My favorite place at Yale has always been its Old Campus, a quad ringed by freshman dormitories in mismatched neo-Gothic styles. I love the expansive space crisscrossed by walkways, the yellow orbs of the antique streetlamps, and the surprising hominess of the dark stone buildings. On a typical weeknight, students sit on the benches to talk or wander in and out of the wrought iron gates, laden with books and headed for the library.
On Wednesday, October 13, 2010, at around 9:30 p.m., members of the fraternity Delta Kappa Epsilon marched their new pledges around Old Campus. The younger boys were blindfolded and walked in a single-file line, hands upon each other’s shoulders, singing a song. “My name is Jack; I’m a necrophiliac,” they belted out, to a tune resembling a sea shanty. “I fuck dead women, and fill them with my semen.” When it came to the chorus, they chanted, “No means yes, yes means anal,” over and over. “Louder!” the older brothers shouted, and the pledges yelled the words again, with renewed vehemence. If anyone asked, the boys said they were members of Sigma Alpha Epsilon, a rival fraternity.
I was at the Yale Daily News, where I had recently become a news editor, when a close friend called me. She was a member of the board of the Yale Women’s Center and had come to Old Campus with a few of her colleagues to see what was going on. “You have to get this in the paper,” she said forcefully. As my co-editors and I assigned a reporter to throw together a story, the members of the Women’s Center board wrote up the words to the chants and sent them out, along with footage recorded on a cell phone, to the mailing lists of organizations including some of Yale’s sororities, Freshman Outdoor Orientation Trips, and Yale Hillel. Before long, much of the undergraduate community had been alerted — I received the same email from five sources within three hours.
By the next morning, everyone I knew was debating the gravity of DKE’s actions. A few people thought the chants were a joke that had been blown out of proportion by the campus response, set off by the Women’s Center’s email blast. The article in the News quoted Women’s Center representatives calling the chants “hate speech” and “an active call for sexual violence,” and the Yale feminist online magazine Broad Recognition used similar language the next day. Many students who were disgusted by the fraternity still considered those words ludicrously strong. After all, they argued, the chanters probably just hadn’t thought about the way some people might feel upon hearing those words.
At the time, I wasn’t sure what I thought. I had a handful of friends in DKE, none of whom would ever commit assault, but I had also heard rumors about other brothers who had. I was horrified when the Women’s Center pointed out that it was statistically inevitable that some of the students who overheard the chants were rape survivors. Still, I couldn’t decide if I thought that an ignorant call to violence could also be an active one. As my friends’ opinions clashed, I drifted back and forth, searching for some internal ballast.
On Sunday night, October 17, the editors of the Yale Daily News sat in the boardroom of our building in carved wooden chairs around a long, shining table and discussed the chants and the Women’s Center’s response. We wanted to write a News’ View, an editorial that spoke with the authority of our board. Views are generally written by the editor in chief and the opinion editors, but our constitution stated that the entire board should have the opportunity to weigh in on the ideas at the 6 p.m. “doping” meeting, in which we planned the paper every night and to critique drafts throughout the production process. Two weeks into our tenure as editors, we had yet to write a View. I doubt any of us had given much thought to the near-impossibility of representing 30 editors’ ideas in a 500-word piece or to the way the editorial’s title, “News’ View,” implied that it did just that.
Not everyone sitting around the boardroom table that evening agreed that DKE had perpetrated anything more serious than an offensive joke, and the opinions about the Women’s Center’s response were mixed. I remember that we resolved to publish a View that denounced DKE and commended the Women’s Center for a fast and largely moderate response — they had accepted an apology from the fraternity the Friday before and held an open forum to encourage dialogue on campus — while rejecting some of the Women’s Center’s strongest language against the chanters, who were, after all, members of our community, too. At the beginning of doping, I spoke against the chants more vehemently than many of my colleagues around the table, but I left the meeting wondering if the consensus we had reached was a better reflection of my feelings after all. It seemed balanced and fair. I had an essay for a class due at 7 a.m., so I rushed through my work that evening and left early, before midnight. One of the opinion editors sent out a draft of the editorial at 9:48, but, in a rush and confident that I knew what it contained, I didn’t read it. I would spend the next year regretting that decision.
The View that circulated campus the next day was entitled “The right kind of feminism,” and it chastised the Women’s Center for overreacting to the DKE incident, saying of the measured response that I expected it to admire, “We wish it had been their first instinct, not their second thought.” The View also compared the current Women’s Center leadership to some of their most radical and least popular predecessors, and said of those former boards, “While the Center spent their time painting murals of their own vaginas, the rest of women were left without a public voice. Their history of radicalism has alienated Yale’s women; few think of the Center as a representative forum in which to tackle gender relations.”
