The latest article of Polar Views attempted to acquaint its audience with phenomena that are already readily apparent. Given previous responses to this column and the bevy of articles written by women in the past year, it is worrying that these phenomena were addressed as if they were novel to the author and to his audience. Not only have previous writers espoused the same position the author sets out in his most recent article, but these same voices—namely, those of women—are glaringly missing from this call to examine and eventually “end sexual assault.”
Efforts to repair gender inequality and the violence that often comes with it are critical and complex. It is important that we do not dismiss any idea outright, as lasting reform will come only with a solidarity that transcends boundaries of race, class and gender, among other potential divisions. This piece may be construed as a critique of the author and those mentioned in his article, and while that much is true, I do not want to silence the voices of allies—male or otherwise. I am adamant in this view, and commend the author for his suggestion to bring together those from different backgrounds and experiences in order to begin to unpack the issue of sexual violence on this campus. Additionally, the conversation between call-out and what the author dubs “call-in culture” should include all members of our community who are eager to help.
It is crucial to note the larger currents of misogyny and sexism that guide us, explaining as the author does how “women [being] force-fed notions of propriety” contributes to larger issues of gender inequality and control. However, it seems negligent not to place these words in the mouth of a woman herself. There are no female voices in the article, and the only student cited indirectly is male. Consequently, the author’s construction of a “local perspective” is overshadowed by the male lens he places on the female experience. The gender of the author is not the point of my critique. Authors of any gender have the responsibility to engage with the communities they are exploring to avoid reframing and taking charge of the narrative. Having our stories told indirectly through a man—with the intended effect that people really listen this time—is a misguided attempt at allyship. The author’s lack of direct engagement with conversations around him, both within Bowdoin and in society at large, places his article in its own kind of silo. Both of us want to open up the conversation, but doing so means remaining aware of the ways in which even allies can close themselves off from important aspects of that conversation and perhaps inadvertently dominate it, even with the best of intentions.
The male voice, moreover, is elevated to a detrimental degree in this article. Advocating for male students to hold “their male friends accountable” ultimately perpetuates the idea that the only voices with any validity and power to affect any real change are, well, male. Without grounding his article with the voices of the women he is trying to help, the author is left with promising content packaged in a patriarchal form. This does a disservice to a reader of any gender, with any degree of background in this issue. While the author bemoans the fact that “Men … can go through their adolescent years without understanding social cues, micro-aggressions or any obvious signs that they may be offensive to women,” I would, politely, consider this article to be an instance of that very tragedy at play. I do not have a magical alternative to the solutions proposed in his article. I consider aspects of his argument compelling and inspiring. Contending with an issue as fraught and sensitive as sexual violence and assault, particularly on a campus many of us call home, does not come easily to any of us. However, I do not need an alternative solution in order to respectfully take issue with the solution that stands before me.
While I am in full support of restorative justice, I fear that the form of the article discourages many from engaging with its content in a meaningful way. And to the extent I feel able to unpack and analyze the solutions the article puts forth, it seems that the suggestions posed ultimately seem to ignore the climate in which we currently operate. We have seen what little consequence shame has within a culture that, as the author himself notes, is plagued by gender-based violence, misogyny and sexism. We see alleged assailants in the media win awards and lead entire nations, and we have seen the lukewarm forms of justice that are served to those in a place of privilege and power. Ultimately, while I commend and respect the author’s intentions and eagerness to change the way we converse, I worry that the solutions put forth are simplistic, and while well-intentioned, create more loopholes than they close.
Emma Newbery is a member of the Class of 2019.