I believe there is gender inequity at Deerfield. I do not believe, however, that Deerfield students hold an unusual concentration of gender prejudice relative to those around the country. It is a societal issue, not a Deerfield issue.
Our general perception seems to be that this is very much a Deerfield issue. So, the question becomes: why is this an extra-sensitive issue at Deerfield when no one on campus directly opposes the idea girls and guys be given equal opportunities?
Deerfield is a small, isolated school with traditional qualities, a competitive attitude, ingrained social patterns, and little tolerance for experimentation. People feel the effects and constraints of an iniquitous society much more strongly here. One potential solution is a greater tolerance for experimentation in gender policy; more opportunities to cherish our tradition and incorporate as many voices as possible in discussion about change.
There are less-openly recognized factors that tend to inflame and thereby inhibit or even reverse productive conversation. A mistaken sentiment resides that differences between gender roles always and solely represent inequity. We must consider the complex factors other than gender which are present in all social situations.
Let’s examine the gender-divided viewing arrangement at boys’ hockey games: guys on top bleachers, girls on the edge of the rink. This is a manifestation of inequity and an example of Deerfield’s ingrained social patterns. There are factors at play that are not always acknowledged. In general, guys love viewing aggressive sports more than girls, and it’s a boys’ hockey game—the players are dormmates and teammates with guys. Guys are more likely to claim those bleacher seats first. As I said before, I do believe gender inequity is represented at hockey games. I also believe that consideration of other factors suggests a lesser degree.
Another example is the concern about gender distribution between first and second waiters at the dining hall. I understand the benefit of mixing the two jobs equally between guys and girls, but it is silly to think that this historic divide represents a product of gender prejudice. There is no need for perfectly even gender distribution when guys, in general, have an easier time carrying the heavier second waiting tray. These factors should be considered when first and second waiting is used as an example of gender inequity at Deerfield.
The manner of the campus-wide discussion about gender inequity often leaves guys feeling blamed, insulted, and consequently resistant to change. This introduces the false perception that guys are acting out of conscious self-interest. This polarizes discussion.
Girls and guys at hockey games are simply following tradition, as we all do in many social situations. When the gender inequity discussion arises, there is a tendency, or a perceived tendency, to blame guys for promoting iniquitous gender roles. Girls are then blamed for buying into the roles. From what I’ve seen, no one—girl or guy—is consciously acting to preserve gender inequity. Societal forces create gender roles—we follow expectations.
The current students of Deerfield should not be blamed for following old, culturally-ingrained social habits. To get all students, particularly guys, on board with a totally equitable Deerfield, the community needs to take care not to alienate them first. Instead we need to maintain objectivity in discussion and focus on increasing self-awareness and awareness of social forces and the factors that contribute to them.