For the past week I was chaperoning a dizzying tour of colleges in PA. But instead of leaving with a flavor for each school, I left with the muddy taste sexism and homophobia crusting in my mouth.
I was a tour guide for my college, so I understand that when you’re giving a tour sometimes you’re coming up with your words on the spot. I do not think our tour guides meant to be offensive, but as a queer feminist, their language was hurtful and isolating, even while it was also mundane.
But when a female tour guide describes the all-female dorm on campus as “the quiet dorm because it’s all girls” what am I supposed to think? First, these are women, not girls. They are adults. Second, women are not naturally more quiet or passive or reserved. These are harmful stereotypes of women being perpetuated on college campuses and repeated to high schoolers.
When the same female tour guide later says, “our school’s 60% female, but that’s not a problem” my first thought is, why would it be a problem? What makes a majority of female students on a college campus threatening or a dissuading factor for students to apply? Why aren’t we celebrating these women?
On a different college campus, a male tour guide (who expressly said he is a feminist, that he cares about anti-racist work and participates in community service) said, “I’m not gay, but I love that dean.”
I’m not gay, but…
And in an instant, a space which should be welcoming to all becomes hostile. Because I am a female. I am queer. And your college campus is suddenly a threat.
I spoke to both of these tour guides after the tour and let them know how their language was harmful. Please, speak up when you hear things that make you uncomfortable, whether it’s about an identity you hold or not. These small things, this casual language, must also be stopped if we are ever to address the larger issues of rape culture and more blatant homophobia.
Please, speak up so that public spaces can be our spaces too.