Brodsky: A serious need for casual feminists

I came to Yale sure I could retire from my role as an angry feminist. I had stumbled across my political inclinations accidentally in my early schooling; I was a bossy, opinionated kid, and couldn’t quite figure out what being a girl had to do with anything. Gender equality struck me as such an obvious, logical necessity and I was sure Yalies would all be on board, so I could redirect my attention to more interesting problems.

However, my first few days proved me wrong. After the old “Sex Signals” workshop — which has thankfully since been changed — one classmate expressed confusion as to why it was OK for a girl to change her mind about sex after taking off her shirt. In Econ 111, I was rejected by two all male problem-set groups. In the Davenport dining hall, I was told that history was determined by great men, and maybe women just didn’t have it in them. I had come to Yale to try on a million different hats, but I found myself forced into an old one, shouting in vain — often literally.

This is a disappointing memory I share with many Yale women and one which I suspect many freshmen will soon carry as well. Unfortunately, it was also no exception to the pattern of subtle, ingrained misogyny, veiled by an air of enlightened liberalism, that I have continued to find for the last two years — a status quo that is both inherently harmful and which lays the foundation for more serious, dangerous sexism.

However, I strongly believe that this need not be the case for the next two. And for this, I turn to the class of 2014: We need you to be casual feminists.

Such a rallying cry might sound anticlimactic, but a large population of individuals each claiming a small stake in combating campus misogyny is exactly what we need. Of course, Yale must have its diehards, and I encourage all freshmen to run for the board of the Women’s Center, join a member group, write for publications like “Broad Recognition” or “Manifesta,” and contribute to discussions about reforming the University’s absurd sexual assault and maternity policies (columns for another time).

But those of you who will probably don’t need my encouragement.

The rest of you have just as important a task: Speak up. Women and men of the class of 2014, protect your friends who are targeted, and call out the insensitive. This doesn’t have to be dramatic; you don’t have to make a sign, change your attitude toward shaving or become a Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies major. If your entire class keeps an eye out for each other, sticking up for those affected by prejudices based on sexuality or gender, you can make Yale a safer place while debunking the myth of the separate feminist species.

Why do we need to move towards universal ownership of feminist concerns? First, when we leave all the shouting to those who are most offended, the point is easier to ignore. If a casual feminist called out classmates making sexist remarks in the dining hall or sitting around a common room, the disrespectful friend would likely reconsider his or her action. Yet currently, often everyone is silent or the token feminist at the table is forced to take on the responsibility. And when a message from any source becomes repetitive, it fades into white noise. This is particularly true at Yale, where the feminist is seen as a separate type of student, with a concrete wall dividing those who take on the title and those who do not. It is disturbing to see the number of students who genuinely support women’s rights but, because they don’t fit the stereotype, are reluctant to brand themselves as feminists.

The second reason such a shift is needed on campus is that the Women’s Center has better things to do with its time than wage dining hall war. I am not a member of the board and cannot speak to its views, but have as much a stake as any student in its functions. Clearly, the subtle sexism of Yale students is dangerous and requires a response. But seriously, we live in a crazy world and dedicated individuals shouldn’t feel they have to waste their time destigmatizing campus feminism when there are more pressing problems facing women at this school, in New Haven and around the world.

I must admit that, in addition to these two reasons, I hold another hope for this atmosphere of casual feminism at Yale. Fighting for our rights is about expanding opportunities, but for feminists on this campus, it can sometimes seem like each time we speak out, our options are narrowed. Class of 2014, you should be able to forge whatever identity you choose. Your concern for women’s rights should not limit your activities or predefine you in your classmates’ eyes. If everyone does their part in combating misogyny at Yale, feminism can be just another perspective students bring to all corners of campus, rather than a characteristic restricting young men and women to specific circles.

Class of 2014, if you start early, it can be done. We’re counting on you. Casually.

Comments

  • theantiyale

    No artist, no musician, no warrior, no statesman, no politician ever created a work as infinitely complex and beautiful as a human baby, especially in the short order of nine months.

    Men are, and continue to be, subconsciously OVERAWED by the miraculous capacity of women as artists of the highest order, painting the ENTIRE canvas of CREATION itself.

