Pervasive sexism threatens Yale’s women

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.


  • Anonymous

    This is getting ridiculous. Look, if the Women's Center wants to have a discussion about sexism and misogyny in our society and the fact that Yale is not immune from it, that's a perfectly legitimate discussion and in fact one that is well worth having. But instead the WC seems intent on propagating this idea that Yale is an especially misogynistic place, which is blatantly false. I think most Yale women would agree that while sexism exists on campus, it exists to a lesser degree than it does on most campuses (think what frats at state schools are like) and less than in society at large.

    But if you want a concrete example of the WC's thought process that has led to their absurd reaction to this incident, look no further than the "92 Yale women get raped every year" claim. Where did they get this number from, you may ask? Well, it turns out that Yale (which, like all educational institutions is required to report crime statistics each year) typically reports only around 8-12 forcible sexual assaults per year. This is an exceptionally low number, because if you look at the rape-per-capita statistics for college campuses nationwide, our overall number of students would predict - guess what - 92 rapes. But instead of celebrating the fact that Yale has an extremely low sexual assault rate - owing to a number of predictable factors, not the least of which is an unusually law-abiding, considerate, and future-conscious student body - the WC ignores this good news and continues to reports the absolutely false 92 figure.

    Now, I don't doubt the sad truth that sometimes rapes go unreported. But does the WC sincerely believe that Yale has an epidemic of unreported rapes so severe as to make up the discrepancy between 10 and 92?? Not only would this require believing that a staggering percentage of Yale rape victims don't report the offense, it would require believing that this percentage is staggeringly below the national student average (which is, after all, where the 92 number comes from in the first place). Does the Women's Center sincerely believe that Yale women report rapes at a percentage far, far, FAR below the national student average? Or could it be that they think using this utterly false and sensationalist number furthers their agenda in some way?

    You be the judge, but as for me, I find it sick and deeply troubling. Surely even one rape is too many, but a consistently and exceptionally low rate of sexual assault is something that should be celebrated, not covered up.

    Let's not forget that the reason "the controversy has not centered on the act itself, but rather on the Women Center's threat of legal action" is because the WC chose to threaten a frivolous lawsuit rather than starting a discussion on the act itself. There are real and important issues begging to be discussed here, but the WC will never be a productive contributor to that discussion so long as it insists on using threats, hyperbole, and outright falsehoods as its stock in trade. It's almost like the WC is trying to prove that they can be more childish than the idiot fraternity pledges who started this whole thing. Could someone, somewhere, on this campus show a little maturity about this sordid affair so that we can discuss this like adults???

  • Anonymous


  • Anonymous

    Thank god someone finally said it.

  • Anonymous

    Unfortunately, every college from Harvard to Podunk include rapists among its population. Rape, misogyny, and sexism are extremely deeply embedded in human and American culture. It does surprise me though that nearly 100 rapes occur at Yale every year. I doubt fraternity brothers or any brothers, for that matter, would want their sisters or daughters going there. I certainly wouldn't.

  • Anonymous

    "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."

    Yes, the way pervasive sexism kept you out of Yale is just heart-rending.

    Your continued focus on the relative minutiae risks your missing the big picture.

    You are at Yale. You have at your collective disposal the earnings of a $22+ billion endowment. You have a faculty on your side. You are surrounded by future leaders, corporate heads, movers and shakers.

    And you can't get over a stupid, meaningless, FORGETTABLE event?

    How on G-d's green earth do you expect to get by in the workplace?

  • Anonymous

    re: rape numbers

    Yale like many other universities is/was under federal investigation for violating the Clery (sp?) act which requires accurate reporting of college crimes. Harvard at one point was also reporting similarly low numbers, but after the investigation was resolved, the numbers jumped way up-- not sure how high but somewhere around 100 per year.

  • Anonymous

    I forgot to say above:

    Getting lost in all this hoopla is the fact that the Zeta Psis DID NOT ACTUALLY RAPE NOR THREATEN TO RAPE ANYONE in this very emotionally charged event.

