Blind eyes turn to Zeta Psi, enable misogyny

As a student at Yale, I’ve seen many intellectual arguments come and go. Yet nothing I have seen compares with the way the recent actions of some Zeta Psi members and the Yale Women’s Center reaction have caused a brief tempest of inflammatory language only to burn out in a week. Furthermore, I was shocked by the great deal of criticism leveled at the Women’s Center.

While most people have not condoned Zeta Psi’s actions, they have also seemed content with writing off such behavior as merely immature or an ironic expression of stereotypical fraternity misogyny, instead choosing to decry the actions of the Women’s Center as feminism at its worst: irrational, overemotional militancy. While it is totally fine to disagree on an intellectual level about the legality of the suit filed by the Women’s Center, I fear that in the wake of this witch hunt many of the underlying issues have been missed entirely.

As New York Times op-ed columnist Bob Herbert recently noted, gender issues have come to the forefront in political discussions because a woman is currently positioned as one of the strongest presidential candidates. I share in his dismay that it should take such national or local events to cause Americans, especially college students, to stop and consider gender discrepancies or the pervasiveness of misogyny in our culture. No one doubts that the Zeta Psi pledges committed an entirely puerile act, but there seems little attention paid outside the Women’s Center to the use of the word “slut.”

This is perhaps the greatest disappointment of all: that so few are even momentarily thrown by the use of a word that blatantly refers to slovenly, immoral sexual promiscuity, and a sign that simply reduces all Yale women to such a status. No sexualized term conveying the negative judgment of promiscuous men exists that is used with similar frequency or anywhere near an equal degree of seriousness. The only commonly used description of sexually promiscuous men is the word “pimp,” which has been culturally glamorized to the point where it is extremely difficult to construe it as an insult.

“Slut,” on the other hand, taps into a pervasive trend throughout American history and modern culture of speaking about women as though they are inferior. This tradition is kept alive by the music and advertising industries. These forces, in turn, make it easier for men to justify treating women as inferiors: “If Diddy can get away with it all the time, surely any one thing I do can’t be such a big deal, right?”

The Women’s Center was founded not only to give women a safe location on Yale campus in a time when misogyny and sexism were far less subtle, but also to serve as a center to fight these conservative gender perspectives. Thus, a large gang of intoxicated men chanting “dick” on the doorstep is obviously perceived as an ideological attack, and the Women’s Center responded severely.

Indeed, the popular reaction against the Women’s Center shares frightening similarities with the sort of anger often lobbied at victims of rape and sexual assault. I don’t seek to imply that the actions of Zeta Psi toward the Women’s Center constitute an act remotely as pernicious as rape. Rather, the Yale attitude is reminiscent of the subtly misogynistic reaction of the American public, which tends to express disbelieving anger toward the victim (despite FBI statistics gaging false reports of rape to be between only 2 and 8 percent depending on the year). A general blind eye to the treatment of women as sexualized inferiors promotes a community in which men can treat women as such – according to the U.S. Department of Justice, 24 percent of college women have been the victims of rape or attempted rape (Fisher B.S., et al. The Sexual Victimization of College Women. 2000, see especially exhibits 3 and 7).

Again, feel free to disagree with the response by the Yale Women’s Center. I do not think their reaction was so unwarranted, given the historical and nationwide cultural forces they are up against, but many reasonable arguments can be made for alternative actions they may have taken. But let us not, as an intelligent and socially aware community, dismiss Zeta Psi’s actions as merely an isolated incident of immature, fraternity pranks. Ignorance of the larger context their actions reinforce belies a grimmer and far more universal problem.

Paul Morse is a senior in Branford College. He is the president of Yale’s Men Against Rape.

Comments

  • Anonymous

    You may find it hard to believe, but men can be victims too -- just ask the Duke lacrosse team. It is totally unconscionable to label a large group of men as potential rapists, simply because one of their number holds up a piece of paper with the word "slut" on it. Why is it that we have no outcry over the fact that Yale men have been wrongfully accused of committing 92 rapes a year, when the facts clearly show this to be a lie based upon a bogus statistical extrapolation? When you wrongfully accuse men of committing, condoning and promoting rape, based upon no facts, it is the accused who is the victim.

  • Anonymous

    Ah yes, #1, you have made an excellent point.

    Similarly outrageous is historians' readiness to falsely accuse German soldiers of killing 8 million Jews when many estimates place the number as low as 5 million. Both numbers, of course, were extrapolated from meaningless national statistics.

