Days later, officials still ignoring ‘sluts’ incident

It’s been interesting, to say the least, to follow the fallout of last week’s “Yale sluts” incident. People have been infuriated, saddened, annoyed and indifferent that any of this should have happened in the first place, or that the Women’s Center chose to react so forcefully. Most members of this campus — not to mention Yale-obsessed media junkies — can’t stop talking about the story even as they don’t seem to understand why it should continue to elicit such a strong response.

I, for one, couldn’t be more pleased that the whole thing has unfolded as it has.

Let’s face it: Routine and petty humiliation, harassment and downright intimidation of women have come to be accepted as mainstays not just of the general college experience, but of official campus events and student-group rituals. I’ve been taunted on the street and chased out of classroom buildings during Yale fraternity and sports-team initiations of years past. I’ve looked on as the YCC chose performers with a repertoire of violently misogynistic lyrics to headline the past two Spring Flings.

Of course, the event that happened outside the Women’s Center wasn’t unique either at Yale or within the broader framework of fraternity culture. But the attention and strong emotions that it has generated are a refreshing change. Almost overnight, numerous women and men have decided that they have had enough of a campus culture that refuses to confront its treatment of female students.

The ultimate point of the Zeta Psi incident is not who-held-what-sign or who-threatened-to-sue-whom. The point is simply this: Speech that humiliates and degrades women cannot continue to have a place on this campus, and we have the chance to put an end to it now.

Let me save you some precious eye-rolling time and deal right away with a few concerns that may arise from the apparently threatening idea that women could actually be fed up with shrugging off endless verbal abuse. One of my favorite complaints that has cropped up repeatedly on various online discussion forums has centered around the semantic connotations of the word “slut.” It was truly touching to see so many people crack open the OED and point out that technically, the word can apply to both genders, so what are all these women making such a fuss about? The barrage of brutally misogynistic comments posted to any number of Web sites calling women who dared to speak out after the event “cunts,” “sex-starved whores” and “whiny bitches who need to get back to the kitchen” should be sufficient to clear up any doubts that demeaning, violent language intending to undermine women lies at the heart of this event and demands an immediate response.

Then there’s the old “boys will be boys” argument, favored, improbably enough, by a growing number of women. These women have graduated from college, and moved on to the professional world. They scoff at female students who would prefer not to endure repeated verbal assault as part of their everyday routine. If we think this is bad, they tell us, wait until we get jobs and enter the real world, where attitudes towards women are far harsher. In their eyes, the only way to succeed is to grin and bear it. It’s an attitude as remarkably bitter as it is pathetic. Frankly, the time for this kind of defeatism has long passed.

And finally, there are those who insist that the only appropriate response to this event would be to initiate another round of on-campus dialogue about the parameters of inappropriate speech.

Discussions meant to target and explore the attitudes that motivate abusive speech and students’ responses to it are certainly necessary, but they aren’t nearly enough. Because everyone is aware of the specific circumstances that led to the “Yale sluts” event, we can — and must — push for more decisive action. We must demand that the university provide incentives for organizations that have made a habit of openly demeaning women to stop immediately. Those incentives could take many forms — disciplinary punishment, withdrawal of organizational funding, a note made on students’ permanent records. But it will be impossible to achieve any substantial change until the Yale administration openly acknowledges the systemic nature of this problem and commits to tackling it.

Many readers are probably thinking that it’s absurd to publish this column today, a week and a half after the fact. I couldn’t agree more. The whole thing should have been resolved by now. But that can’t happen until we receive assurance that the administration is so ashamed to keep ignoring its students’ pressing concerns that it has at last decided to act. Until then, we’ll just have to keep applying pressure.

Alexandra Schwartz is a junior in Saybrook College. Her column usually runs on alternate Tuesdays.


  • Anonymous

    This is utterly and sadly true. We should all be ashamed to have arrived at this point. I hope this university can move forward constructively and decisively on this issue.

  • Hieronymus

    3/10 on the troll scale (wherein one tries to create or maintain buzz on a certain topic). No new info here, just a long-winded rehash; I think I only bothered with every third word.

    Come to think of it, 2/10 is probably better.

