Sunday, October 24, 2010

How A Sexually Violent Culture of Silences Women of all Colors and Sexualities, But Not Ever White Het Men and Their Abuses called "Speech"

If there was a pornographic heterosexist poster of two pornographised women kissing, that would be men's free speech. But if two actual human beings who are female kiss, that must be socially censored.

Actions around stores, on the street, and inside the academy are great places to learn, to study, and to figure out what's going on regarding the racist heteropatriarchal silencing of women by white het men and white het men's institutionalised values. A woman of any color can be arrested for expressing speech in the form of kissing; women and men of color are followed in stores simply for walking up and down aisles in a grocery or clothing store. White-supremacy-trained employees who target darker-skinned people systematically ignore how the light-skinned white people steal without being noticed because they are noticing that a dark-skinned person of color is in the store. A woman of any color can be arrested for tearing up pornography, because while burning a flag is speech, burning pornography isn't, if you're a woman fighting pornography. And not only burning pornography--but just from tearing it up. Pimps' speech mustn't be torn or in any way interrupted--it must flow freely because it is, in large part, white het men's speech. But if women's bodies are torn open by pimps and procurers, and that tearing and torture is photographed or videotaped, THAT'S free speech. Men abusing women in ways that silence them and cost them the right to express themselves freely is FREE SPEECH but only for MEN. You see how this works, don't you?

First, from the feminist archives, this. (Please click on title to link back.)

Art and Action by NIKKI CRAFT

In our society it is illegal, immoral or at least disapproved behavior to burn pornography, the flag, and money because they are symbols of free expression, democracy and capitalism; but to denigrate women in words and pictures is as American as apple pie.

First Amendment Fundamentalists scoff at those who desecrate magazines or books. But, if burning a flag is speech, then burning and ripping pornography and mainstream magazines is speech too, as is pouring blood on a missile.

That Nikki Craft was arrested and incarcerated for over three weeks in Whatcom County Jail after ripping up $11.00 in Esquire magazines illustrates quite nicely that Craft’s right to symbolic, so-called free speech was superseded and limited by Chuck Robinson’s assumed private property rights.

First Amendment Fundamentalists scoff at those who desecrate magazines or books. But, if burning a flag is speech, then ripping pornography is speech too.

"Women, in case you have not noticed, have reached the end of our rope. It's time, don't you think, that you liberal white boys let go of the leash?" -- Nikki Craft

This letter is a response to "Protesters Would Impose Censorship," a guest editorial in the Bellingham Herald (June 4, 1990) by Chuck Robinson.

Next, we have this incident--the interruption of lesbian's speech outside on a city bench. Click on title for the whole story. An excerpt follows below.

Lesbian couple  say they were forced to leave Cameron Village

Caitlin Breedlove

Raleigh, N.C. — A lesbian couple say they were forced to leave Cameron Village in Raleigh after eating lunch because they were kissing in public.

Caitlin Breedlove says she and her girlfriend were sitting on a bench with their arms around each other and had kissed briefly on the cheek when, she says, a security guard approached them, told them that “being affectionate” was “inappropriate” and asked them to leave because "no one wants to see that at Cameron Village." [THE REST OF THE STORY AND A VIDEO ON THIS STORY IS *HERE*.]

The Bastion of Great Dead White Het Male Speech, the Western Academy, is also great place to study many subjects. It is, especially, a great place to study how men's sexual violence against women gets institutionalised and protected. Not because there are Women's Studies courses on the subject any more--there used to be, in some places. But Queer Studies, Men's Studies, and Sexuality Studies have replaced studying what happens specifically to "Women". But lessons are taught after you're assaulted and try and get the administration to deal responsibly with both your own assault and the assaults of other young women on campus by young men. You could get a PhD if you study closely what happens when speaking out is met with "talk to the hand". When speech-as-feminist action meets silence-as-patriarchal institution. Click on the title below to link back.

A culture of silence

The institutional memory of the Yale Student Body is goldfish-sized, at best, but even the freshmen have stopped feigning surprise when the administration—for the first time, headed by a female Dean—fails to take any more than spoken action on cases of sexual harassment and misogynist hate speech on campus. The recent report released by the Sexual Misconduct Committee seems like progress, but as a former Women’s Center Board member, I am skeptical that any “streamlined” solution involving that many different committees would be able to agree on so much as a meeting time. As the latest set of perpetrators explains that they too somehow failed to learn from history’s mistakes, and the Women’s Center tells us for the 1,000,000,000th time that rape is real, I (and, judging by the nearly 2,000 signatures on an online petition asking the University to denounce DKE’s actions, many other alumni) can’t help but wonder why Yale hasn’t managed to get over this hump. Because not only has Yale acutely suffered from sexual harassment, it has also produced some of the most nationally important remedies for fighting it. Looking past the narrow breadth of our time at Yale, the problems have been the same since co-education began. Nationally recognized civil, legal, and educational responses to harassment have been pioneered on this campus for at least thirty years, but Yale, despite having proffered these solutions as proof of good intentions in more than one legal situation, has yet to implement them in good faith.

