By Maddie Cook '18
When I told my friends and family that I was applying to women’s colleges, there were a number of common responses I faced. On the one hand, many people supported my interest and encouraged me to apply. But then there were the more ill-founded concerns:
“Why do you want to go to an ‘all girl’s school?’”
“I could never do that!”
“Are there other campuses near you where you could meet men?”
“But, don’t you think that’s like, reverse sexism?”
I know I am not the only who has heard these. However, the one I heard the most was, “But girls are so catty, there would be so much drama!”
By far, this sentiment saddened me the most as it feeds into the unfortunate misconception that women can’t be true friends. Versed in the language of women’s college admissions, I was quick to criticize this statement because Mount Holyoke prided itself on being a tight knit community. During my time here, there is no question that I have found like-minded people and fostered deep connections. There is a community. But where does it manifest?
With this vast variety of backgrounds, we are warned our first year that we will encounter others with a multitude of divergent experiences. During orientation, we are told daily to embrace the diversity of people, how this is vital to integrating into Mount Holyoke. There are many groups on campus that raise awareness about the nature of this imagined community we reference, and discussions about community building are happening; but they are happening in hidden corners. We lack a consistent space to discuss the diversity and variety we purport to embrace in a productive manner.
Unfortunately, the most insidiously convenient digital forums we use to discuss the happenings on campus are anonymous, limited, or both. The Holyoke Confessional and other social media forums, such as YikYak, predominate campus communication. This has been on display in the past year with regard to the trans* student policy, Campus Reform articles, discussion of transportation for international students over break, and the list goes on. This space has also served to foster individual attacks, objectification of fellow students, and racist and homophobic content. The issues discussed in this anonymous forum are ones that need to be discussed in a public forum. We have the occasional lecture and workshop, but the great and effective change we speak of occurs when the hard topics are perpetually and productively spoken about. The language used within The Confessional and other forms of social media are ineffective in political discourse and prove hurtful, alienating, and destructive when turned on individuals of our community. If we cannot hold each other accountable for the opinions we share, and the worries and troubles we have with Mount Holyoke regarding these issues, how can we grow?
But what does it really mean to live in community? Let me emphasize a word in this question. In. Living in the community means engaging with all aspects of it. Its triumphs, flaws, its range of people, its setting. Even though we say we live in community, we may be in fact living at odds with it by not responding to challenges and conflicts that arise socially and structurally. We live within this campus in the physical sense, but at times falter when trying to embrace its beauty and difficulty: emotionally, psychologically, or spiritually. We therefore stifle its potential. This campus has offered me many opportunities and is a place where I have learned so much. Therefore it truly is my duty to love it so dearly in return precisely by criticizing it. That is how my love for this school must manifest, honoring my faith in its potential.
You may still be asking, “how can we call this anonymous forum a feminist concern?” Historically, this unique institution was founded to afford educational opportunity to those marginalized on the basis of gender. We are now becoming a place for individuals of myriad genders who experience oppression and marginalization in society today. There are innate values of siblinghood that are believed to be inherent in the Mount Holyoke community, but if our main forms of communication regarding difficult issues is through anonymous forums, we are feeding into stifling gender stereotypes. Women are so often taught to be competitive with each other. We learn to compare ourselves to one another. This puts a strain on our friendships and keeps us from joining together to look at the bigger issue: the patriarchy we live under, so highly androcentric it is suffocating. It stifles our personhood, and the ability to build community.
Just because we label our campus a tight knit community does not mean it will materialize out of thin air.
Actually living in community means standing with all of its members and being in solidarity with them. If we have computer screens as barriers between each of us, how is that possible? Gloria Steinem said, “Any woman who chooses to behave like a full human being should be warned that the armies of the status quo will treat her as something of a dirty joke. That’s their natural and first weapon. She will need her sisterhood.”
Steinem reigns true; we have come to this school to build a network so that when we do go out into the world, we have our siblinghood to fight with us. The furthering of this community must manifest in people coming to the table and having continual conversation with each other about their inspirations, ideas, worries, and loves. We need to engage dissonance with our community members in the flesh, and put our name to our words.
Note: I understand that there are some stereotypes that I refer to that have a cisgender bias in quotes and such, but I invite people to consider how the stereotype reigns true within our diverse gender student population, regardless if you identify as female or not. I have tried to be gender fluid in all other aspects of the article.