  • Anonymous

    I agree that it is unfortunate that focus has not been on the act itself, but let's not pretend that the WC didn't ask for all the negative publicity. This should have been an event that made friends and garnered sympathy, a silly or serious response could have set this up. Instead the WC chose to make a disgustingly inappropriate racial comparison, pretend that Yale has 625 women that have been raped (using the 25% stat which is false on several different levels) invite "everyone" to join the dialogue on campus, except everyone is not everyone,it is clearly exclusive of one of the groups that maters more in the dialogue, fraternities, and decide on a fantastic legal course of action. Additionally, instead of actually taking legal action, the WC purposefully engineered a publicity campaign, notifying several outlets of the legal action before any sets had actually been taken, and now this campaign has backfired. Yet another instance of why the WC does not speak for or to me.
    -Sharifa DC 09

  • Anonymous

    Despite the handwringing and outcry over things such as sexism, racism, and homophobia on campus this year, Yale is in fact one of the least bigoted places in the world for all of these groups.

    I can only conclude that the majority of Yale students are in for a rude awakening once they graduate, and see what the rest of society is like.

  • Anonymous


    I'm totally with you on your criticism of the WC's oped. And in general, the WC seemed to definitely be asking for the publicity, both positive and negative. Of course it is impossible to know how the campus would have reacted if the WC had made a 'serious' response as you put it-- I am imagining things like a GOOD op-ed or a complaint filed with the administration.

    But I believe the WC has done this before, to no effect. The "no means yes, yes means anal" incident from 2 years ago was disparaged in a Herald op-ed, and when the rape t-shirts were stolen 4 years ago, i've heard that the WC tried to file an admin complaint but received no response from the admin.

  • Anonymous

    @11:31 a.m. 1)I can't find your ~100 rapes/year statistic for Harvard; 2) Even if that statistic were true, and we assume that Yale is identical to Harvard, Yale would have a smaller number because it has a smaller student population.
    Harvard's rape statistics are not publicly available. The most recent rape statistics that I could find were from a Harvard UHS survey circa 2000 that claims that 1% of Harvard's female undergraduates experienced rape.

    Since Harvard's undergraduate population is 6715, and since roughly half are women, this means that Harvard has roughly 3,358 female undergraduates. 1% of that is 33 or 34 female undergraduates anonymously claiming to have been raped in that academic year (you discussed actual rapes, but for comprehensiveness: just over 2% claimed attempted rape, so double that number). Since Yale only has 5, 316 undergraduates, we can assume there are roughly 2,658 female undergraduates. 1% of this number is 26 or 27 female undergraduates who would have been raped in that academic year, (assuming rape's not on the rise since 2000) if we really are following Harvard's example. This is more than 10, and obviously any such statistics are far too many, but it's also far less than your hypothetical 92.

    Now if we assumed the same percentage for total student population (this is a rather big assumption, since graduate students are different than undergrads in many respects), we would have 11,390 students and an assumed number of 5,685 female students. That brings us to 57 rapes/year, which is closer to the 92 statistic, but not close enough to seriously claim that number, even with under-reporting (which makes significantly less sense if we consider that the Harvard numbers were obtained from an anonymous survey).

    An older survey (1997-1998) called the National College Women Victimization Study shows a higher rate than the more recent UHS study (1.7% completed rapes/year), but even this number would not get us close to 92 female undergraduate rapes/year, although it does bring us to 97 rapes/year for all Yale University student females. Admittedly, the number may even be somewhat higher if we follow that survey since it was conducted between February and May and therefore probably has some problems with under-reporting.

    In sum, I think we'd all benefit from an anonymous survey conducted here at Yale to get us closer to reliable statistics.

  • Anonymous

    Nicely stated, Clare. And of course the Yale community peanut gallery turns out in droves to absolve itself of guilt, wash its hands and point its fingers at anyone who dares get in the way of Bright College Funtime.

  • Anonymous

    Yes, Yale is more liberal than the "real world." Doesn't that mean that change should start here, where so many future leaders and policy-makers are forming their beliefs? If such blatant misogyny is written off with a sternly-written op-ed, or band-aided over with a carefully crafted but hallow apology at Yale, a place that stands for liberalism, equality and social justice, what hope do we have when we get into the real world?

  • Anonymous

    Yes, men clearly dominate women at Yale, and Yale is clearly a sexist, misogynist place. You aren't the first to say it and won't be the last to say it, no matter how untrue it is, and you continue to be an insult to yourselves by making a mountain out of this molehill by in effect claiming that Zeta Psi's pledges and members are representative of the entire male student body.

    Remind me, though, isn't Yale's undergraduate population actually majority female? I believe the women/male division is something like 52/48.
    Now, who's really the oppressed minority now?