Let’s begin with the bad: While the Zeta Psi incident and the Pre-Season Scouting Report were both deeply offensive, these are hardly the worst incidents of sexual harassment that the Yale community has faced. They are merely the most recent instances in a continuous string of misbehavior whose roots lie in an entrenched disregard for the dignity, personhood, and autonomy of women.

I note with interest the fact that DKE’s international directors have taken such a firm hand with this particular class of miscreants. Perhaps that is because more young, feminist Yalies work in the media now, and DKE’s shenanigans have provoked condemnation far beyond New Haven. Five years ago, we saw a very different story.

The Women’s Center participates annually in Take Back the Night (TBTN), a nationwide event to commemorate and raise awareness about sexual assault on campus. The hallmark event of TBTN is a shared circle of testimonies by survivors of rape and assault, one of the most moving and upsetting experiences a college student of any gender can have. For TBTN in 2005, the Women’s Center hung a clothesline of t-shirts emblazoned with the voices of survivors on cross-campus in the week leading up to the event. Silencing is perhaps one of the most damaging emotional weapons used against those who have been raped; accordingly, many rape survivor movements, TBTN included, take care to raise the voices of their constituency. The t-shirts gave voice to those who were not yet ready to be seen, but who yearned to be heard.

The morning after survivors and allies hung the shirts on Cross Campus, they found that several were missing. Where did they turn up? On the laughing chests of fraternity members, who saw the stories of rape written by the victims themselves as a funny fashion statement. In the Yale Daily News archives, one plaintive letter to the editor neatly illustrates the impact of the event on campus: “Clothesline T-shirt theft merited greater attention.” But nothing came of it.

Lately, students have been the perpetrators of such public crimes, but in the past, the faculty has been implicated for far worse misconduct. Few know that Yale was actually the birthplace of contemporary sexual harassment law. Yale’s official online statement against Sexual Harassment omits this interesting tidbit of legal history—perhaps because the University itself was named defendant in the landmark case in question, Alexander v. Yale.

In 1977, nine years into Yale’s co-education, sexual harassment by professors was undeniably rampant. Women would speak in knowing code, for instance, about one music teacher who was notorious for raping his tutees after lessons. “I used to play the flute,” they would say to one another in the dining halls. “I don’t anymore.”

Ann Olivarius, BR ’77, LAW ’86, SOM ’86, then a senior, had heard far too many tragic tales: Women who were afraid to go to office hours. Women who were afraid to speak up in class. Women who had turned from the talents they were most passionate about, after their instructors harassed or raped them. Women who were on the brink of suicide. Desperate women. She began collecting their stories and, with the invaluable help of a young law student named Catherine MacKinnon, LAW ’77, who would go on to birth the entire concept of sexual harassment as sex discrimination and revolutionize feminist legal theory, developed a case against Yale.

There were five plaintiffs and Olivarius was the sole woman among them who had not been the victim of an assault (a male professor who had initially filed with ∑the group did not continue to the appeal). Olivarius claimed instead that the time she had spent developing her case and trying to find relief for the other plaintiffs had negatively affected her educational career. At that time, there was no recourse for those wishing to bring a complaint against their harasser. The term “sexual harassment” was brand new and seldom used—in fact, MacKinnon’s definitive work on the subject was still an unpublished manuscript. So instead of asking for financial damages, as is customary today, the plaintiffs requested only that the University set up a means of reporting these crimes—a central grievance procedure so that information about student harassment and assault could be collected in one location, rather than dispersed among the various college deans and masters, who were often ignorant of just how widespread the problem was.

Though the women were accused of trying to expose and exploit the University, they were asking for an in-house remedy, which would allow Yale to keep its public face clean, rather than seeking a legal—and public—redress.

At first, the Yale administration was sympathetic. They had no desire to see young women get hurt, and they thought they could root out the few bad apples among the faculty and set things right. But after reading an onslaught of complaints that implicated not just one or two professors but the permissive culture of the University itself, they back-tracked. Olivarius and her co-complainants were called liars and whores. Faculty wives threatened to tamper with their academic records, and expulsion hung over their heads like a cartoon anvil. Hate-mail and death threats poured into their dorm rooms, as soon-to-be disgraced professors fought tooth and nail to keep the case from going to trial. Olivarius herself was stalked by the aforementioned serial rapist; when she finally turned to the administration official who had alerted her to this danger, he simply advised her to leave New Haven.

