Section: Opinion

In and out of classroom, we must confront sexist norms

Our campus has a gender ratio of 55 percent female students to 45 percent male students.

I want to start a conversation. I feel as though there is a silence surrounding sexism on this campus. I am not referring to  the aggressive, loud, misogynistic attitudes that are in fact alive on this campus; I am talking  about the subtle sexism that quietly puts the majority of women below the minority of men.

For the purpose of this article, I will write as if there is a gender binary, but I do want to clarify there exist other genders besides those of men and women. I also want to clarify that I understand my experience as a woman on this campus is not universal and that the issues I speak about are from my personal experiences.

I have begun to grow comfortable with the horrible feeling of uselessness that accompanies a night out at Colburn Hall when all I feel valued for is my body. I feel worthless and powerless — as if everything I love about myself is meaningless. I have grown furious after hearing a large party thrown by women was shut down, but a larger party thrown by men only feet away was allowed to continue. Leaving a classroom after discussing abortion, I have felt disgusted that the four women in the class made eye contact sadly while men discussed the best thing for our bodies while brushing our points aside. I have felt my stomach drop and my face grow hot as the word “pussy” was thrown around carelessly. I have found myself frustrated in a class where the professor paid more attention to the men than the women, but I failed to articulate this feeling to the professor. I have found myself dressing differently to avoid getting an up-down on Middle Path. I have found myself speechless and unable to call out these subtle forms of sexism I see around me. Or if I get the chance to rebut a sexist comment, the offenders laugh at me, telling me it’s not a big deal.

Well,  it is a big deal. It matters. I want the opportunity to talk about these feelings and these experiences and to make them into a conversation. I want to see if others share my feelings and then discuss a way to change the situation. We women are the majority here but it rarely, if ever, feels like it.

To call upon a specific example, men host the majority of all-campus parties. This is the most quantifiable place where I can see  a gender imbalance and inequality. Yes, there is the annual lighlighter party the Zeta Alpha Pi sorority throws and a decent number of parties hosted by co-ed organizations like the PEEPS, Archons and sports teams, such as the swim team’s annual Shock Your Mom party. But no sorority on campus has the freedom to throw a party in the way fraternities do. Though some have lounges, none has its own “house.” No group of women has a house like the Ganter, Pink House or the Delta Tau Delta lodge, or even something not technically College-sanctioned like the Duplex or Port,  but that is one co-ed option and there are many male-dominated options. Kenyon has a male-centric culture in which men get to be the hosts: They get to invite, to decide and to hold the power. There is nothing wrong with men hosting parties. The problem is the absence of a female presence in hosting parties.

On a smaller scale, there are spaces in which women could host more parties. Registering gatherings in NCAs and inviting  friends lets women attempt to create a space for themselves, but not at the same scale. I have found fewer women host parties in the way men do. And I believe this is because the more private social scene reflects the large-scale parties where men are “in charge” of hosting.

The Cove was one of the few spaces without this patriarchal dynamic. At the end of the night, you could feel welcome because you were not invited or asked to go there. Now that that scene is gone, women rely more heavily on the male-dominated party scene. Rather than ending up in a neutral, communal space, we depend heavily on the pre-existing social structure in frat houses and men’s spaces as the only option for women.

The majority of sexism I experience at Kenyon is harder to call out. It can be as simple as overuse of the word “pussy.” Though our language is hard to change, we use words with major misogynistic connotations; we have just recently begun to use the term “first year” instead of the word “freshman.” But our language is gendered and leads to, in a subtle way and perhaps by no intention of the user, the lowering of women.

The casual use of misogynistic language speaks to an underlying attitude that promotes a disrespect for women. This is most obvious in objectifying language and slut-shaming, but we allow ourselves that dialogue without any counter, pro-woman argument. This may be a universal problem. The argument that people everywhere are using this terminology may be true, but can’t Kenyon be different? And shouldn’t it be?

We at Kenyon are not immune to anything. Let’s start talking . Let’s see if our discussion can lead to a change in our surroundings. We cannot stay silent about the subtle sexism around us. We need to speak up for equality.

Dani Gorton ’18 is an English and  studio art  major from New Haven, Conn. Contact her at


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