  • Anonymous

    When people say that yale students who protest racism, sexism and bigotry are in for it in the real world, is this supposed to be a legitimate excuse for any of those things at Yale? Also unlike the real world where you can experience all those things for free, we pay to go to Yale…..

    JM BR '08

  • Anonymous

    Clearly, this girl doesn't know any men outside of Yale, because Yale men are less sexist than most men I know.

    -Yale female

  • Anonymous

    Here it is:
    97 Harvard students called or came in to the OSAPR during the 2006-2007 academic year after experiencing a rape, sexual assault, or relationship violence.

    as far as i can tell the osapr seems to be a medical/mental rather than legal resource.

    "In sum, I think we'd all benefit from an anonymous survey conducted here at Yale to get us closer to reliable statistics."

  • Anonymous

    Oh wake up, guys, and stop distorting everything the Women's Center tries to do. Regardless of whether threatening to sue is "effective," they did so, as this op-ed excellently articulates, because they are tired of being ignored, so that perhaps next time when something similar happens, guys can't pretend that this stuff has happened before and will happen again.

    Yale is neither more nor less bigoted than anywhere else I have had the pleasure to reside. As a fellow male student, as a former member of numerous all-male sports teams, as well as non-athletic organizations, I can testify that misogyny is a societal problem, ubiquitous and ignored in nearly all groups composed entirely of males. You all know how even one woman turns the conversation on its head.

    Although the worst instances of misogyny were as a member of sports teams, where nearly every conversation revolved around objectifying and demeaning women, it is equally true that non-athletes are condescending in the ease with which they dismiss rape, sexual assault, and harassment as problems.

    Yes, while you bicker about the exact numbers, you dismiss the fact that this incident, #7, was never about whether frat boys -- no frat men -- were raping women, but the fact that they disparagingly stood outside a building that is supposed to be a safe haven for women. The problem is not just the act of holding the sign…no, the problem is that anyone came up with the idea and thought it would be funny. That's what people mean when they talk about systems and constructs. You can't just say mistake and let it go; understand that it's society that gives anyone the idea this might be amusing.

    #5, the workplace? Yes! The workplace where Yale students will often be the bosses. Saying that no one should be upset because it's worse in the real world is like saying murder shouldn't be a crime we take seriously: there's genocide to worry about.

    As inappropriate as the race-analogy was, they did so because racism is taken more seriously than sexism, which is dismissed outright as not a problem in today's oh-so-enlightened world. ('more', mind you, because the those rightfully offended and hurt by this year's earlier racist graffiti were simply told to grow up and learn to laugh as well.)

    What does this all mean? It means that if any of you are at all serious, if you think its inappropriate to have to threaten to sue, then take a little time out of your busy schedules to listen and discuss before the fact.

    If Yale's enlightened student body does not want these incidents and these responses to be regular occurrences, then people need to pay attention to something besides litigation.

    My suggestion to my fellow male gender: male sports teams, frats, all groups predominantly or substantially male on campus: let's start a forum, instead of mocking the ones the university plans; let's take a moment from practice, from party planning, and prove that all this antipathy towards litigation isn't simply convenient and lazy hypocrisy, and an unwillingness to deal with our own misogyny.

    Prove we actually like dialogue better.

    Because, sadly, I'm not actually sure most of us do.

  • Anonymous

    Hey #18.

    I am a male athlete at Yale, friends with all the guys in the photo.

    I'm not a misogynist. Simply being a male does not make me sexist.

    When the racist hysterics came out, it was nothing but white guilt on half the campus.

    Now all you're doing is perpetuating male guilt.

  • Anonymous

    #18, Well thought out and argued comments like yours give me hope for the YDN comments section. Don't get me wrong, I love reading through the casual, lazy postings comprising the majority of comments found on this site--but only in the same way I can't help gawking at the invective-filled comments at Even if I didn't agree with all your points, your post reminds me that some people, even those on an anonymous forum where they can get away with wild statements they don't think they could get away with elsewhere (not just because they are controversial, but because sometimes they haven't even been thought through), will still bother to present a coherent argument. But, I did agree with all your points.

  • Anonymous

    What male guilt? Huh? I haven't come across any male guilt, like ever. Male guilt for the historically oppression of women or male guilt for regarding women as sexual objects, dehumanizing them, speaking about them as meat, thinking that's hilarious and committing sexual violence against them.


