Often, the boisterous will stop at nothing to get a rise out of others — especially when they know just the right buttons to push. Last Wednesday, the pledges of Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity issued just such a provocation. As they chanted their way across campus, the rest of us were forced to listen to tasteless jibes involving obscenity, jingoism and necrophilia.
But then came the coup-de-grace: “No means yes, yes means anal.” By making light of rape, the pledges crossed a line. In this newspaper’s view, the chanting was idiotic and offensive, and it should not be repeated.
And yet, as groups rushed to condemn the foolhardy DKE bros, they threw overwrought epithets, some almost as absurd as the chants themselves.
However obnoxious, the chants were not — as the Women’s Center and feminist blog Broad Recognition originally suggested — “an active call for sexual violence.” We do not believe that a drive to inspire rape motivated the young, impressionable brothers on that cold Wednesday night. As the Center responded with histrionics, what could have been an opportunity for our campus to maturely and gracefully reprove public stupidity and affirm mutual respect turned into a daylong, private spat. Although the fight was, ostensibly, resolved on Thursday with DKE’s apology, the rest of us were left unsatisfied.
But we should not be too surprised by the Women’s Center’s initial overreaction. In 2004, the organization sought to deny the national male feminist group “Men Can Stop Rape” entrance to their center. They threatened to sue Zeta Psi fraternity after the “We Love Yale Sluts” controversy. And after last year’s “Preseason Scouting Report” uproar, members of the Center petitioned the Yale administration to expel the creators of the e-mail. In recent years, the radicalizing echo chamber of the Center has failed to represent the broader spectrum of women on campus after acts of public misogyny. 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.
This year’s Women’s Center board, which hosted a party with DKE and a talk at Toads, has made important steps toward the mainstream. We praise the organization’s recent public statement on this page, more measured than accusatory. But we wish it had been their first instinct, not their second thought. The same can be said of DKE, whose contrition only followed a first reaction of defensiveness. And in the end, a truce between two organizations will not broker a larger shift on this campus.
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. The provocateurs knew their audience’s sensibilities and how to offend them for a childish laugh. They went too far. But the Women’s Center should have known better than to paint them as misogynistic strangers and attackers among us, instead of members of our community; after all, they once partied in the brothers’ basement.
It was only in the aftermath of the row that the Women’s Center used the chants as an opportunity for broader dialogue. We commend this spirit; last Friday’s forum attracted voices from across the community. We would all do well to remember that, at Yale, the effectiveness and inclusiveness of women’s advocacy is inversely proportional to its radicalism.