Monday, May 5, 1997

Opinion: Women's Issues? Not quite.

Published in the Mountainview

It's time we had a talk. Just you and me. Man to man. (Women, you can read this, too.) The Report of the Task Force on the Status of Women was just issued, and it's time you sat down and read it. Yes, you. Yes, even if you read it before. Siddown.

The issues in this report are not women's issues. They are human issues, and they affect you and me as much as they affect the women with whom we share this campus and this town. Here are some very cold facts, which don't make me proud.
•           The woman sitting next to you in evening seminar doesn't feel safe walking home in the dark.
•           The woman just behind you in the line at Proctor is going to eat some salad and maybe an apple today. That's all.
•           The woman who lives across the hall from you is the only woman in her year who is majoring in her field. She's also found that all the classes she has left to take are taught by men.
•           The woman behind the counter at Proctor, serving your food, has three kids she hasn't seen since this morning. She'll miss seeing them tonight before they go to bed, because she has to work late cleaning up.
•           The faculty member who just walked past you coming out of the Crest Room is afraid she'll never get tenure. She gave up having a family to have an academic career; now she might have neither.

These are all real problems which are happening here and now. They are not problems without solutions. They are not someone else's problem. They are my problem, as an alumnus, and they are your problem, as a male student, faculty, or staff. It is your personal problem, and you, yourself, today, need to fix ii Here are some ideas, to get you started:
•           If you feel comfortable doing so, start talking to that woman next to you in class. Keep up the conversation after class and walk with her wherever she's going, talking all the way. Then go where you were going. She'll be safer, you'll have helped solve the problem, and she didn't even have to admit she's scared.
•           Have a look at what your friends eat, men and women. If your roommate is gorging himself on onion rings, point out that there are fresh onions over on the salad bar. If his girlfriend has a single chickpea on her plate, let her know you care about how she takes care of herself.
•           On course evaluations, say what you think would have been different if your class had been taught by someone of the opposite gender of your real professor.
•           Thank the woman who just put the food on your plate. At least let her smile once today.
•           When someone you think should get tenure is up for review, write a letter to the Committee on Review, or to the department chair. Qualified women and men deserve a shot a Middlebury careers; help them out.

You're going to ask me why you should do this. There are a couple of answers. The first is that the world can always stand to be a better place. If you work towards that goal, in whatever ways you feel comfortable, everyone will be a little better off. That's the "piein-the-sky reason," The other reason is that someday you will be a minority somewhere. You'll be the only white person on the street in Chinatown, New York, or you'll be working somewhere where everyone else behaves properly towards women and men. You'll need their help, and you'll have to earn it. Start now.

These subjects are not just women's issues. The fact that any human beings are in these situations demands our immediate action. Caring about others — women and men — and being respectful of their rights and responsibilities, is something you will have to do for the rest of your life. Middlebury is an excellent place to start; everyone can work on it together, and we can all help each other. But you, and you personally, have to do something about it today.