The authors of the editorial disagree to this day whether it was the language — especially the image of radical women painting their vaginas — or the ideas — which included the statement, “Feminists at Yale should remember that, on a campus as progressive as ours, most of their battles are already won: All of us agree on gender equality” — that infuriated readers and drove the campus conversation into unproductive name-calling. I think it was a little bit of both.
It is impossible, now, to figure out exactly what happened in the News that night. The editor in chief and the two opinion editors all have different memories of the process that produced the editorial, and each one has taken so much criticism for its contents that they avoid discussing it. Like me, Opinion Editor Alex Klein said he remembers agreeing during doping that we should publish a View that commended the Center. He emphasized in a recent conversation that he did not start the night wanting to write the piece we published the next day. “I felt as if I had kind of been charged with writing someone else’s passion,” he said. Alex also claimed that he wrote the first half of the piece, then left the building for several hours, during which time the editor in chief, Vivian Yee, and the other opinion editor, Andrew Squire, continued working on the draft. Then, he said, the three of them finished it together.
Andrew and Vivian each remember a different order of events. Andrew recalls the conversation at doping very differently than I do. From the start, he said, the plan was to write a View that condemned DKE but also criticized the Women’s Center for demonizing DKE in its response. This seems unfair to me. In an editorial published in the YDN Friday, October 15, the members of the Women’s Center board wrote, “We do not think that the fraternity brothers intended to incite violence; more likely, they neglected to consider how their words would impact our community.” Andrew claims that Alex wrote the bulk of the piece, and that Andrew and Vivian spent several hours late in the night trying to make him change the most offensive phrases. Alex was protective of his work, Andrew said, and they didn’t end up changing much.
Vivian also said that Alex wrote most of the piece, but unlike Andrew she doesn’t recall debating the tone very much during the editing process. She said one of her largest contributions was urging Alex to condemn DKE more harshly. “At first, I don’t think the draft mentioned that it was something we condemned at all. Both of [the opinion editors], Alex in particular, were insistent on the idea that it was just a bunch of stupid drunk boys being stupid and drunk,” she said. She also mentioned to Alex and Andrew during a conversation about the Women’s Center that she as a woman did not feel that the Center represented her on campus — an idea that figured prominently in the editorial. Although Vivian said she was not closely involved in writing the View, she helped edit it and signed off on it at the end of the night.
All three authors said they never foresaw how much the View would offend people. “We were used to News’ Views being so boring and not really having any effect at all that we just had no idea that it was even possible that there would be a reaction like that,” said Andrew, who was also an editor on the board before mine, at the copy desk.
What seemed fairly innocuous when it was blinking on their computer screens in the early hours of the morning was venomous in print the next day. Laura Blake, a member of the Women’s Center board at the time, told me she and her colleagues felt attacked by the editorial. “I was really shocked because we’d put so much effort into distancing ourselves from everything that the View dragged up,” she said. “I felt like, ‘Did you even read our op-ed?’” Her board was already dealing with the disapproval of their predecessors, who were disappointed by their mild response to the issue and their willingness to sacrifice radicalism for inclusivity, she said. In the wake of the View, the Center felt supported by campus groups from freshman counselors to sorority sisters, many of them furious with the YDN. Though conversations about sex, feminism, and gender equality on campus have continued to develop in the past year, Laura thinks the News’ contribution was a purely damaging one. “I don’t think the kind of language or argument that the View used was at all productive,” she said.
Before the News’ View, the Yale Daily News had taught me the strength of my own voice. I am naturally shy, and reporting made me acutely aware for the first time that my submissiveness was a shortcoming. My freshman year, I wrote a story about a lawsuit against Yale in which the complainants were represented by Ramsey Clark, the former attorney general who is now most famous for defending Saddam Hussein and Slobodan Miloševic. When my editor decided he wanted a profile of Clark, I called for a second interview with the legendary lawyer, but was too chicken to ask him to respond to denunciations from other legal professionals, who’d told me he had lost all credibility. My desire to be polite resulted in an unbalanced story. Many people dislike journalists for what seems to be a lack of human decency, but I started to realize that sometimes you have to be blunt to be fair.