    And who will apologize? Who will apologize for these false, false accusations?

    Who, dammit?

    No one. No one. It is a cruel world, my friend. If only others could know what we know: God, we are so misunderstood.

  • Noah Swayne

    The author throws the word "misogyny" around so freely in characterizing the pledges' antics, he must think he can transform a silly prank into hatred of all Yale women merely by calling it that.

    Sorry to disappoint. This is not misogyny. The pledges did not target "all" Yale women as "sluts." They proclaimed, with all the stupidity of youth, that they love Yale "sluts." Of course they never said "all" Yale women fit that category. They love women willing to have sex with them, no strings attached.

    Using the "slut" word, which suggests "immoral sexual promiscuity," in no manner suggests "women" are inferior. It suggests sexually promiscuous women are inferior. Has the author never noticed similar stereotypes are heaped on men with far greater frequency? In fact, males are viewed as sexual predators. Has the author never heard the expression "boys will be boys"? It suggests a lifestyle among all "boys" of promiscuity. Only for males, such promiscuity is the stereotyped norm, the accepted standard, something we will never, ever shake. The fact that the term doesn't have the "sting" for males as the word "slut" has for females is precisely because people assume all males are starting from a far lower moral base -- that males constantly think about sex, that they are on the prowl, always looking for "action." In contrast, "slut" is reserved for a small class of females. Please don't try to assert that's not accurate -- it so permaeates our culture, you may not have noticed. Male promiscuity is not "approved" in polite society, it is merely accepted because people ASSUME (stereotype) males as morally depraved, sexual predators. That is a fact.

    And what sort of anger is "often" lobbied at victims of rape and sexual assault? Perhaps in certain Middle East countries, but here the anger is largely reseved for the rapist or the accused rapist (you know, rushing to judgment before the facts are adjudicated and all that). What you've said SOUNDS like it's true, and I'm sure the author has heard it on campus from women's groups, but it's a gross overstatement.

    Your stats about false rape are misleading. In "Until Proven Innocent," the widely praised (praised even by the New York Times, which the book skewers) and painstaking study of the Duke Lacrosse non-rape case, Stuart Taylor and K.C. Johnson explain that "[t]he standard assertion by feminists that only 2 percent of rape claims are false, which traces to Susan Brownmiller's 1975 book Against Our Will, is without empirical foundation and belied by a wealth of empirical data. These data suggest that at least 9 percent and probably closer to half of all rape claims are false." The authors methodically examine the evidence to reach this conclusion. Among many other things, they note that according to the former head of the sex-crimes unit of the Manhattan District Attorney's Office, a woman, of the 4,000 reports of rape each year in Manhattan, "about half simply did not happen." That should frighten any male, and the females who care about them.

  • Anonymous

    Wow. You've just doubled the number of poor comparisons of equality used in this Zeta Psi case.
    First was the one equivocating "Slut" to "N---er", now it's equivocating rape victims to Holocaust victims.
    If "Chase O" is the user name for Chase Olivarius-McAllister, then I fear for the future of the YWC if she is their leader, for she continues to undermine their credibility with outlandish statements such as these.

  • Gowin

    You just violated my law.

  • Anonymous

    I am fully aware of the ways in which men can become victims in discussions of rape and sexual assault. Certainly, one of the reasons many men avoid the subject is because of the absolutely incorrect stigma that "all men are potential rapists." It is to avoid this attitude that I am a member of Yale Men Against Rape, a group that seeks to approach men on this subject and allow them a safe space in which to speak openly about the issue. Whether you agree or disagree with what I wrote, I invite you to attend one of our meetings and talk about what 10:25 and I clearly both believe to be a very serious issue.

    The Duke lacrosse case is an excellent example of a situation in which a divisive issue made victims of everyone: the men of the lacrosse team, their apparently ill accuser, the justice system for being converted into a media circus, and hundreds of thousands of actual victims of rape and sexual assault across the country who were faced with a revival in myths about rape - most notably the myth that women often falsely report rape (see the statistic in my article, or check for yourself in the most recent copy of the FBI Criminal Victimization Survey).

    Of course it would be absolutely ludicrous to label a group of men as potential rapists because of a piece of paper with the word slut on it, and that is why I did not do so in my article:

    "I don’t seek to imply that the actions of Zeta Psi toward the Women’s Center constitute an act remotely as pernicious as rape. Rather, the Yale attitude is reminiscent of the subtly misogynistic reaction of the American public, which tends to express disbelieving anger toward the victim."

