To the Editor:
Last week, 75 people signed a Letter to the Editor criticizing the decision requiring this year’s Means Essay entries to pertain to gender. Another Commentary article supported this sentiment, arguing that the prompt “stifle[s] writers by forcing them to compartmentalize their human experience into the scope of one facet of their existence.” This is absurd. The Means Essay prompt invites students to explore the ways gender intersects with and shapes all aspects of their human experiences. The letter’s assertion that gender “simply isn’t and never has been” a part of some students’ lives demonstrates the aggressive ignorance many students have adopted towards the subject.
Gender permeates all facets of our existence whether we like it or not. To argue that our experiences as “musicians, athletes, and writers” aren’t rooted “firmly within the context of gender” is false.
To the musicians: why are female conductors still so rare? Why is there a marked shortage of male voices in the chorus? Why do we so often cheer wildly for the Yorkies but make Azure the subject of our derision?
To the athletes: why are male athletes and their matches so much more revered and celebrated? What does it mean when one of your classmates is called a “puck slut”? Why is the all-male Andover/Exeter football game such an event, while the all-female field hockey game is not?
And to the writers: gender provides such a wealth of material in its intersections with class, ability, race and sexual orientation that to consider gender an impediment to writing indicates an active refusal to think deeply about these issues. It’s true that a good essay draws upon individual experience, but it is necessarily also tailored to audience, word count, form and, in this case, a theme. Gender should not be viewed as a constraint; instead, it should serve as inspiration.
Coed@40 is not just a time to “celebrate” 40 years of coeducation; it is an opportunity for forceful, and at times uncomfortable introspection. The topic of gender is not “counter-intuitive to the spirit of coeducation,” as the letter claims, but rather is an intrinsic part of it. It is true that many students cherish the Means Essay as an opportunity for boundless freedom of expression, but we believe the importance of talking about gender outweighs this concern. And the fact that so many students aggressively reject any discussion of gender and assert its unimportance further reinforces the necessity of these discussions in the first place. The Means Essay – the only public literary tradition held in such high esteem at Andover – is just the vehicle to explore the nuanced and diverse ways gender affects each of us.
Zainab Aina ’14
Janine Ko ’14
Alex Tamkin ’14
Benjamin Yi ’14