When I started working in the library, I quickly found what I came to call “my spot” on the first floor, between the bookshelves and the windows at the back of the reading room. Sometimes I go to my spot during a free period, after getting coffee from the Koch café. In the fall, sometimes I’d go there after showering, rinsing off the sweat from volleyball practice. Or sometimes, after a Scroll meeting. There, I’ve sat with different people and had those kinds of spontaneous but long, lingering conversations you never forget. Other times, I’ve cranked out a U.S. history paper from start to finish.
But each time, as I sit there, I face the bronze statue of the “Deerfield Girl,” tucked into the corner of the cavernous room. As I sit there, literally being a “Deerfield Girl,” there stands that statue, telling me I’m not.
I’m writing this article because I think that the Deerfield Girl and Boy statues should be removed from this campus. I understand that the girl statue was created to accompany the boy one, to emphasize that girls belonged at Deerfield as much as boys did. I don’t think the artist or others involved in enabling the statue’s presence on campus had cruel intentions. They weren’t trying to make me, or any others who share my sentiment, feel like I don’t belong. But our school often emphasizes the importance of intent versus impact, and this is a perfect example of good intentions that result in a negative impact.
So what do I think is the problem with the statues, anyway? First of all, they’re clearly white. Sure, the first Deerfield Girl and Boy were white. But today, a Deerfield student can be of any race and the statues don’t reflect that reality. They are relics of the past, and their presence almost seems to insinuate that we should celebrate or at least remember with fondness a time when racial diversity did not exist at this school.
Secondly, the statues are blatantly gender binary, contradicting the school’s recent movement towards accepting gender identity. If there’s a “Deerfield Girl” and a “Deerfield Boy,” where’s “The Deerfield Genderqueer”?
Thirdly, the statues normalize gender stereotypes. The boy leans casually to the side with his chest open, and holds his books with one hand against his hip—a quintessential “masculine” stance, his books almost a second thought. He is confident and free with his body. The girl, on the other hand, cradles her books tightly to the side of her chest, using both hands—a more seemingly uptight “feminine” stance. She appears rigid, confined to her body. Not to mention, she’s wearing a skirt—a stereotypical marker of female identity. Also keep in mind that, as I’ve heard, just as students would rub the boy’s nose for good luck, they also took to rubbing the girl’s breast.
Speaking of dress, I can’t help but notice that the Deerfield Boy statue is wearing—and is, in turn, defined by—a coat and tie. The coat and tie sets an impossible standard of “professionalism,” at Deerfield and beyond, that girls can never live up to. For a girl, there is no equivalent to the coat and tie, at least not in a high school context, that allows her to command as much power and respect as a male. As a friend of mine pointed out, based on her attire, the Deerfield Girl statue, in full compliance with the girls’ dress code, looks like the Deerfield Boy statue’s secretary. That’s saying something. Deerfield’s dress code is a whole different topic that warrants its own article, but I do think it’s worth noting that the attire of the statues emphasizes a power dynamic between the boy and the girl.
The notion of there being a physical, concrete manifestation of something so intangible, so indefinable as what it means to be a Deerfield Boy or Girl seems irrational to me. The statues essentially seek to define each as one thing (which can be confused as the ideal thing). But the Deerfield student isn’t and can’t possibly be only one thing. There’s no single, static definition; it’s dynamic, expansive, constantly changing. To even imply otherwise, intentionally or not, is both unfair and inaccurate. As my former English teacher, Ms. O’Donnell, put it, each of us is in the business of defining what it means to be a Deerfield student.
A few years ago, at a Greer chat, someone mentioned that in place of the statues, there should be a mirror. There’s no discrimination or exclusion in a mirror. Some argue that the statues represent tradition and are, therefore, worth keeping on display. Certainly, some traditions are worth preserving. But some are worth breaking. Or at least reshaping. We can still “be worthy of our heritage” as we look to a more inclusive future.
To all of you Deerfield students who ever feel like you don’t meet the standards set by those statues—that you’re not smart enough, professional enough, confident enough—or even those expectations not explicitly set by the statues but set by our culture—not athletic enough, attractive enough, anything enough: the real definition of what is “enough” starts with you. You are the living, breathing manifestation of enough.
The issue of students here feeling like they’re supposed to live up to a certain adjective or essence extends far beyond the presence of those statues in the library. And I know that removing them won’t solve that very real problem that pervades our culture. But it would at least be a step in the right direction—in acknowledging that any of us can be and is the Deerfield student.