Since 1989, when girls were reintroduced to the Deerfield campus, Deerfield has not quite lost hold of its Good Ol’ Boys vibe. We cling to tradition—it’s part of our mission statement.
Tradition is not bad. But because there is a strong sentiment of holding fast to the past—and because many inevitably associate this past with Deerfield’s long stint as a single-sex institution—there exists both a lack of integration between male and female students and varying sentiments of inequality between the two genders.
Male sports, for example, get much more attention than female sports. Females, however, dominate the art, dance, and theater departments in terms of raw numbers. They also tend to have higher averages than males. And males have historically held the majority in Student Council (until last year, that is).
There have only been two female Student Body President in Deerfield’s 23 years of co-educational history.
At this school, male and female students are unequal in just about every field. We are steeped in a culture that has formed acceptable roles for males and females, roles from which the majority of students do not stray.
In terms of social standing and overall respect from the community, male students have the advantage. Many students I have spoken to believe this is partly the girls’ fault—that a change in the system is up to us as a gender to stop being submissive and to empower ourselves.
Such opinions arose after last year’s aforementioned gender equality initiative. Many opposed it on the basis that equality of opportunity, not equality of representation, was right. Yet part of the reason girls are less likely to be leaders in the community is that we are not visibly oppressed—we are given equality of opportunity, and we are not seriously thought to be inferior except by perhaps a margin of boys—thus there is not much fuel for activism.
Subtleties and community cultural trends would be good to discuss, to be aware of, so as not to fall into backward-thinking traps of boys oppressing girls and girls being submissive.
These are thought processes that I’d like to think few students would vocally support, though sadly I think these are somehow facilitated or magnified by Deerfield’s entrenched all-boys’ culture.
Leadership seems to be a good place to strive for improvement beyond campus discussions about culture, which is difficult to change. I don’t mean leadership in the sense of being a proctor or a peer counselor, but more of figures whom the school would listen to for guidance on a more intellectual and less emotional level.
Those positions are important, but because we have gender-segregated dorms, those positions inherently cannot have as much influence in ameliorating gender relations on campus.
Student representation affects the way students perceive how gender works on campus, and is a field above all others that should strive for equality.
Mandatory equality of representation is good because it gives incoming female students the impression that they don’t have to develop an inferiority for themselves based on Deerfield’s past—not in skill, talent, or leadership qualities.
In a few years, no students will be left to remember when positions and roles were not equal. Girls being assertive and bold and running for representative positions will be commonplace. This is something for which we should strive.