  • Anonymous

    re: rapes numbers. Yale systematically covers up rapes. I was attacked on campus, an incident that was investigated by the YPD and which I discussed with numerous high ranking officials. That year, how many rapes did they report? ZERO. How does it feel to have your trauma NEGATED by campus authorities dead set on presenting Yale as safer/better/more liberal than it actually is. Allegations that Yale is now inflating its rape figures are completely absurd.

  • Anonymous


  • Anonymous

    #21- the point is that these guilt complexes are stupid and invalid.

    I hope there isn't any male guilt any more than I hope there isn't any white guilt.

    I never oppressed any Indians so I'm not going to bear some bizarre PC-guilt over what happened 150 years ago.

    I never disrespect women so I'm not going to let these uber-feminists trash all of mankind.

    It is not a crime to be male.

  • Anonymous

    That's exactly why males feel guilty. Maybe if you actually talked to some males, you would find that there are a lot of males who care about women and truly feel guilty for the treatment of women by those who don't care. I don't know what your experience with males is, but if you open yourself up, then you would find that the male population *gasp* isn't that bad!

  • Anonymous

    @#22: What year did Yale report zero rapes? The campus security reports show they reported 5 in 2003, 4 in 2004, 11 in 2005, and 9 in 2006…

  • Anonymous

    #22, If what you are saying is true (I don't mean to be saying that you are lying, it's just that one should never believe everything they read on internet message boards), then that is truly appalling and something should definitely be done regarding the issue of a possible Yale cover-up of rapes on campus. I'd be shocked if the majority of Yale's population didn't support an accurate disclosure of actual number of rapes on campus. I'm generally pretty apathetic when it comes to marching for social causes, but I would be more than willing to help out in that effort.

    What I think is puzzling to a lot of people, though, is how/why people are connecting this stupid and dumb prank with date rapes?

  • Anonymous

    to #26: After I lodged a complaint with the Dept of Education and they investigated, Yale revised its statistics after the fact, bumping their figures up for all the previous years.

  • Anonymous

    I don't blame the Women's Center for blowing this out of proportion. They need to make themselves look relevant somehow.

  • Anonymous

    @ #28: of course, I don't think that anyone is saying that the people in the picture are rapists, would rape someone, etc. But I think that it is clear that rape happens because of a culture of misogyny, and it also (often) happens at frat parties (freshman girls, alcohol)-- not saying it is necessarily the frat members, but the environment is created.

  • Anonymous

    What a joke…I would never want my children to apply to this sad excuse of a university.


  • joey a.

    oh ,so the Woman's Center is a Frat ?
    Yes i worship the Goddess,
    "by the breakin of my thumbs something Wiccan this way comes"

  • Dianna

    I find it interesting that so few people are willing to associate names with their posts… but thats a side issue…

    I think the reason that rape is a factor in this conversation has nothing to do with what the guys in the photo would or wouldn't be willing to do. So if anyone should stop taking things so personally its the guys who somehow feel the need to be defensive about this- If you're not sexist or misogynist then great! Why associate yourself with the guys who are by being defensive?

    Rape is part of the conversation because of the way that this particular act of sexism targeted women- which is through female sexuality. Rape is an extreme form of dominance, through sexuality (male or female)again. Thats how the two are connected. The sign didn't say, "We love Yale flakes" or "We love Yale bimbos." It said "We love Yale sluts" which is a specific thing- it reduces women to their sexuality, and a negative version of it at that.

    I for one thought the counter photo "We love Yale intellectuals" was particularly revealing because it nailed the counter argument. The opposite of slut isn't intellectual. Yet that is how we counter slut- why? Because the actual conversation is "you're nothing but a negative version of your sexuality" vs. "No, I'm actually, as it turns out, I'm a person." Which is part of the same dynamic as rape- not necessarily the same individuals.

  • Hieronymus

    Thanks, "Dianna"



  • Anonymous

    I don't know about the rest of you, but I know plenty of sluts who are complex, multifaceted individuals.

  • Andy

    I love how, whenever women assert that misogyny is real, mobs of men come out of the woodwork to hysterically denounce them, call them names, tell them to get a life, and then insist that they're not sexist. It's such easy irony. If sexism isn't a problem at Yale, and nasty feminazis are trying to take over, why are there ten negative comments on this article for every one that's sympathetic?

