Tuesday, April 29, 2008

On the Ivy League, academia and sexism

At the beginning of the semester, there was an incident here at Yale involving a "fraternity prank" and the Women's Center where 12 members of the Zeta Psi frat stood in front of the Women's Center chanting "dick dick dick dick" while holding a sign saying "We Love Yale Sluts." Quite the incident.

On Monday, the Executive Committee of Yale College found the members of this group not guilty of intimdiation and harassment charges. No charges of sexual harassment were ever filed, even though complaints were issued with the Sexual Harassment Grievance Board.

It seems we are no farther from the Old Boys Club than we were in 1969 when the College first admitted female students.

The female student who encountered the Zeta Psi that night in January wrote an op-ed for the Yale Daily. Here is some of what she had to say:

Perhaps the brothers of Zeta Psi were unaware of the symbolic role of the Women’s Center: It is the only place on this campus designated a safe space for women; it is the only place dedicated to gender equity. Perhaps they did not to intend to “harm anyone socially or psychologically,” as their public apology attests; rather, their behavior was a mere “lapse of judgment.” But, consciously or unconsciously, they were aware of how demeaning it would be to shout “dick” in front of a women’s space, how degrading it is to call a person a “slut,” how their fraternity culture forced them to participate in acts of misogyny.

Only as the victim in this case am I permitted to speak; all other parties involved are bound by confidentiality. Students are prohibited from speaking to other students, professors or friends about any detail of the case. In ExComm’s summaries of disciplinary action, there is only a record of the trial and the judgment, nothing more. There is no written record of the deliberations. Consequently, there is no transparency or system of accountability. Students have no knowledge of how other students have been hurt, intimidated, harassed or assaulted.
Despite my involvement, I cannot appeal its judgment or even question how it was ultimately determined. I cannot appeal the fact that all 12 brothers of Zeta Psi were allowed to read my written affidavit before they wrote their own — 12 iterations of the same collective story.

Decided in secrecy, no chance for an appeal. It seems the "boys will be boys" mentality has pervaded the Yale "justice" system. The layer of tolerance that has been laid out over fundamental sexism has been broken and we can see the ugly underside - that this school has merely covered up the intolerance, while still allowing it to grow. When that intolerance comes out in ugly ways, the layer is just restitched, weaker and thinner than before.

I am a student at the Divinity School, one could argue a completely different world than the undergraduate college downtown. Over half of the students here want to be ministers; perhaps their love of God makes them more tolerant - YDS is a fairly liberal and inclusive school. Compared to the other professional and graduate schools, the Divinity School is rumored to have some of the nicest students on campus (we're in the running with the Forestry school).

Although our chapel services use inclusive language and we are generally a loving group, at times, as a woman I can't help but feel somewhat out of place.

Whether it be sitting with a group of all-male friends over lunch or realizing that I'm the only woman in the room (also the only person without a beard), I have noticed my gender here in ways I haven't anywhere else. I have become aware of the fact that I am a woman first and a person second.

YDS gives out two main degrees - the MDiv and the MAR; the MDiv is for people wishing to be ordained while the MAR is a shorter degree with an academic focus. There are more females than males in the MDiv program and more males than females in the MAR program - of my friends, I am a female MAR students out of many male MAR students. To be sure, I also have male MDiv friends, as the world isn't as clear-cut as some make it out to be. My male MAR friends are in fields religious studies academics considered more worthy of study, as opposed to my film and visual art concentration. So, while I sit with my male friends and we discuss our academic interests, often I feel out of place because my field of study rarely comes up in conversation.

Biblical studies tends to focus mostly on historical criticism, but recently other criticisms have begun to be used - feminist, queer, post-colonial, etc. While the opportunity is great to reclaim texts that have previously been destructive for individuals, these readings are still passed over for more historical readings. I took a class on Gender, Sex and Power in Ruth and Esther last semester, and not surprisingly, it was a class of mostly women (13 women to 1 man, who actually was transgendered, female-to-male). The professor has made it explict that alternative readings are welcomed in her class; she is committed to bringing voice to those who are and have been voiceless. However, what good is alternative voices if we are the only ones to hear them?

Other times, it's not an academic or systematic feeling of exclusion, but sometimes people make off-hand statements they don't intend as sexist, but are anyway. I originally came to the school in the Women's, Gender and Sexuality Studies department before switching to a visual art concentration. When I informed my friend of the switch, he replied, "I didn't think you were angry enough for that anyway." One minute I am an angry feminist and the next, someone who likes paintings. I went as Rosie the Riveter to our Halloween party and someone praised my gender bending skills.

To be clear, I love YDS and the community and my friends. They have made me happy and enriched my life in countless ways. But I feel as if there is still a residual feeling that this is not a woman's place - or at least academia isn't. Especially downtown, how dare women expect a place of their own. If men want to stand in front the Women's Center and chant "dick," they should be able to... After all, those men gave us the women's center in the first place.

Such a blantant display of sexism would never happen at the Divinity school, that I'm sure of. My friends are lovely people and I want to make clear this is a critique not of individuals, but of the larger system we function in. What I'm not sure of, however, is the little bits of sexism that creep in on a day-to-day basis... That subtle, uncomfortable feeling that my work and the work of all people using feminist, queer or post-colonial readings don't match up to the strict socio-historical way of reading religious texts. That although we are here, we are ignored.


Amelia said...

That's so interesting. Great post.

I related to it because there is a huge debate about my college's Grievance Panel, and the need for reform going on right now (it's where sexual assault cases are handled, and I didn't even know it existed until our college feminist group started talking about it. Talk about empowering...).

OutcrazyOphelia said...

Great post,
I meant to comment on it yesterday but got bogged down with work. Campus politics dictates that they have to say they have a commitment to equality but when push comes to shove, there is little recourse for sexual harassment. I know at my college, there isn't a specific person to report incidents to, as a result, incidents simply don't get reported as they make their way up the hierarchy from resident assistants and up.

Anonymous said...

When I decided to transfer out of UC/Berkeley as an undergrad, I visited Yale. I sat in on an English class studying Ginsberg's "Howl." There was such an adoration of the Beats, with absolutely no mention of their sexism or other downsides, that I felt women were completely invisible to the discussion. Then I visited Sarah Lawrence College. Nuff said. It's funny to me that had I graduated from Yale, people would assume I'm much smarter than my degree from SLC seems to make me. Ironically, what shows I'm smart is the choice I made as a woman to go to a woman-friendly school.

Kirsti said...

Video games, Music, and Movies. You CHOOSE to be influenced by any of these. Do you know the difference between reality and fiction?