Feminism is dead at Williams. Nobody acts upon its principles, nobody talks about it and some people even argue that it’s unnecessary. Has feminism really become an obsolete ideology that is of absolutely no use in this perfect little community of Williamstown? I wouldn’t mind if nobody cared about feminism anymore, provided that true gender equality had been achieved. Sadly, this is not true, not even at a liberal institution like Williams.
For people who think that gender equality issues only belong to some distant “uncivilized” cultures, I’ll tell you that gender inequality is still a serious matter here at Williams, and conscious efforts need to be made to improve it. Williams was founded in 1793 as a men’s college, but it turned coed when it accepted its first regular female student in 1971. More and more female students have enrolled at Williams, and today 1047 men and 1126 women are enrolled. So there are more female students than male students; however, that number does not prove anything except that women are as smart and as competent, as good at art, music, sports, debate and any other extracurricular activities as the similarly qualified men at the College.
Let’s turn to the classroom. Out of the four courses you’re taking, how many courses are taught by female professors? I’m taking statistics, Spanish, and two political science classes and all of my professors are men. It turns out this is not by chance; there are more than twice as many male professors (98) as female professors (47) at Williams. At Wellesley College, there are almost as many female professors (49) as male professors (56). How about the subject matter you’re studying in class? How often do you talk about women, gender or sexuality in your class? Do men typically enroll in women’s and gender studies courses? Open your reading packet, and tell me how many of the readings or textbooks are written by female scholars. Generally speaking, we are studying history, culture, politics, science, and many other things about, written by, and taught by men. This skewed information shapes our ideas and actions, and makes it even more difficult for students to identify female role models in academia.
How about our sports teams? About 44 percent of all students participate in intercollegiate sports. Among them, about 36 percent play at the varsity level. Thanks to Title IX, we have equal numbers of varsity teams, 16 women’s and 16 men’s. But are women’s sports equally appreciated? Just think about the difference in audience size between women’s and men’s games. Lack of female leadership is also prominent, as six of the 15 head coaches for women’s teams are men. But how many female head coaches are there for men’s team? None.
Let us turn to more subtle situations where the sexism might not be as apparent. Consider a regular weekend at Williams. People are at a party, dancing, talking and maybe drinking. It is as if people forget that the women whom they just approached at a party are still human beings who deserve respect. As women, why do we not ask for the same level of respect at a party that we demand in the classroom? Why do we have to feel uncomfortable?
This question leads to the silenced and almost invisible issue of sexual assault and rape at Williams. Rape and sexual assault happen on this campus and these are usually not crimes committed in the dark alley by some perverted stranger. Remember the RASAN t-shirt campaign from last year? “One in six women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime, and one in 33 men will be sexually assaulted in his lifetime.” Despite this harsh and quite straightforward reality, we still find it difficult to break the suffocating silence around this issue.
These are just few of many problems that Williams students face every day. If you still believe that feminism is of no use on this campus, then wake up and face our reality. Of course, what you do matters more than what you call it. There is still a silver lining, though; feminism is not yet dead because there are people in our community who care about these issues and strive to solve them. If you believe that people should be able to reach their potential no matter what their gender is, you are a feminist. And, please, act upon it. March is Women’s History Month; so what better time to start than now?