  • Anonymous

    I'm quite glad the University has not taken disciplinary action against the frat. This is not because I support their actions. Rather, at the end of the day, I prefer a campus on which any group has the license to say anything--even should it gravely offend me--than have to dance on eggshells to avoid what someone somewhere at sometime in some way might find offensive. I resent the notion that Yale ought to regulate or take disciplinary against speech, particularly when it is not--and this is NOT--libel or incitement to violence.

    Again, the double standard: why ought the frat be punished for a word the WC doesn't like when women's groups (like the one in which is Chase Olivarius-McCallister) have free reign to portray men's groups (e.g. frat) in whatever offensive and crude way they please? When last I checked, equality was about applying the same standard to all, and not favoring one group over another just because they pull (with annoying fervor and self-righteousness) the victim card whenever they think someone might humor them.

    Get over it. Zeta Psi has already pledged to perform numerous activities in the cause of women's rights (or whatever such things are being called these days), which, in my opinion, is a lot more than they honestly had to do. However, I've gone on about this extensively in comments to the "public space" piece from a few days ago, so I'll let this be it.

    One more thing, though: do you really think the frat's actions constitute sexual harassment? If so, consider that a number of ardent Christians on campus are claiming that if the WC can claim sexual harassment against the frat for its minor satire/parody/statement (take your [PC] pick), then they have every right to oppose Sex Week at Yale as sexual harassment due to the offense they take to it. The argument is a bit more complicated than that, but here it is summarized. Thoughts?

  • life, liberty and morality

    Aren't we just flogging the dead horse now?

    Get over the insult and perpetual oppressed victimhood. Words can't be violent or assault you.

    I thought the purpose of public space was for the free exchange of ideas? Maybe this would be a good time to talk about misogyny vs misandry vs misanthropy at Yale? Or chastity vs promiscuity and how each are viewed by different members of the campus?

  • Anonymous

    What 'point' should we be ashamed to have arrived? That Yale's PC fascists have their day in the sun bemoaning other peoples' right to make stupid jokes?

    This editorial is, of course, amazingly exaggerated and needlessly inflammatory. It does, however, contain one line of absolute truth: Alexandra and the other activists for activism here "couldn't be more pleased that the whole thing has unfolded as it has."

    Indeed, let us commend Zeta Psi for answering the Woman's Center's prayers. Throughout all of last semester, and long before that, the Woman's Center attempted vainly to launch an assault on Yale's Greek system. This pattern of unprovoked animosity included an extremely offensive, unproductive, and insincere "Discussion of Frats" at Yale (note: no fraternity member would ever call his fraternity a "frat"). Unfortunately for the Women's Center, the inconvenient fact that they had nothing salient to protest made protesting all the more difficult.

    Now, finally, the Women's Center has found the cache of Saddam's WMDs and has begun, with palpable glee, to present their case to the UN (or ExComm, whatever). At long last, the pretext for dragging every Yale fraternity brother over the coals has arrived, and the members of a heretofore irrelevant fringe group "couldn't be more pleased that the whole thing has unfolded as it has." Wheew!

    With that acknowledged, let us shift to the work ahead.

    I for one, do not think that Alexandra goes nearly far enough in her proposal to make "a note made on [offending] students’ permanent records." That is hardly satisfactory comeuppance for so serious a transgression, which, it has been noted, was not only a "sponsorship of rape" but also "an assault against students of color" (it matters not that the sign in question did not mention rape nor anything related to color; we all know what the multi-ethnic woman-haters were really trying to say).

    Instead, I propose that the Women's Center summon to New Haven all the violators' mothers, sisters, and girlfriends for a public shaming on the Green. How dare they call themselves women, having produced or tolerated such vile scum?

    There was a time when some feared that Yale would be a tolerant place, big enough for jocks and dorks, gays and straights, feminists and men. Thank God we now know that they were wrong.

    Let the re-education begin!

  • Anonymous

    Good work, sisters! This just in: Brearley called, and they are ready to commence with the castration as soon as we can say, "stop the violators!"