    Claire, I respect and empathize with your point of view, and I hope you make some headway with the Yale administration. In any case, let this experience be a lesson to you: institutionalized sexism may be most visible when it's sh-thead frat boys making rape jokes, but at least those guys can be avoided. Much more insidious is the attitude of "nice guys" like the many Anonymous commenters here - men who benefit from pervasive sexism but don't like to think of themselves as perpetrators. These guys will get their undies in a bunch whenever women get angry, or even when women just try to calmly point out the obvious truth that our society (even at Yale) isn't as fair to women as it should be. And it won't matter how far you bend over backwards to try to keep them from feeling threatened and help them see your point. They'll keep trying to make you feel like an awful nagging bitch for daring to accuse them of being part of something unjust. It's a good argument for lesbianism, if you have the option.

    The truth is, while Yale men may be less likely to perpetrate more outrageous forms of sexism, they're probably more likely to go for this "subtler" form. To understand where you're coming from, and why it's so frustrating, these boys would have to have experienced some form of oppression - from the losing side. They'd have to know what it feels like to be sneered at and told to calm down by someone who has his foot on your neck (metaphorically). But most of these Yale Men have always been on top, and the status quo works pretty well for them.

    The don't get it. They don't want to get it. And they're not going to get it. Sorry.

  • A.C. aka "A nice guy"


    Your heart is in the right place, but I'm afraid your head is in the wrong one. You see, you make the same critical mistake that so many other women (and men) on your side of the argument make: That just because we're disagreeing with the reaction to a particular incident it means we wish to deny the existence of injustice and silence those who would speak out against it.

    I think few among us would claim that there is no discrimination (both subtle and overt) on this campus, and I distance myself from those who would. I respect the right of women to speak out against what they perceive as an indignity perpetrated against them and I hope that they would respect my right to respectfully disagree with their arguments. Yes, there will be some who will say that "whiny bitches need to shut up". But to suggest that those of us who -- without resorting to such childish insults -- simply have a different opinion about how the Women's Center should've responded to Zeta Psi, or about the appropriateness of a Halloween costume involving blackface, or about the meaning of a cartoon containing a racial joke, are all perpetrators and supporters of racism, sexism, etc. is not only incredibly short-sighted, it's downright insulting and it speaks to an awful leap in logic that no intelligent person should make.

    Oh, and to insinuate that we don't "get it" because we're all rich white men who have never felt oppression or been told to calm down is probably the stupidest assertion of all, as so many of the female, black, asian, etc. people on this forum who agree with my brown-skinned, spanish-speaking self have proven time and time again.

  • anonymous

    If you actually read the article, rape is in the discussion because the WC is supposed to be a safe place for women on campus, particularly those who are dealing with rape/attempted rape/violence w/in a relationship. A bunch of guys with that sign somewhere not near a doorway or passageway to public places would have been innocuous. But as a woman, a group of 20-25 guys by a door you need to go through is intimidating, most of us have been groped or harassed many times in such situations or had our passage blocked by men having a laugh. These guys are usually drunk, and usually mean no physical harm but they are, perhaps subconsciously, asserting their power over us, and it is always a dangerous bet to believe that these signs of subtle or blatant aggression are for jokes or laughs, and not serious threats. It is a minority of men who do such things, but enough do that it is not a truly rare occurrence in a woman's life to be or feel threatened in this way. Add to that the sign, and the location, and it becomes a real issue because the doorway the men were near was one to a building that is supposed to be a safe space for women who have been assaulted, usually by men. I am sure that making women take a detour, or making them feel threatened was not the intention of this group. They simply meant to mock the center, not a wonderful thing but not a real issue either. However, by being completely oblivious to the true effect of their choice of location, they invoked a strong reaction by the WC and other women on campus. It seems to me that the WC does not specifically want to target these young men as doers of something truly horrible. They are threatening legal action so that this incident does not go ignored like many others, I doubt they believe the will win (they could if the law was as strict as the oft-ignored university rules on sexual harassment) The value of the legal action is a potential to prevent such acts of intimidation-through-ignorance in the future. That way efforts could be focused on dealing with that tiny group of men who do assault and purposefully threaten women on campus.

  • Old Europe

    I've just come across this while examining the whole horrid Hillary debacle of rabid sexual hatred that has marred the democrat nomination contest. while it goes without saying that I abominate the frat boy evil antic, a really effective way of bringing home the horror is to instantly translate the offensive action into racist terms as its seems racism is a tremendous no-no in the US whereas sexism is just fine and dandy y'all. In this case just picture said frat turds in black face outside a NAACP meeting tap dancing and telling black men to shine theri shoes or better still, in KKK fancy dress offering to show how to lynch some strange fruit……How would that be perceived?

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