    Sexism is men’s bluff:

    A conscious attempt to repress that awe and to overcome the inherently un-level playing-field onto which they are and have been thrust since the Garden of Eden: Women bring them onto the planet and women ensure that their genetic code will endure after their departure from the planet.

    Men’s contribution to this process can hardly be called art.

    Men could not EXIST without women and they know it.

    Sexism is envy.

    Sexism is anger.

    pk

  • theantiyale

    Afterthought: I should add “no athlete and no scholar” to that opening ‘catalogue of creators,’

  • MC13

    antiyale: your comments are an example of exactly the kind of extremism the author means to combat.

    Alexandra: Great article, well-crafted, entirely necessary.

  • theantiyale

    Maybe so. Sadly, it doesn’t make it any less true. I wish those well who seek to make a better world.
    PK

  • FailBoat

    > In Econ 111, I was rejected by two all male problem-set groups.

    It’s examples like this that make people not take claims of sexism seriously.

  • curlysiren

    Theantiyale: As a woman who does not wish to have children, and on behalf of women who physically *cannot* have children, I find your comment extremely disgusting.

    It is condescending and closed-minded to essentially say that women should be praised because we gestate. I also think it is misguided to say that men oppress women because they are jealous of this *talent*. And comparing human gestation to human creativity is naive at best.

    I’m sorry, maybe this is a reactionary comment, but I am more than a uterus.

  • theantiyale

    I did not say women SHOULD be praised because of X. I said X makes males envious and angry SUBCONSCIOUSLY

    I do not have children and do not wish to have children. Who says women HAVE to HAVE children?

    And who says it is a TALENT? The artistry I am talking about is a cosmic artistry.

    It is women’s CAPACITY (not TALENT) to reproduce another human being and men’s INCAPACITY to do so that I am talking about.

    I understand that in the not too distant future males will be able to have a zygote implanted in their lower intestine and bring it to term.

    Perhaps this phenomenon will end sexism once and for all.

  • wtf

    Okay, Freud. I guess you wanted to sleep with your father too.

  • theantiyale

    Trivialize Freud all you want. His is one of the three great minds of the last 200 years: Einstein, Darwin, Freud. This is not even susceptible to a sliver of debate.
    PK

  • curlysiren

    Theantiyale: I understand where you’re coming from, I just don’t agree with your claim that THAT is the reason men oppress women. Also, I only meant to point out that your statement is incredibly triggering to women who cannot have children and, to a lesser extent, women who choose not to have children.

    Freud’s theories were, at the time, quite groundbreaking. We should respect him because of that. However, he, and his theories, are not infallible. Both his and Darwin’s theories have since been reevaluated and edited.

  • theantiyale

    ****Hi curlysiren,
    Your last post was a much friendlier tone.
    Look, my mother was one of the first feminists in my small community of Mt. Carmel of the 1950’s eleven miles up the road from Yale. That’s MORE than half a century ago!!!!!
    Her feminism looks pale by comparison with today’s feminism, but we are talking about a woman who wore slacks when to do so raised eyebrows about “lesbianism”; who drove a seatless, stand-up ten ton truck (with a five-gear floor-stickshift) , in an emergency to get plumbing supplies for a plumber, reluctant to abandon a metaphorical dyke he was plugging against a plumbing-flood at our house; a woman AND MOTHER who got a job when I was 14 because raising children was driving her crazy with boredom; who refused to sign a despicable neighborhood petition protesting African Americans moving next door to us in 1961 in our split-level WHITE neighborhood in West Woods and INSTEAD brought a casserole over to their house the day they moved in as she always did to welcome new neighbors on moving day. (My mother didn’t give a damn what people thought.)
    Small but powerful examples of EGALITARIANISM to an impressionable child who adored his mother (moi).
    My point?
    I’m WITH you not AGAINST you.

    But give me the benefit of the doubt and a little breathing room—I’m probably old enough to be your grandfather!!
    PK****

  • curlysiren

    Theantiyale: I was never trying not to be friendly. I am also not trying to jump down your throat. I understood in the first place that you understand and respect feminists; I just didn’t agree with your point. I respect where you’re coming from, and while I can learn from those older than me, those older than me can learn from me as well.