  • DoodleLover

    The writer did not "deal away" with a myriad of concerns that were raised in response to WC's handling of the incident, and she certainly did not save me any eye-rolling time. The fact that many misogynistic comments were left on various websites DOES NOT suggest that "demeaning, violent language intending to undermine women lies at the heart of this event." It simply shows that there are many stupid and cowardly people who are prone to leaving nasty comments in cyberspace. It may be a scathing indictment on our society (on many issues, not just misogyny), but it does not grant us access to the inner thoughts of the so-called offenders in this incident. And let us not forget that plenty of demeaning words were said against the Zeta Psi men - ranging from "white, stupid, jock bastards" to "those f***ers should burn in hell." The word "slut" is as gender-charged as the word "bastard," but neither of them has an exclusively antagonistic connotation in every day colloquial usage - they are often used by members of both genders in jest, without malice.
    The writer clearly misunderstands the women (and many well-meaning men, such as myself) who dismiss the whole fiasco as silly. We are not "defeatist" and "pathetic." We just happen to disagree with her assertion that the incident was a hate-filled one with broad implications for the Yale community. As sad as it is, violent crimes against women - rape, torture, murder - are commonplace in many parts of the world, not the least of which is the United States. The women of WC are smart and resourceful - so why don't they prioritize? This is our point. Instead of focusing on a petty (and frivolous, no doubt) squabble with a local frat, why not support those women with careers who are involved in real sexual harassment incidents? Why don't they support the two female YLS students who are suing a group of anonymous posters on whose months-long misogynistic and deliberate personal attacks have cost the two their reputation and summer jobs? That the working women and many liberal Yalies - WC's traditional support base - have not rallied behind this issue is an indication that it needs to reconsider the validity of this particular cause.

    CC '01

  • Anonymous

    Sorry, but the previous two posters don't really know what they're talking about. Freedom of speech is all well and good but when it harms the well-being of another group, it must be curtailed.
    Let's just face the facts: The truth is that there is far, far less of a problem with misanthropic comments than misogynistic comments on Yale's campus and across the nation.
    If you want to talk about double standards, that's your double standard. And frankly, if you haven't been exposed to the daily and unceasing misogynistic lifestyle found here at Yale, you don't know what you are talking about.
    PS-Whatever "numerous activities" the frat has planned is simply lip service, in my opinion. Disciplinary action is needed.

  • Anonymous

    To the author of this article, do you really think this article will have that much of an effect on any discipline or speediness of that discipline?

  • anon

    Schwartz also mistakenly believes that her negative view of the word "slut" is the only usage. She might want to go ask some third wave feminists about that, in addition to the host of girls who affectionately call their friends "sluts" as a terms of endearment in the same way a guy calls a buddy "asshole".

    Her argument is just as narrow as those she criticizes.

  • life, liberty and morality

    I'm a woman, and really you (the feminists, who incidentally, don't speak for all of us) just need to get over less than complimentary comments already.

    It is misandrist to say that fraternities promote rape yet there is no outcry over this. Why? There is no evidence that any of the men in the picture actually hate or intend to rape any women.

    Speech doesn't harm anyone. Curtailing it harms everyone.

    All you Brownshirts are doing is continuing to heap coals on the fires of the pointless gender war.

  • A.C.

    Well said, DoodleLover.

    I think the WC would have garnered everyone's respect and admiration had they chosen to rise above the bullshit and, instead of reacting the way they did, publish something along the lines of: "Sorry, we're too busy actually doing work on behalf of women to respond to the childish antics of a couple of drunk frat boys". Then they could've gone on to detail some of the fantastic work that I hope they're doing for women. And I say "I hope" because I don't know! I wish I did, but the Women's Center has chosen to spend their time on this idiotic stunt instead of educating the campus on their value to the Yale community.

    One more thought. While I find it incredibly reassuring to find voices of reason such as Anthony L and others on these pages, a part of me thinks that those of us who disagree with the whole tone of this "protest" should respond with silence. Maybe we are just fanning the flames; giving Schwartz and others more people to rail against, more people to personally insult -- surely I'm not the only one who has been told he "stands for sexual violence" because I disagree with them. Yes, it is important to show them that not everyone agrees with their inane course of action but, couldn't our silence be more deafening than the most eloquent of YDN editorials?

    To paraphrase a famous saying: What if the Women's Center had a girl power, woe is me pity party and nobody showed up?

  • Anonymous

    These boys were never going to be "punished." Sadly, the powers that be dont care to do anything.

  • Anonymous

    If you're going to leave a rude comment, the least you can do is leave your name. Own up to it.