As a sophomore, I covered Yale President Richard Levin’s office and learned to wind up my courage and push him on uncomfortable topics, like whether Yale would return a sizable gift from someone who got the money through fraud, or whether students and professors on the satellite campus the university is opening in Singapore would actually have free speech. Every time one of my stories sparked a debate on the opinion page or got reposted on a national news outlet, the risk I had taken in asking the questions and distilling the answers into a single narrative felt worth it.
When I became an editor my junior year, I noticed myself speaking with confidence in meetings with my colleagues and with authority in editing sessions with my writers. So it was a surprise when, two weeks into my tenure on the board, the editorial that we published made me feel stripped of my voice in a way I had never experienced.
It seemed the entire campus hated us, and I was torn between defending the YDN and denouncing it. Professors ranted about the View in classes. Some of my most respected friends tried to convince me to walk out on my job. The Pundits, a senior prank society, stole all of the newspapers from dining halls and classroom buildings and sent out a mass email claiming to be the board of the Yale Daily News, telling our readership that we were so ashamed that we had declared “a day of silence for journalism.” This last made me so angry that I felt as if I was choking for an entire day. Journalism provides a service precisely because it cannot be silenced by the things that silence everything else: corruption, tragedy, shock. But what about error?
Arguments about how to deal with the mistake tore my editorial board in two. Everyone agreed that the View contained wording that should never have been published, but the editor in chief and several other high-ranking members of the board stood by the criticisms it made of the Women’s Center, while the majority of editors with middle-ranking positions in the newsroom, myself included, were disturbed by the piece’s fundamental attitude towards feminism and wanted to retract it altogether. Vivian decided to write an Editor’s Note that apologized for the tone and language and clarified what we had been trying to say — or what we wished, the day after, that we had said. Looking over the Note the night before it was published, I was overwhelmed by pride in Vivian, who I thought was courageously shouldering so much blame to protect the rest of us. I went to bed that night believing that students who read the Note would see her the way I did, and that everything would be a little better in the morning.
I was wrong. Most of my peers thought the Note, like the original View, focused too much on the Women’s Center and not enough on DKE’s transgression, or they simply didn’t think it was sufficiently apologetic. They grew even more disgusted with the newspaper. The YDN had become the enemy of the Women’s Center and, by proxy, of feminism itself. I felt stranded between the publication I had lived for since my freshman year and the value system I had always espoused, if taken for granted.
As a minority woman in one of Yale’s most important undergraduate leadership roles, Vivian had been the toast of campus just weeks before. She told me that Broad Recognition got in touch with her shortly after she was elected and asked if they could write a profile of her as a woman leader on campus. After the View was published, they never followed up. “At some point during the whole ordeal, I was like, ‘Oh, I don’t think that Broads will be wanting an interview with me anymore as a strong woman,’” Vivian said. “I think I did have this awareness in the back of my mind, of, ‘Wow, all these women may have been seeing me as some kind of feminist, or empowered woman, or woman leader, and then feeling betrayed by me.”
To Vivian, being strong during those weeks meant standing by her publication, accepting personal responsibility for every word that was said against it. She thought it was important that the Editor’s Note take responsibility for the editorial, not retract it, because she believed disowning our words in the face of criticism would compromise the YDN’s integrity. Despite all of Vivian’s efforts, she said the View followed her for the rest of her year on the board, and beyond. “I still think to some extent, it’s in the backs of people’s minds when they think about our board at the YDN, which is really unfortunate,” she said. “I think we did a lot of other worthwhile things.”
Other women at the YDN responded differently to the overwhelming animosity towards the newspaper. Erin Vanderhoof, a sophomore editor at the copy desk, spoke against the View the night that it was written, but she says none of her suggestions were heeded. Erin is a Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies major, and the next morning, her first class of the day was Introduction to LGBT Studies. “Everyone, including the professor, was just freaking out,” she said. “I was known as the person in the class who was in the YDN, and they were just like, ‘How could you let this happen, Erin?’” After the class, she went home and posted the link to the editorial on Facebook with a few sentences explaining that, though the View purported to be that of the entire board, it certainly was not hers. Tons of people “liked” the Facebook post, including a few who were affiliated with the YDN.
Vivian and Erin might have fallen on opposite sides after the News’ View, but they were both confident that they knew where their loyalties lay and what they thought was right. I knew I was outraged by the View, but I didn’t feel articulate when I tried to explain why. I knew that I believed in the service the YDN provided on campus, but I couldn’t defend that in a way that felt adequate, either. So I stopped volunteering to speak about any of it. I stayed trapped in my own silence while the voice of the News, which was supposed to be my voice, rang throughout my community.