    This passage is illustrative, I believe, of the point that I sought to make numerous times throughout my article: that it is the misogynistic act of the Zeta Psi pledges and, even more so, the lack of greater outrage from the larger Yale community that fits into a prevailing attitude of misogyny and sexism in American culture. This culture makes it easier for those who do commit rape to justify it to themselves. At no point did I accuse any Yale men or any men in general of committing, condoning or knowingly promoting rape. As for unknowingly promoting a culture that makes rape a much more likely crime, I believe the entire Yale community is guilty for not taking Zeta Psi's actions more seriously.

    Finally, I have no knowledge of the 92 rapes statistic being "bogus." This number was calculated based on the same highly-regarded research I quote in my article, 'The Sexual Victimization of College Women' by Fisher (2000). Feel free to read the report and make your own conclusions: http://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/182369.pdf.

    The simple fact is that the number 92 is indeed a statistic, and thus does not carry a judgmental quality or a guarantee of accuracy. This number cannot wrongfully or rightfully accuse Yale men of committing rape. The number of rapes at Yale per year may even exceed 92, but neither myself nor 10:25 knows the actual number. Instead, this statistic has been invoked to indicate flaws in Yale's resources and reporting for survivors of sexual assault and rape, as the number annually reported is typically less than 5, an absolutely ridiculous divergence from what is mathematically predicted and from what any Universities of similar size report. With the creation of the SHARE center, this is hopefully quick on its way to being corrected.

  • alum 05

    I highly disagree with Noah Swayne's argumentative strategy. We're not interpreting a statute here -- there's no need to resort to linguistic formalism. Yes, your logic "makes sense" in terms of the way it analyzes the syntax of statements made by both Zeta Psi pledges and the author of this op-ed. But formalism totally neglects the context in which the statement was made.

    I happen to think that the original writer makes a highly over-exaggerated case for the point he's trying to make. But it is sophomoric to believe that the best argument out there is the one that's most firmly grounded in formal logic. In other words, Noah, your point is taken, but I can't see how it contributes to this discussion in a meaningful way.

  • Anonymous

    In response to Mr. Swayne (2:14),

    You bring up an excellent point in reminding us that the sign said nothing about all Yale women. The sign simply read, "We love Yale sluts," leaving it an open interpretation as to who those sluts are. Unfortunately, Mr. Swayne has grossly confused the concepts of opinion and fact. So sorry to disappoint.

    It is my opinion that the Zeta Psi sign was meant to refer to all Yale women. The sign did not blatantly state this - indeed the sign makes no gendered statement beyond the use of "slut" which is typically reserved for women. For all we know, Zeta Psi may have intended to insolently poke fun at Yale's male population - what a silly mistake on our part! The only indication of a targeted audience rests in the decision to pose with the sign in front of the Yale Women's Center, which is the only location on campus designated as a safe space for all Yale women. Indeed, it is the highly generalized wording of the sign placed next to the only campus building that evokes identification with the entire female population at Yale that makes it easy to draw the inference that the sign meant to apply "slut" to all Yale women. This is a matter of opinion and interpretation, not a matter of fact, but there is some merit in the observation that it was not an uncommon interpretation.

    Opinions are often what spur rational debate, and I would never deny your right to yours. You are free to believe that people assume all males are starting from a lower moral base, and that men are inherently morally depraved, sexual predators. I disagree with this belief: it has been my experience that this perspective has been limited mostly to "militant" feminists, while most people consider male sexual behavior to be not nearly so sinister. The assertion that this is the commonly held view of men is by no means a fact, and to claim that it is such flies in the face of reason.

    My statistics about the false reports of rape are based on national data reported annually by the FBI in their Uniform Crime Report, not founded on Brownmiller's book which was indeed shown to be without empirical data to back up its claims. Anyone who wants to can argue about statistics - they are still only numbers that are potentially meaningless. I reported them, however, because I felt they were relevant to what I believe is a common misconception, and I also have no ethical qualms about trusting statistics gathered in a routine way by a professional organization from communities throughout the country.

    I would like to personally extend an invitation to Mr. Swayne or any others interested to discuss this further in person at the next meeting of Yale Men Against Rape, which will be next Wed. at 6 pm in the Women's Center. Any such discussions that take place in our meetings are held in an intellectual setting, and dissent is welcomed - you will not be stymied for your beliefs, but we will expect facts to be reserved for that realm of knowledge that is empirically provable.