  • Anonymous

    Unlike Alexandra, I could not be more displeased with the way this whole scenario has played out. The Women's Center (understandably) became angry at a (relatively minor but still offensive) incident of disrespect for women. Unfortunately, they've acted out of their anger, rather than trying to cool down first, and the discussion that's ensued has suffered for this. Most people at Yale, I'd like to believe, would like to believe that they aren't particularly sexist. But when the Women's Center started railing against Zeta Psi, I think many of us felt personally under attack, since to us what the frat boys did just didn't seem all that bad. So "we" go on the defensive, and what we've got is an argument, not a nuanced discussion. It's not pleasant to be called a misogynist, and neither is it to be called a slut.

    So let me try to clarify a few things that I think have been implied by various sides, but haven't always been at the surface of discussion.

    First, the Zeta Psi incident is merely the good old proverbial straw. (Not to imply that women are camels. ;) Yes, it was bad, but no, it wasn't that bad. The Women's Center is responding this way because it /is/ indicative of larger problems in our society, which we do have good reason to be upset about. Clearly, the brothers of Zeta Psi don't deserve a disproportionate amount of the blame.

    Second, this is not "hate speech." Hate is a word that's being tossed around a lot these days, but all it does is stifle any meaningful discussion. Not to deny the existence of real hate in the world, but the problems of racism and sexism are far more nuanced than that. Take the case of a man who insists on holding doors open for women, who won't walk through before them. He is sexist. He is not a misogynist. A person who believes that a guy must always be the one to ask a girl out is sexist, but not a hater. I don't hate women; the brothers of Zeta Psi don't hate women. But we all are sexist. The challenge of a truly enlightened feminist is to make us realize this, that we all should reexamine how we conduct ourselves towards both sexes. Serious introspection is difficult enough as it is; being falsely called a hater is not going to encourage it.

    Likewise, regulation of speech (i.e. political correctness) is not going to help. Offensive words are not the problem. They often reveal a belief that is. When I’m told “You can’t say that word, it’s offensive,” my brain immediately shuts off-- clearly this person only wants to police what I say, not talk to me. Telling people what not to say is not a way of holding a discussion, and even if the brothers at Zeta Psi are forced never to say “slut” again, whatever it is they believe about women probably won’t change an iota. What we want, what we need, is for people to understand the mindset that leads to “We love Yale sluts.”

    Finally, we need to recognize that there is sexism in the world, and each of us contributes to it. I hope that everyone will agree with me that both sexes deserve to be treated equally, and that that’s a big deal. Where we disagree is in how great the inequality is. Clearly I have my own opinions on the matter, but I’m not going to shove them down your throat. But for the next couple weeks (especially during the excellently timed Sex Week), keep your eyes open. Keep asking yourself, “What would this be like if all the sexes here were switched?” Ask your friends of both sexes how much sexism they feel they have to put up with.

    I’m kind of running out of steam, so I’m gonna quit. But listen to what people have to say. Everyone here is smart enough that it’s worth trying to understand where they’re coming from.

    Maybe everything I’ve said has all been patently obvious. That’d be nice: it’d mean everyone agrees with me.

  • Anonymous

    The rally to summons "all the violators' mothers, sisters, and girlfriends for a public shaming on the Green" because we dare to call ourselves women for "having produced or tolerated such vile scum?" portrays more "hate" than I have yet to read in any previous comment. How dare someone, especially another woman, suggest that the women in these men's lives take accountability for their actions! If this is a representative view of the Women's Center, you are not who you say or think you are.

    I would bet that we have all committed at least one indescretion in our lives that may have caused others pain, personal shame and required us to take accountability for our actions. The frat has apologized and is reaching out with action; they are taking accountability for thier stupid prank. What actions, other than to incite more of the same, have the Women's Center taken?

    I do not condon what the frat did; and support that the University needs to actively address this. But the Women's Center missed an opportunity to be wise, and let immature emotions get the best of them. They were in a place to facilitate a change, and they blew it.

    At the end of the day, I look at intent. And to suggest this foolish prank puts the frat in the same league as rapists is truly grasping at straws.

  • Anonymous

    To #16: I didn't post it, but the "summon all the violators' mothers, sisters, etc." comment was sarcastic…that might put it in perspective. :)

    There's a fine line between free speech and persecution. Yale is not responsible for drawing this line; the government is. While this act is insensitive, it is not hateful, it is not commonplace, and it is not illegal.

  • opszanski

    Critics of legalization and decriminalization ALWAYS play the “protect the children” card. It’s quite pathetic. Especially because they don’t realize why they’re wrong.