There is a pervasive misconception in our society that women’s issues are “old” issues. Many of those who have been published in this newspaper have rightly pointed out that this is certainly not the case; in fact, the events of last week highlight how ingrained sexism is in our social assumptions, language and perhaps our traditions. Clearly, the chants were deplorably offensive and disturbing, but beyond that, we should consider what this episode conveys to us about our communities, both at Yale and beyond.
Without overemphasizing Yale’s influence on the U.S. and the world, I feel privileged to have studied and now work at such a progressive, open-minded, and research-driven institution that in many ways sets the standard for public thought in this country and contributes to the advancement of our global society. What does it say about society if, at one of the most elite and privileged institutions, we still have students who glorify sexual assault, intentionally or unintentionally? As students, it is a full-time job to deconstruct the -isms in our society and to think about how to intentionally incorporate strategies of equality into our everyday lives. How do we expect our broader communities to change if, even within this bubble, we are not free from repeated acts of degradation?
The chanting on Old Campus is an extreme example of sexism at Yale, but it was not done in a vacuum. Indeed, this is not the first and only time egregiously sexist public behavior has occurred on Yale’s campus in the past few years. It is a product of how systems of inequality and degradation are sown into all of our minds even in unconscious ways. The behavior we witnessed indicates that our work on behalf of women’s rights and equality continues. And it is good work, until we are truly able to root out that which calls us out of our best selves.
The author is a 2009 graduate of the Divinity School and the Gender Equity and Policy Postgraduate Associate with the Yale Women Faculty Forum.