Wolf’s message is lost in criticism

To the Editor:

I believe in Yale and its potential to create a safe space for people to question the status quo. However, I am appalled by the Yale community’s reaction to Naomi Wolf.

I have heard a fury of criticisms: the article was written poorly, she just wants publicity and money, what happened to her was not that big of a deal, it was only her thigh, it was 20 years ago.

But why are we questioning how she is speaking out, rather than acknowledging what is she is speaking about, Yale’s current provisions to protect students?

While Susan Hockfield (“Sexual harassment is affront to Yale’s values,” 2/24) is correct that Yale does have procedures, she fails to acknowledge the lack of social support for survivors. There is a stigma associated with those who claim to be violated. Rather than questioning the perpetrator, it is the victim who is put on trial. Critics question his or her character and reaction to the incident. No one accepts the fact that he or she felt uncomfortable enough to lodge a complaint. And it is this stigma that keeps people silent. We blame Wolf for waiting 20 years to speak out, but then we blame her for finally making the choice to go public.

People are attacking Naomi Wolf for how she speaks out, but they cannot attack what she says: Yale is a place like the rest of the world, where people abuse power and get away with it. These abhorrent reactions to Wolf stem from fear: our fear about what her article says about us, more specifically, our tacit (sometimes blatant) participation in a system that privileges the abuse of power and how those abuses maintain our own positions of authority. Critics are reluctant to acknowledge that they benefit from a society that says a man’s intellect and a university’s public face is more important that a woman’s dignity and self-worth. It highlights our own complacency and calls us out. She demands that we take action, that we accept responsibility, and that we engage in a process of self-examination.

Naomi Wolf is trying to protect students at Yale.

So what are you so afraid of?

Della Sentilles ’06

February 26, 2004

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