If you’re convinced that the Women’s Center can’t fix gender imbalances in campus discourse, consider its campaign against JuicyCampus, an online gossip site new to Yale but popular on college campuses around the country. JuicyCampus is dedicated to answering questions like “Who is the biggest slut on campus?” and “Who is the biggest bitch?” All posts are anonymous — the vast majority are about women and gay men — and very few are nice. It is impossible for anyone slandered by name to fight back against JuicyCampus on its terms as one girl anonymously accused of being a whore and having herpes and a horse face discovered. When she pleaded online for her attackers to confront her directly, she was mocked. Anonymously.
The Women’s Center spammed the site, posting hundreds of pages of classic feminist texts and killing conversations on several of the nastier threads. The Center didn’t break any of JuicyCampus’ rules — anyone willing to scroll through “The Feminine Mystique” could have continued their conversation at the bottom — but JuicyCampus reacted strongly, taking down some of the more incendiary threads (ones that discussed gang raping members of the Women’s Center for example), advising its users to refrain from obscene comments, and threatening to sue the Women’s Center.
JuicyCampus may be an easy target, but the Women’s Center showed it could successfully use the weapons of a gendered public space to attack it — the same strategy it has attempted since the beginning of the controversy over Zeta Psi’s “We Love Yale Sluts” sign.
The single greatest misunderstanding about the Women’s Center’s public campaign since then is the assumption that it is trying to eliminate hate. Hate has nothing to do with it. The Women’s Center is aiming to drive misogynist behavior out of public space with its available weapons: publicity, debate and legal action. Frats are criticized not because they are inherently misogynist but because frats — and, by extension, Yale with its tolerant policy towards frats — provide protection for a culture of public misogyny.
The responses generated by the Women’s Center-Zeta Psi controversy in casual discussions and online posts demonstrate the extent to which lazy common sense allows misogynist behaviors to continue unchecked.
The response that boys-will-be-boys and a fraternity prank on a city street somehow doesn’t count as a public act is the most laughable. However sincere his apology for holding the “Sluts” sign may have been, Giovanni Christodoulou’s ’11 claim that he didn’t know what was in his hands is either a lie or displays a pathetic lack of curiosity toward his own actions. Just read the sign, man. Or at least look at the pictures of yourself on Facebook before you tag them.
The argument that the Women’s Center is attacking free speech in getting on Zeta Psi’s case — probably the argument most frequently made to defend Zeta Psi — creates its own paradox. Following the logic of free speech, the Women’s Center is licensed to criticize Zeta Psi in any way it chooses. Free speech goes both ways, and at some point anybody involved in an argument over public space has to choose how they want that public space to operate and if they’re willing to condone public misogyny.
The most disturbing response to the controversy may be from women who write that they are feminists but that their feminism is personal and they resent feminazis picking fights with men on their behalf. The problem is that feminism is meaningless if it doesn’t act to make public space safe for women. The “Sluts” sign jokes that self-declared feminists are really just sluts like any other women and serves to discredit any public act by women.
Whatever the outcome of the Women’s Center’s lawsuit, the real point is to force a shift in discourse. Nobody is shutting down frats, taking down Web sites or censoring speech. But the Women’s Center has made it clear that misogynist speech will be labelled as misogynist and acts that have the effect of driving women out of public space deserve to be publicly and aggressively challenged.
Sam Kahn is a senior in Pierson College.