resolutely refuses to accept the help of her son in the kitchen? The answer would be obvious to F=E, but the consequences to the relationship between the mother and son are complicated and personal, and they cannot be defined as simply right or wrong based on the movement’s perspective. There are hundreds of students in this Academy who come from socially conservative backgrounds, and their inherited beliefs about gender roles in society, however wrong they may seem to F=E, form an identity that is being marginalized and demonized. Given that F=E and a homogenous majority of the Andover’s student body control the campus discussion on gender, a real dialogue about feminism is dependent on those outside this framework. Both new and old students, especially those from conservative backgrounds, should feel comfortable to speak out about their marginalized opinions and worldviews. This group of students simply needs representation and a voice—only then can our campus wide discussion on gender truly be considered a multifaceted dialogue.