Colleges like Wellesley teach women to be as entitled and mouthy as mediocre white men. Steve Bannon is right to fear them.
Colleges like Wellesley teach women to be as entitled and mouthy as mediocre white men. Steve Bannon is right to fear them. Photo by Jared and Corin / CC BY 2.0

Steve Bannon has a new enemy: some of the smartest women in the country. Bannon, you may recall, once tried to defend conservative women by saying that liberals hate them because they aren't "a bunch of dykes who came from the Seven Sisters schools."

In response to his appointment to the president-elect's cabinet of curiosities, Smith College, one of the Seven Sisters and my alma mater, posted this open letter to Bannon yesterday:

Dear Mr. Bannon:

Given your appointment as Senior Counselor by President-elect Donald Trump, a number of your comments have been scrutinized by the press. As has been widely reported, in a 2011 interview with Political Vindication Radio, you disparaged lesbians, feminists and alumnae of the historic Seven Sisters Colleges, all in one statement that we deliberately choose not to repeat here. Other reported comments by you reflect other forms of bias, including racism, anti-Semitism and more. As the leaders of the Seven Sisters Colleges, we take deep exception to these comments and ask that you take a more expansive, informed and tolerant world view in your leadership role.

We are proud of our alumnae and students, who represent the spectrum of sexual orientation, race, class and religion as well as political party. Our alumnae are accomplished leaders in all spheres of public and professional life; they are committed to their work, their families and their countries. Now more than ever, we look to those who would lead the United States of America for a message of inclusion, respect and unity.

It's signed by Smith's president, Kathleen McCartney, and the presidents of Barnard, Bryn Mawr, Mount Holyoke, Vassar, and Wellesley Colleges, as well as the dean of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard.

This is not the first instance of a Trump supporter going after the Seven Sisters. The day after the election, two Babson College frat boys tried to intimidate students of color at Wellesley, Hillary Clinton's alma mater. In a post at the Tempest, Wellesley senior Jalena Keane-Lee described the incident—and Wellesley students' response:

After a night that can only be described as a horrific emotional roller coaster, Wellesley College students awoke to the first day of Trump. At approximately 1pm a large truck drove slowly through campus with a Trump flag flying off its back, harassing students. The two men in the truck went to the house for students of African descent, rode around campus yelling at students, and spit towards a student when asked to leave. The two men turned out to be Edward Tomasso and Parker Rander-Riccardi, students at Babson College, a neighboring college...

These men came to our campus. They sought us out. They came to our space in a purposeful effort to make us feel unsafe. But we found them. We found their gloating snapchat.We found them and made it public. Made them public. We called their employers, the national board of their frat, their class dean. We made it clear that this is unacceptable behavior. Their college, their peers made it clear that they do not stand for racism.

Given the canny response of the Wellesley students, and the Seven Sisters' response to Bannon, it seems profoundly stupid for Trump associates to continue to try to intimidate them.

But my guess is that they're going to do just that, because schools like Wellesley and Smith are threatening to men like Bannon and the Babson Trump shills, and I'll tell you why: At my college, there were no cisgender men enrolled (though a brave few from nearby colleges took classes with us), which meant women, transmen, and nonbinary folks ran everything from the student government to the newspaper; there was a huge, politically engaged LGBTQ community; the student body skewed so liberal that the few Republicans on campus tied their hair in pink ribbons and wore pearls as a reactionary response; and after an adolescence spent feeling like a total misfit, I finally fit in, because at Smith, being a smart girl who was proud to be a feminist wasn't something that got me made fun of. It was the norm. If you're uncomfortable with power that isn't wielded by white, straight men, then 2,600 women and nonbinary folks who are smart as hell and hold all of the power in their self-governing community is a terrifying prospect.

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So when I hear Bannon use the D-word, this is what it sounds like to me: I am a weak-willed white man who's tremendously uncomfortable with strong, smart women and people who challenge traditional gender norms. I am a hateful bigot who can only tolerate one definition of femininity. I am a misogynist. And I am terrified of losing my power.

And you know what? He's right to fear women's colleges. Women's colleges are a bastion of progress and safety for people who don't conform to traditional gender roles. They are spaces where being queer is normal, where women don't have to apologize for being smart, where feminist ideals move from theory into practice. Women's colleges teach us to be as entitled and mouthy as mediocre white men. And with Trump in power, they're about to become more important than ever. It's no surprise they're fighting back.