It is hard to believe that, within a university that is seen as one of the most prestigious in the country — one that has been the focus of a forgery scandal in Korea, one that has seen applications increase wildly in the past few years — there still exists an atmosphere of tacit misogyny. I’m not talking about the fact that fraternity brothers gathered around the Yale Women’s Center and held up a bigoted sign, nor the fact that a senior art major has been the subject of personal ridicule, attack and forced silence by nearly every one of the 33 articles published about her in the Yale Daily News. I’m talking about the most unregulated, unofficial forum for public debate about such issues: the comments section on the News’ Web site.
I realize, of course, that many of those who comment are not students at the University and that they are self-selecting for their interest in a particular story. However, these comments lie on the page right next to legitimate (and, we hope, “objective”) reporting, positioning them in a place of influence over a reader’s opinion and coloring the journalism a frighteningly deep shade of yellow.
Consider the story of the University’s dull, lackadaisical response to the (very real) sexual harassment that occurred outside of the Women’s Center in January. Zeta Psi brothers assembled outside of the Women’s Center, knowing that their presence was somehow a “joke” — an insult to the very idea of a Women’s Center, a safe space for women — and even publicized their exploits by making a photograph of their sign available for all to see. The News’ coverage of the incident was thorough and tried not to pick sides; comments, however, on nearly every article and editorial associated with the event, are horrendously sexist, bigoted, ignorant and almost absurdly logically fallacious. When Jessica Svendsen published her disappointment that the University did not take any disciplinary action whatsoever on the men who harassed her, the public’s response was not one of empathy, but rather one that told her, essentially, to shut up and quit being a bitch who can’t take a joke.
“You are very fortunate this is the worst harassment [sic] you’ve ever had in your privileged life.” “I can recall no instance — of a person, due to some specific, political event, transferring to a more accommodating institution. Or quitting. May I suggest: please go then.” “Grow up.” “Worry not, The Women’s Center will find something else to complain about excessively and expose themselves further as attention seeking whiners and irrational elitists.” “[T]his is a lesson for the Zeta Psi pledges and men in general: Legal but rude acts can subject you to more than your fair share of trouble.”
We can see the same old tired arguments: “love it or leave it,” “you’re rich and therefore don’t know anything,” “you are immature and weak for thinking that a large group of men blocking the entrance to the Yale Women’s Center and publicly calling all women ‘sluts’ is sexual harassment.” For all I know, these could have been posted by militant neo-nazis who religiously read the News, looking for fights to pick; that does not exempt them, however, from the public discourse surrounding this event. It also does not rule out the possibility that these comments were written by Yale students or alumni.
But what’s even more troubling than these comments themselves is that the majority of other comments are less blunt in their message, but essentially say the same thing. I don’t have room to re-print more in this space, but I don’t think I’m crazy when I write that the overall messages are: “stop trying to get attention for yourself,” “stop whining,” “stop being self-aggrandizing,” “you don’t know what you’re talking about.”
What’s next? If any of several recent acquaintance rapes (as reported by Chief Perrotti) ever comes to trial — which is unlikely in our atmosphere of silence — are we to expect people to tell the rape victim to “shut up” and “stop whining?” While we probably won’t see those exact words, I am very sure that the chilling effect of that specific kind of laissez-faire, internalized and obscured institutional logic contributes to Yale’s under-reporting, trivialization, and blindness to rape and other instances of violence against women.
I don’t use the term “chilling effect” casually: Comments on News articles, as the University’s institutional silence and recent wet-noodle disciplinary action on the “Yale Sluts” incident proves, are representative of more than a handful of radical scab-pickers. They are tacitly endorsed by every level of discourse in this University, pervading both popular opinion and institutional discipline. They make it undesirable for anybody to speak up for themselves, transforming a very real instance of misogyny and sexual harassment into that most despicable of rhetorical terms: “crying rape.”
There is nothing fake about this cry.
Theodore Gordon is a senior in Davenport College.