If I’d had a platform, what would I have said? Of all the claims in the editorial, the most categorical, and the most troubling to me, was, “Feminists at Yale should remember that, on a campus as progressive as ours, most of their battles are already won: All of us agree on gender equality.” My gut reaction to this statement was anger at its ignorance, but hadn’t my own experiences suggested it was true? I was a student on financial aid with no family legacy who had been admitted into the university on merit. I had never had any reason to suspect that one of my professors was treating me differently based on my gender. I felt comfortable with and respected by my male friends as well as my female ones. I had been hired for a competitive internship the summer before. At the News, I had been given one of the most prestigious roles for a sophomore, covering the president’s office, and though I had not been elected editor in chief as a junior, I lost the race to Vivian, an Asian-American woman. (Vivian was the 11th female editor in chief since the university introduced coeducation in 1969. Since the first female editor in chief was elected in 1981, roughly a third have been women.) Was I oblivious to a pervasive sexism that was oppressing me? Or, as the View suggested, have so many people moved beyond assumptions about gender that, at least within the privileged space of this university, I was simply unlikely to encounter it?
Overwhelmed by these questions, I tracked down former editors of the News in the hopes of finding answers. I soon realized that my generation of Yale students isn’t the first to take gender equality on campus for granted. Christianne Sheridan, the fourth female editor in chief, told me that when she held the job in 1989, it seemed that feminism had already triumphed — at the newspaper, at Yale, and in much of America. Sheridan, who worked in journalism for almost 20 years after graduating from Yale and is now a senior advisor to the president of Case Western Reserve University, told me that most of the women she knew in college didn’t consider themselves feminists. “You wouldn’t describe yourself as a feminist if you wanted equal treatment,” she told me. “That wasn’t a feminist thing. That just was. We totally thought the battle was over, done, and won.”
One of Sheridan’s roommates was the first woman to participate in the “Saybrook Strip,” a tradition in which members of Saybrook College undress to their underwear at the ends of the third quarters of football games. Sheridan herself was a no-nonsense woman leader who got her start at the YDN covering labor unions. In the picture of the editorial board of 1989 that hangs on the newsroom wall of the YDN’s Briton Hadden Memorial Building, Sheridan sits in the center with her hands on her knees. She is big-boned with short hair, and her beaming smile stands out among the polite expressions of her peers. She told me that the publisher of the board of 1990 said on seeing the photograph, “Only Chris Sheridan could be wearing velvet and taffeta and still look like she’s going to roll up her sleeves.”
There were signs on campus that sexism wasn’t dead, but Sheridan said most people agreed that these were on their way out, “remnants” of a less progressive era. Sheridan once took a lecture with a famous professor whose female students knew better than to go to his office hours alone. During college, she spent one summer interning at the Chicago Tribune, where one of the editors “was very well-known for evaluating female interns based on their derrières.” There was an unspoken rule that no female student should ever go to a Delta Kappa Epsilon party without a trustworthy male friend or boyfriend to keep her safe. And some of the most conservative male undergraduates did not consider Yale women fit to date and spent their weekends at all-women’s colleges like Smith or Mount Holyoke, where they hoped to find more demure, suitable girlfriends. Still, Sheridan said, many members of her generation were confident that my generation wouldn’t have to deal with these annoyances. “If you had said to me that the class of 2012 would be thinking about these issues, I would have said, ‘No! No way!’”
But we are thinking about them. Last spring, 16 Yale students filed a complaint with the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights alleging that the university had violated the Title IX amendment. The Yale Daily News published a story this fall detailing the experiences of two alumnae who endured prolonged sexual harassment from members of Yale’s faculty. Journalism remains a heavily male-dominated field, according to a 2011 survey by VIDA, a women’s literary association. And Vivian, who held the post of editor in chief more than twenty years after Chris Sheridan, described feeling conspicuously different from her predecessors, not only because of her gender, but also her race.
“I definitely felt very aware that I was short and a girl,” she told me. “I don’t look anything like Briton Hadden or Henry Luce or anyone who was lining the walls of the YDN.” Vivian said that being a woman didn’t have any bearing on her day-to-day conduct in her job. She believed that she deserved to run the organization she had worked so hard for just as much as any of her predecessors had. She added that her gender and small stature were even a strength in some settings, helping her welcome freshman reporters to the paper without intimidating them. Sometimes, though, her anomalous background felt less like a gift. “Obviously, the YDN is a much more diverse organization than it was, and nobody ever acts to the contrary,” she emphasized. “But if I ever felt vulnerable in the job or if I ever questioned my ability or my decisions while I was doing the job, then it would all kind of circle back to this question of, ‘Do I belong here?’”
