The incident with Zeta Psi has caused a lot of campus controversy. Unfortunately, most of this controversy has not centered on the act itself, but rather on the Women Center’s threat of legal action. Almost everyone acknowledges that the act was misogynistic and distasteful, but many insist it’s a harmless joke by unthinking drunk fraternity pledges. What’s the big deal? Are we, as some Ivygate comments have suggested, “freaking whiners” and “loonie leftists”? Or, as an online comment of the Harvard Crimson recommends, do us “broads need to chill the f— out”?
When we were asked to respond to Zeta Psi’s apology on the op-ed page, we had two options. The first option was to emphasize the emotional distress the prank caused. The Women’s Center is the one place on campus designed as a safe space for women, dedicated to gender equality and offering support to victims of sexual harassment. So yes, men standing in front of our center, proclaiming their love of “Yale sluts” has made me, if not emotionally distressed, pretty damn sad. But if we had done that, we would be weepy, victimized women. Instead we chose the second option: embracing the power to strike back. Thus, according to various bloggers on the News and IvyGate, we are bitchy “sluts,” super-bitchy super-sluts, who are angry because we are too ugly to get laid and uptight because we are also inherently frigid.
The Women’s Center Board was not shocked by this incident. Two years ago, fraternity brothers chanted outside the center: “No means yes, and yes means anal.” Before that, a group of brothers stole some of our T-shirts commemorating rape and put them on as an initiation rite. There is a culture of misogyny on campus in which women expect to feel objectified or harassed at a fraternity party and think the experience is a relatively normal one; it is a culture in which 92 Yale women are raped every year, and many more are sexually assaulted.
The brothers of Zeta Psi may not have posed in front of the Women’s Center to deliberately demean women on campus. They may not have had malicious intentions; maybe they were drunk, or unthinking and unaware of the role — both practical and symbolic — that the Women’s Center serves on campus. In that case, their action was the result of ignorance: ignorance of the degrading connotations of the term slut; ignorance of the deeply ingrained sexism in fraternity culture; and ignorance of the inequality still suffered by women — an inequality the Women’s Center fights so hard to overcome. Their act was then motivated not out of conscious hate speech, but unconscious misogyny, which governs the ways they perceive, treat and talk about women. When this implicit misogyny manifests itself again and again and again, from pranks to harassment to rape, it becomes tantamount to hate — hate that is insidious and pervasive.
The Women’s Center Board hopes this incident, and the media attention it has received, will raise awareness of the serious problem of sexism on campus. We also hope the Yale administration will respond with concrete institutional reform. We apologize if we come off as a “hovel of humorless harpies,” as one Ivygate post noted, but we’re tired; and we desperately want change.
Claire Gordon is a sophomore in Saybrook College. She is the Special Events Coordinator for the Women’s Center.