As graduation nears, it’s funny to think of the different perspective and knowledge four years can give. Recalling my first days at Yale, I remember the naivete with which I assumed the innocence of various college institutions. So it’s no surprise then that I would have thought the Yale Women’s Center to be relatively innocuous during my earliest days in New Haven. I recall a conversation with a conservative upperclassman — a female — as we were crossing Elm Street. I saw signs outside promoting the Women’s Center, and said innocently “I should go in there and check it out. I wonder what they do.” The response was immediate and somber: “Don’t go in there.” I asked why, and was summarily informed that the Women’s Center was not in fact all that it appeared to be.
According to its mission statement, the Yale Women’s Center “seeks to improve the lives of women at Yale, in New Haven, and elsewhere. We work to ensure equal and full opportunity for all, regardless of sex, gender, race, ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientations, socioeconomic status, background, religion, ability or age. We believe that women should possess a complete range of choices and the ability to fully direct their own lives — In recognition of the fact that women have traditionally been denied a safe spaced of their own, the Yale Women’s Center is proud to be such a space.”
Nice rhetoric, to be sure. The idea of a place where all Yale women can unite in sisterhood, form friendships, and feel safe and comfortable is difficult to assail. The question is whether Yale’s Women’s Center really lives up to the claim.
The warning given to me back in my early days here was hardly for naught. I was corrected in my assumption that the Women’s Center actually existed to embrace all women at Yale, and learned that it was only open to a certain brand of woman: the radical feminist. Perhaps this is why most women at Yale have nothing to do with the center and why many stay away for fear of being stigmatized by their more mainstream peers.
Two years ago, I thought I should learn more about the Women’s Center and signed up for their e-mail list, and my inbox hasn’t been the same since. Twice a week I’m urged to participate in a plethora of activities — I should “Help with the fight against Bush’s War on Women,” “Celebrate Roe v. Wade with RALY!!”, attend the “Teach-In on the War in Iraq,” “Get your Yale Fags T-shirt” and, best of all, pay heed to the announcement about “Sex Toys 101: The co-founders of Toys in Babeland, a sex toy store with a commitment to women, will be speaking on sex toys and how to get the most out of them.”
Why the Women’s Center promotes these activities and what they have to do with being a woman baffles me. In a recent column James Kirchick ’06 lamented the immediate association between homosexuals and liberalism — and that’s just a link based on a freely chosen alternative lifestyle. But what does it say when an institution that purportedly exists to help women instead pigeonholes them based simply on their chromosomes? Isn’t it odd that a group claiming to liberate women from stereotypical associations should be the most guilty in fomenting said prejudices?
When I am asked time and time again “How can you be a conservative woman?,” it shows that Yalies are a long way from grasping the complexities of both conservatism and womanhood. The former is not the terrain of the Women’s Center, nor should it be, but the latter should definitely interest Yale’s so-called beacon of sisterhood. If the Women’s Center is a place that exists to maximize the choices of all women and to “to fight for political equality for all women,” why does it only cater to leftists?
Nowhere to be found are discussion groups on traditional family values. For every session about emergency contraception there is a telling lack of abstinence education. In response to the continuous celebration of abortion rights, there is never a seminar on the benefits of adoption. I have often wondered why the Women’s Center does not focus less on the lesbian-rights activism and more on the question of how to reconcile a Yale education and the promise of a bright career with the eventual desire to be a wife and mother. I’m almost sure that this would be much more relevant to Yale’s women than lectures on “Post Feminism and Popular Culture — Bridget Jones and the New Gender Regime.”
The only answer I can come up with is that the Women’s Center is less interested in actually helping all Yale women than it is with being an institution for far-leftist activism.
Therein lies the problem with feminism at Yale and in America at large. What started as a movement to offer women as many freedoms as possible has now limited those opportunities. A movement that sought to include all women has excluded all but a very few of the most radical activists. It’s a movement which, by exclusively allying itself with the extreme left, has betrayed its origins and completely eliminated its credibility.
As such, feminists at Yale should seriously rethink the function of the Women’s Center and what it claims to provide. Because as things stand, the place where all women should feel welcome and safe is appealing to very few of them. Instead of marginalizing and excluding through excessive politicization, the Women’s Center should take on activities and projects that appeal to all women and perhaps even — gasp — conservative women who have long felt banished. Following a week where the Women’s Center sought to Take Back the Night, they should redirect their efforts on taking back the real concept of a women’s center that actually serves all of Yale’s women.
Meghan Clyne is a senior in Branford College.