Vivian, more than many women of my generation, has had experiences that prove gender is still important, but she doesn’t like to wear the label “feminist.” When I asked why not, she told me that after the way the Women’s Center treated her last year, the word has bad connotations. But it seems her hesitation runs deeper than that. “I don’t think I ever articulated it to myself as, ‘I am a woman editor of the Yale Daily News.’ Just, ‘I am an editor of the Yale Daily News,” she said. “I think I have many of the same values that self-professed feminists do, but I have rarely, if ever, seen myself as someone whose responsibility it is to advance the rights of women.”
This reluctance is part of a question that my generation of women must pose ourselves: should we keep an awareness of sexism in the backs of our minds and live always prepared to look it in the face? Or are we better off, at this point, simply shutting it out, squaring our shoulders and trying to push through? Vivian, I believe, has chosen the latter.
After the publication of the News’ View, I chose the former. I started seeing sexism everywhere. It was in my workplace, the YDN building, where I consistently clashed with a male editor in a higher position of authority who seemed to see every story differently than I did. His brusque editing style, which had annoyed me in our early weeks on board, began to feel like open disrespect. On a night in late October, I lost my temper with him completely, several hours after midnight, over a poorly written story that neither of us had the energy to fix. Shaking with anger and holding back tears, I stood in front of his desk and let the volume of my voice climb until I was yelling at him in front of a roomful of people. When he answered me from his seat, his voice completely under control, I felt as if I had reenacted a stereotype: the angry woman whose emotions flutter frantically and uselessly in the face of a reasonable man.
Worse than this, I had started to notice disconcerting gender roles in my relationship with my boyfriend of almost a year. He had graduated the year before and was working at a hospital in New York City and spending all of his free time applying to medical school. He was almost single-mindedly obsessed with determining his own future, and I often felt like our conversations amounted to nothing more than a list of his anxieties. He did ask about my life, and it wasn’t his fault, in the weeks after the editorial ran, that I was usually too exhausted and unhappy to explain it. Still, when I broke up with him, less than three weeks after we published the View, I cited his latent sexism among my reasons. I was convinced that he, like so many men, cared more about the support his partner could offer him than the work that made her impressive in her own right.
I felt as if I was reclaiming my voice. I was speaking up to men who I thought just wanted me to listen. And I was taking my voice back in a larger sphere by using it to set the record straight, stridently, desperately, every time I got the chance. I taught a middle-school class in Fair Haven once a week, and not long after the View ran one of the other Yale teachers made an off-hand comment about the YDN while we were on our way home. I’m not sure he even knew that I worked for the newspaper, but I felt attacked. Standing in the middle of a crowd of people at the bus stop, I denounced the View and its authors. I felt as if I had to choose between being a woman and being an editor of the News, and I picked the former.
The News had its first female editor, Anne Perkins, in 1981. As a reporter, she had broken a story that made national news and forced the university’s Provost to resign, and within the community of the paper she was considered the obvious front-runner in the elections her junior year. Outside the News, though, The New York Times, Newsweek, and People wanted to interview her, and her victory in the YDN election was heralded as a sign that feminism had finally won. “We had a feeling of being on the forefront, but a great indebtedness to the women [of the previous generation] who had made it possible for us to be on the forefront,” she said of the women she knew at Yale. “There was a sense that there was a work to do, but a real sense of optimism.”
Perkins was the paradigm of a strong woman — at least in part, she told me, because she was always aware of the way her life would impact others. When she was given opportunities, she had to succeed, not just for her own sake, but also for those who had come before her and those who would follow. So when, as a senior at an all girls’ high school in Baltimore, Maryland, she outgrew the course offerings in math and was allowed to go to the boys’ school for calculus, she had to get the best grade in the boys’ class. “At the time, I really felt like, ‘I don’t want anyone to say that girls are dumb at math,” she said. At the News, “it was the same feeling: ‘I am going to be, if not the best editor they’ve ever had, then a damn good one.’” Perkins responded to that pressure by being ambitious and uncompromising. She bought the News its first computer. When one of her news editors wasn’t performing well, she urged him to resign and found a replacement. “I think I was tougher in that role — which, to stereotype, I would say is more male — than I am,” she said.