    Thank you for sharing about your mother. That was truly very interesting. I love hearing about people who stood up for what they believed in, no matter what.

  • theantiyale

    Thanks curlysire,

    The reason I post here is I DO LEARN from the give and take of challenging assumptions. Age has zero to do with it. Attitude is the msot important factor, whther 19 or 91/

    It’s a lot more authentic and intense on the *YDN* posting-board than the *NYTimes* posting-board for example which is a bunch of stuffed shirts with ZERO give-and-take. Although I gotta say the new *YDN* website’s posting board format has LOST its ZING .

    All the home-made headlines are GONE and the username looks like the “ingredients” section on a Hershey Bar with about as much visual impact.The little genderless shadow-cameo-icons look like *Monopoly* pieces without their color or charm.

    The whole thing is washed out, standardized and cookie-cutter eye-monotony compared with the previous posting-board. WHAT WAS *YDN* THINKING?

    I’ll keep an eye out for your username. And thanks for getting past the “disgusting… closeminded…and … condescending ” reaction.

    Be well,

    PK

  • theantiyale

    [link text][1]

    [1]: http://theantiyale.blogspot.com “My Mama Done Tole me . . .”

    PS:
    The mother of my childhood (1940’s/50’s) lived at a time when a man could beat his wife with impunity for not being “ladylike”.

    Wearing slacks, driving a ten ton truck with stand-up gearrs shift, clutch, breaks and accelerator, and defying racism DEFINITELY WERE NOT LADYLIKE. See her photo in link above. Unfortunately, she’s in a dress!

    PK

  • yugrad

    I am a recent grad of Yale, and I am male, so please forgive me since I do not know what it is like to be a woman at Yale nor do I experience the things you experience. However, during my time at Yale I also did not perceive the setting you describe. I felt young male and female Yale students alike have just as much opportunity across the school to pursue their interests. I felt women had as much influence, if not more so, than men in the goings on around campus and were just as respected by their peers in everything they did. “A serious need for casual feminists” because some idiot was confused that a girl can’t change her mind about sex after taking her shirt off? Really? Let’s use common sense. Any reasoned thinking mainstream male would agree this person is an idiot and a woman (or man) can decide at any point that they do not want to have/continue having sex. This example does not shed light on anything. Being rejected from two all-male problem set study groups? Let’s flip the situation around. I approach a girls study group and ask if I can join. Perhaps they are uncomfortable because they think adding a guy would disrupt the chemistry of the group. Perhaps they don’t like me. Perhaps they don’t know me very well. Who knows what the reasons are, but they certainly have no obligation to invite me to join their group – and whether their reasons for inviting/not-inviting me are even partially because I am male, they have every right to – this isn’t some public institution that is barring me because of sexism, it’s an informal study group. You might as well complain that a group of people are discriminating against you because they haven’t included you in their group of friends. Again, someone referring to history being defined by great men and uses that as proof that women don’t have it in them sounds like someone who has a pretty poor grasp of history, not the held views of anyone whose opinions I would give much weight.

    I agree the first and third point of evidence you cite are unfortunate, but I don’t believe they point to a rampant surge of sexism at yale that requires an alert to some sort of crisis. I agree with an earlier post that it is citing these sorts of incidents by themselves that actually impair the integrity of the feminists movement – people associate “feminism” with petty hurt feelings, not the important stuff that it should be connected to. If you really want to unveil a powerful undertone of sexism inherent below the surface, I would attempt to conduct a survey or a series of interviews that would help expose the perceptions held by both men and women at yale about women and their “place” in society. What perceptions are to their capabilities, to their strengths, to their weaknesses – I think that would be far more interesting, far more revealing, and more telling. Stronger evidence with more robust findings would create a much stronger argument.

  • theantiyale

    1. Mary
    2. Helen of Troy
    3. Cleopatra
    4. Elizabeth I (aka the Virgin Queen) (also alleged to “be” Shakespeare, a noteworthy, if incorrect, elevation)
    5. Golda Meir
    6. Margaret Thatcher
    7. Indira Gandhi
    8. Hillary R. Clinton
    9. (Fill in the space)

  • theantiyale

    OOOPS (forgot one):

    Joan of Arc

  • YaleMom

    Why must we be sending our daughters out into the world of Yale with *no compassion for their future*? I am foaming at the mouth with sadness.

