No one has quite decided yet whether Guy Fawkes was a good guy or a villain. Fawkes was first stylized as a champion for tolerance in a 19th-century “historical romance.” “V for Vendetta” paid tribute to him with a proliferation of white masks and a super-bald Natalie Portman. Yet today, burning effigies of Fawkes will light up the English skies.
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Despite our ambivalence towards the mustachioed revolutionary, there seems to be little need for us to make up our minds between these two versions of the man. For such a character, the aesthetic of radicalism — always inextricable from its politics — allows for heroism and depravity in one package, each feeding on the other. We can hardly imagine the character in any other state than immolation.
Fawkes, however, is lucky he wasn’t born a woman. While this complicated aesthetic seems to work for many male-dominated movements, campus feminism has been struggling with the art of its politics and the politics of its radicalism.
In the aftermath of the DKE scandal, the world “radical” has been thrown around as an adjective to describe the Women’s Center, spoken with the disgust generally associated with extreme feminism. To an extent, I find this laughable. No one woke up the morning after the frat’s chants and decided to be offended. The language was inexcusable, and the Women’s Center has purposefully pursued a non-punitive approach. If some students think this is “radical,” I’d love to see them meet a group of separatist lesbians arguing the uselessness of men.
Yet I also certainly don’t want to discount the Center. A few days after the incident, the Center’s public relations coordinator, Sally Walstrom ’13, explained to me her conception of her own radical feminism: She wants to eliminate rape on our campus. While the idea is less flashy than those of naked eco-feminists, it is perhaps more in line with the feminist struggles that brighten and enlighten American history. Largely emerging out of revolutionary abolitionist efforts, the women’s suffrage movement was certainly radical for its time, though it functioned within the limits of an established system. To demand equal pay is far from dismantling capitalism. Dismissing the Center’s goals as unworthy because they are less radical than extreme utopian visions is to unfair and unhelpful. Walstrom and the Board strive, like Susan B. Anthony or Lucretia Mott, for goals achievable within their immediate universe.
At the same time, I can’t help but wish that more feminists on this campus embraced the radical aesthetic of their radical ideas as a powerful tool, rather than diminishing their message in an attempt to remain “mainstream.” I don’t mean we all need to cut our hair, or that the board of the Women’s Center needs to purchase a group piercing-and-tattoo package. But there is something deeply compelling about a movement confident enough to be hated; indeed, to paraphrase a former board member, it might not be possible to change campus sexual culture while remaining popular.
At the Women Center’s open forum post-DKE, Ben Stango ’11 commented that we are afraid to be angry on this campus. That anger can seem unsexy, but it could also be the poetry we need to get behind our politics unapologetically. Whether or not the Center should pursue disciplinary action against DKE is a discussion for another column. For now, on Guy Fawkes day, I’d like to encourage all who care to burn a little.
Alexandra Brodsky is a junior in Davenport College.
Correction: November 10, 2010
A three-word change was made to this column, due to edits submitted after it went to print. The version above reflects the original intention of the author.