  • Anonymous

    Chase O.(#2) have you totally lost touch with reality? Yale men now the equivalent of Nazis? You need professional help.

  • A.C.

    The argument that certain actions or expressions are inappropriate because, though mostly innocuous in and of themselves, they may be misinterpreted and/or serve as encouragement or justification for truly damaging acts has always seemed problematic to me. I compare it (though I'll admit it's not a perfect comparison) to the arguments against violent television or video games that claims they glorify violence and that children who emulate what they see on the screen could engage in truly dangerous behavior. In fact, this column's author makes a similar comparison when he mentions rap music and assumes that men think: “If Diddy can get away with it all the time, surely any one thing I do can’t be such a big deal, right?”

    First of all, I pity anyone who actually takes their social cues from P Diddy. And while I understand that such a thought process is more subconscious than not, it still seems like it's placing the responsibility in the wrong place. So, if someone listens to rap and thinks it's ok to objectify women, it's rap's fault? If a kid sees a wrestling move and tries it out on his little brother it's wrestling's fault, not the parents? And if a Yalie sees Zeta Psi's sign and thinks it's ok to treat women like crap, it's the signs fault?

    Responsibility should lie with whoever commits the truly damaging act, not with wherever they get their misguided inspiration from. Otherwise, let's ban all of the above forms of expression just in case somebody takes away the wrong message and decides to do something stupid.

  • Anonymous

    LOL Take a look at 2:06 "Chase O." Now apparently those who dare challenge the WC are the equivalent of Holocaust deniers! I wonder what victims of the Holocaust would think of that.

  • Anonymous

    It would be funny, if it were not so sad. The WC is now using the suffering of holocaust victims to bolster their morally bankrupt arguments. Pathetic.

  • Anonymous

    It is disgraceful beyond belief to see a Women's Center officer comparing the lives of Yale women to those of Holocaust victims, and Yale men to Holocaust deniers. YALE DAILY NEWS, DON'T LEAVE THIS ALONE IN THE COMMENTS SECTION! This is the kind of outrageous statement that deserves wide exposure in the Yale press. The rhetoric the WC has used in this sorry episode has so dramatically undermined their cause that feminism at Yale may never be able to recover, at least until every member of the Class of 2011 graduates. It's just sick, and it's just sad.

  • anon

    i'm president of men against drowning kittens.

    who wants to debate me on its merits?

  • MM

    "Chase O" it is improper for you at the Women's Center to use the Holocaust to justify your estimates of rapes on campus. Proof of the Holocaust does not rest upon statistics. Millions of witnesses, documents, photographs, articles of clothing, and bodies have proven the existence of the Holocaust. If you have similar evidence to show that "92 Yale women are raped every year" and that "25% of all Yale women will be raped before they graduate" then you should produce that evidence. Please do not dishonor the memory of the millions who died at the hands of the Nazis by dragging them into this argument.

  • Yale '02 Alum

    Since we are apparently in the business of making comparisons with Holocaust victims, wouldn't it be far more appropriate to compare aborted babies with Holocaust victims? After all, aborted babies and Holocaust victims have a few things in common: both groups die, and in both cases the death endorsed by the government. And, since the Women's Center is the principal advocacy organization for abortion on campus… Yeah, you see where this is going. Maybe we would all be better off if we just avoid outlandish comparisons?

  • Hieronymus

    While the comparison of abortion to holocaust victims is ripe for out-of-hand rejection, the two are deeply intertwined. Abortion can be used as a dull-blade eugenics platform (with "appropriate socioeconomic conditions" and "right time of life" standing in--sometimes--for outright genetic preference), much in the way Nazi programs did.

    Whether it is the affluent choosing the right "time" to reproduce, or the disproportionate quelling of the underclass via "legalization" of abortion, it amounts to the same thing: just as Aldous Huxley was more correct than was George Orwell, so do we allow the "unfit" to off themselves via legalized abortion. Remember, Liberals are usually affluent white women (gee, just like at…Yale!), imposing (or "allowing") their views on impoverished non-whites (while the elite themselves carefully avoid such distasteful action themselves…).

    C'est la vie…

    But I digress…

  • monika1987

    Seconded. Pierson is about the students, not the money, and the college opens itself up to students from other colleges. I would also like the YDN to investigate the student committee that is briefly mentioned in the article that never happened but is standard procedure for any Master seeking reappointment. What happened there? I think those are relevant and important questions to explore.