  • yugrad

    YaleMom, what are you talking about?? “sending our daughters out into the world of Yale with no compassion for their future.” First, “the world of Yale” is a fairy tale compared to the “real world”. It’s one of the safest, most encouraging environments imaginable. Any young male or female lucky enough to attend a place like Yale has likely worked very hard to put themselves into a position where “their future” is looking very bright. It sounds to me like too many of the “feminists” on this board take themselves a little too seriously. Have you ever been to developing countries? Have you ever been to India, where the nation is rapidly being caught up in the exciting wave of globalization and economic growth, yet women remain tied to traditional gender roles, subservient, and submissive to their men. At least in India women have the right to work and become educated – look to places like the Middle East where women are not allowed to go to school, are not allowed to touch a man that is not their husband, are not allowed to interact with men not in their family, and are not allowed to DANCE. You see, the problem is not the points you are trying to make. The continued empowerment of women and perception of women in America is absolutely necessary. The battle for equality between the sexes is far from over in our country. However, when you play such melodramatic tones referring to sexism in a place like Yale – you simply sound naive. You sound pathetically uninformed. “No compassion for their futures”? How about the hundreds of girls that leave Yale each year to go work for McKinsey, Goldman Sachs, Google, Teach For America, and others – how about the hundreds that head to Harvard Business School or Stanford Law School? Get a grip. It is not the future of the lucky, talented, and whip smart girls at Yale that worries me – but the fact you are more worried about them than the ones that actually need help.

  • pikadot

    I was reading the comments just waiting for the seemingly-obligatory “well I’m a male but I’m an authority on this” post by a typical Yale undergrad. How surprising to find only one in the form of YuGrad! Unsurprisingly, full of criticisms of the article with no reasoned arguments or citations to attest to them.

    I’m a graduate student at Yale and while I’ve lived in seven states and spent time in many research institutions here and abroad I’ve never experienced the level of sexism that I have here. I am consistently treated as property in the sense that I have “handlers” – that is to say, people don’t copy me on an e-mail requesting my time as they would a male counterpart, even younger males, instead they assume I’m free and ask someone to bring me along. The expectations of my work are clearly different and in every respect and my treatment is different from the males in all levels around me. This is outside the normal range of misogyny usually experienced when working with older male professors (being told how to style my hair, that my worth is relational to my physical characteristics, being used to convince other professors to do something favorable or blamed when things I have nothing to do with go wrong, etc). I should mention that by a number of metrics my work is superior to that of my peers, so a simple “poor me” argument is not at play here.

    Furthermore (and perhaps most depressingly) the research is there in abundance. So before carrying on your self-important and impossibly-informed lecture, yugrad, may I strongly recommend a trip to the library to fortify (or destroy) your argument? It’s the very minimum I would expect from someone who is supposed to be so highly educated.

  • theantiyale

    *”older male professors (being told how to style my hair, that my worth is relational to my physical characteristics, being used to convince other professors to do something favorable or blamed when things I have nothing to do with go wrong, etc). “*

    Why the “older”?

    AGEISM MUCH?

    PK (born 1944 and proud of it)

  • y09

    Rachel, this is a much-needed and well-written article. I regret not having realized the need for feminism in college, but it was probably better for my blood pressure that I didn’t get interested in women’s issues until later.
    Your point is a good one – we all need to be feminists. And though I understand what you mean about others viewing feminists as another “species” of college student, I think that by calling for “casual feminists” – which subtly implies you’re not a feminist, but something a little different – we’re not helping bridge the gap between feminism and real people. Helping people identify as “casual feminists” may better than doing nothing, but it still encourages an “us vs. them” mentality; it allows people to think that feminists are somehow different, or crazier, or more militant. What people need to realize is this: You are probably a feminist. If you think women are people, not objects, who should have the same rights and opportunities as men, then congrats! You’re a feminist, ridiculous stereotypes be damned.
    Keep fighting the good fight, Rachel!