This past weekend, we had the pleasure of coming back to campus for homecoming weekend and the 80th reunion of the Meddiebempsters. As it is every time, it was great to sing, chat and share stories with Meddie alumni going back to the early 1950s, and it culminated with a performance in Pickard.
But this time, the performances felt different than they did even five years ago. The lyrics of many classic Meddies songs contain chauvinist and sexist themes, that objectify women and champion an outdated and restrictive view of gender roles.
Consider some examples from this year’s concert. “Sal, Nell, and Sue” includes “She wears long tresses and nice tight dresses. Oh, what a future she possesses!” Another song, “Oh, You Beautiful Doll” says “When my mama takes me out to buy new clothes, I’d point to you and say ‘buy me one of those!’” From the popular “Quitcha”: “Quit’cha foolin’ around, rolling those eyes at the man. Aint’a very ladylike; don’t let me see you do it again, my honey.”
None of this is new, but in the climate of campus conversations happening nationwide over the last few years and the resulting progress we’ve made toward a collective understanding of dignity, equality and discrimination, having groups of mostly-white men gleefully performing these pieces for applause felt uncomfortable and vulgar.
This needs to change. Bowdoin’s songs have changed over the years, thanks in part to Tony Antolini’s retrofitting of lyrics to reflect the coed history we’ve had for almost five decades. That might work in some cases, but some songs fundamentally objectify and deny women the agency we should all now recognize—those songs need to be retired. This isn’t an issue of speech or censorship, it’s a matter of decency and community.
Some other alumni—we cannot speak for all—may say this erodes the character, history and fun of the Meddies. But there are numerous songs in the repertoire that are funny, entertaining and even racy, without promulgating a backwards view of women. The repertoire doesn’t have to be G-rated to be conscionable.
The Meddies have an incredibly rich history, and the group and its alumni should be an invaluable asset to the Bowdoin community. But in order to remain relevant, the group and its alumni will have to change. As with confederate monuments, we can’t use the context—the morality of the times—as an excuse to celebrate the wrong side of history.
We look forward to returning in five years for the 85th reunion, when we hope we can perform a repertoire for the campus community that is funny, historic, entertaining, moving and respectful.
M. Jackson Wilkinson and Charles Ashley are members of the Class of 2005. Alec Berryman is a member of the Class of 2007. Mike Krohn is a member of the Class of 2009. All are former members of the Meddiebempsters.