After she graduated from Yale, though, her definition of strength got increasingly complicated. “My assumption as an undergraduate was that I wouldn’t have kids because I couldn’t do that and do my career, and it was my obligation to take that chance that other women had given to me and run with it,” she said. Did she betray her predecessors by choosing to work in public education, which she said she loves, instead of trying to be a senator or a CEO? Did she betray herself when she chose to have three children and to work part-time when they were young? She doesn’t think so. “I think that’s something that gets women into trouble,” she said. “There is no ‘should,’ and there is no ‘right way,’ and everyone figures it out the best they can.”
As last fall wore on, I had to concede that there was no “right way” to understand my most difficult relationships. Gender might be a factor, but it wasn’t the only one. The night I lost my temper with the male editor, I sent him an email suggesting that we have a talk. “Frankly, I don’t think you respect me very much,” I wrote, still fuming. “That’s your prerogative, but it’s something I’d like to try to change, since we’ll be working together for a while. To that end, can we sit down at some point — not in the building and not during production — to discuss how you can help me do my job and I can help you do yours, without butting heads? I’d appreciate it.” He wrote back almost immediately with an apology and suggested we get a meal, not just to sort out our disagreements, but to get to know one another better.
The next day, we got falafel pouches to go, and walked in circles around campus, eating and talking, for well over an hour. We both pledged to be more patient with the other, and the conversation quickly turned instead to what a hard time we were having with YDN. We were both struggling with the late nights, behind in school, and out of touch with our friends. In those weeks when a large part of the campus was telling us in no uncertain terms that they wished the paper would just stop coming out, the sacrifices didn’t feel worth it. I realized that he was being short with me because he was exhausted and dispirited — the same reasons I had unleashed my frustration on him the other night. After that conversation, we got better at talking through our professional disagreements, and I began to see him as a friend.
Months later, I also reconciled with my former boyfriend. I still thought he had acted selfishly in the fall, but I realized that his behavior resulted from the particularly unstable time of life he was in, not a systematic view of women. I deserved an apology for how he had treated me, but no more than he did for the allegations I had made about his character, which had hurt him deeply.
Are these two men sexist? It depends how you define the word. Both of them are white, male, well-educated, and poised to enter high-paying careers, and I think they carry around certain sets of assumptions about the world and their place in it. They seem to have an easier time feeling and displaying confidence than I do, to assume more power in any given situation. A lot of that is probably based on our individual personalities, but I think some of it also has to do with gender. Still, now that I feel more comfortable in the relationship between my identity as a feminist and my identity as a pre-professional journalist, I can see that my former colleague respects me, and that my former boyfriend was enormously proud of my accomplishments.
Though some women of my generation are strong first and foremost in the name of other women, as Anne Perkins was 30 years ago, they are in the minority. Many others are like Vivian, who told me, “Part of what I learned last year was that I could set a precedent that a minority woman could be successful on campus, but I never saw it as part of the responsibilities of my job. I saw it as an added benefit: that I was able to just be there, and by being there, show people it’s possible.” Of course, Vivian isn’t obligated to think about her successes in terms of their effect on other women. If womanhood necessitated feminism, what kind of double standard would that be? Even if Vivian doesn’t identify as a feminist, she told me the events of last year pushed her to begin grappling with the questions gender raises, and her ideas about these issues, like mine, are still evolving.
When I asked Perkins what she thinks about my generation, and about what we’ve done to feminism, she described her 23-year-old daughter, who works at an environmental start-up. “It’s really hard to separate what’s gender and what comes from growing up with all the other pieces of what it is for you all now,” she said. “Because for us, that was it, baby. That was it. Women’s rights was the defining piece of who we were and what our world was. And that’s not it for her at all. The defining piece for her is that she’s an environmentalist. Or that she graduated from college into a bad economy, and not all her friends got jobs.”
What are my defining pieces? I know that my gender is among them. No matter what position I hold, or what project I undertake, the word “woman” will always be part of my description of myself. The View and the months that followed showed me that it would be there, implicit, even if I chose not to acknowledge it. But it is not, as I felt in the immediate aftermath, the only word, or even the most important one, that describes who I am in relationships with others. And it’s not a word I have to earn — it’s one I get for free.
So, what is “the right kind of feminist”? It’s something everyone needs to work out for him or herself. After last year, I think many people on this campus are trying. Now, when I have an opinion, I speak up, and when I’m not sure, I don’t keep silent. I ask questions. I listen.