Olivarius, MacKinnon et al. continued to press their case. By the time it reached appeal, however, many of the plaintiffs had graduated, so the court decided they no longer had standing to sue. Their complaints were dismissed.

Yale loudly proclaimed its victory. Nevertheless, the trial and appellate courts in Alexander v. Yale agreed with the plaintiffs’ contention that sexual harassment at an educational institution could, with the right plaintiffs, constitute sex discrimination, and thus would be illegal under Title IX in federally-funded educational institutions like Yale. In later years, suits around the country established very clearly that failure to have any grievance procedure for handling sexual harassment claims could make the university liable. The line of argument used by MacKinnon eventually found full validation in the 1986 Supreme Court ruling on Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson.

What the Alexander plaintiffs sought was an idea whose time had come, even at Yale. Though it had won the battle, the University eventually conceded the war, no doubt in part because of how grievously it had suffered in the media. A few years later, Yale established the Executive Committee’s Grievance Board as a means of hearing sexual harassment cases and providing some relief. It also endowed the Women’s Center (yes, that Women’s Center) as a place for women to find support and respite—presumably from the harassers on the faculty who remained unpunished. Schools around the country instituted similar mechanisms, and sexual harassment gained public recognition and repudiation.

Belying the University’s quiet whispers during the trial that she was flunking out, Olivarius went on to become a Rhodes Scholar. Upon her return from Oxford, she was accepted into Yale Law School and the Yale School of Management, completing both degrees in three years with high honors.

Thirty years later, an official policy against student-teacher relationships was also instituted.

Armed with this protection, women at Yale seemed primed to wage a real battle against sexual assault. But Ex-Comm has regularly failed to bring justice and, especially, attention to claims of sexual assault on campus, and fear of disciplinary repercussions certainly didn’t prevent the boys of DKE from chanting “No means yes, yes means anal” on Old Campus.

According to some, ignorance and not maliciousness are at the heart of these chants. Perhaps these boys, ordered by their fraternity elders, did not grasp the extent to which their chanting in a courtyard of young women, one in six of whom will be raped in their lifetimes, would be problematic. They did not know about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or that most rapes on campus occur during a woman’s freshman year, with a spike of incidents in the very first weeks and then again, mysteriously, around the Freshman Screw. And that’s probably true. The boys screaming about rape on Old Campus definitely would not have known about any of those things, simply because Yale’s Freshman Orientation and continuing sex education are so egregiously lacking that they would not have learned them.

My freshman year, we had “Sex Signals,” in which two hyperactive actors tried to appeal to us apparently hetero-normative youths by acting out rape on stage in a “humorous” manner. We were supposed to put up a paper sign reading “Stop” when we felt rape was occurring, and it took most of the audience until she was actually screaming and fighting before any violation was perceived. Now there is the film “Relationships: Untitled,” the ugly, gutted remains of a gallant attempt to educate the student body about sexual assault and date rape which, after the administration intervened, not only fails to use the word “rape” or to show any helpful recourse for those who have been assaulted in the film, but fails to punish the rapists depicted, an accurate but hardly enlightening glimpse into the futures of an estimated 90 women in the audience.

As with sexual harassment law, Yale was once in the avant-garde of sexual education and resources. Long before the entirely student-run Yale Sex Week was founded, there was Sex and the Yale Student, an initiative that came from the top. In 1969, Yale’s medical staff realized that after 250-odd years of catering to men, they lacked the capacity to address the needs of the female anatomy. Gynecologist Dr. Philip Sarrel suggested that counseling on sexual health and relations might also be of use to the new classes of co-eds. He worked with his wife, Lorna Sarrel, to supplement basic health resources with couples counseling, family planning clinics, and a blockbuster lecture on sexuality and healthy intimacy given once a semester.

The resulting Sex and the Yale Student booklet was given to all incoming freshmen. Far from the insipid vagaries of “Relationships: Untitled,” the booklet got into the nitty-gritty of sexual politics and health in the ’70s, including an unabashed discussion of then-illegal abortion procedures and a lengthy section on consensual sex and relationships. The introduction trumpeted the benefits of this singular approach: “Among modern universities, Yale is almost unique in its creation of a special department at DUH (the Department of University Health) to deal with the sexual problems and questions of its students…so consider yourself very lucky.” The Sex and the Yale Student booklet was developed into a full-length book that sold over 100,000 copies nationwide. Garnering positive national attention from public health groups and other universities alike, Yale again found itself on the cutting edge of sexual politics.

Why has Yale skittered back from its once progressive stance on sexual education and resources? Perhaps, after the negative press Duke University received (under the leadership of former Yale Provost Richard Brodhead, BR ’68, GRD ’72) following an accusation of rape on campus in 2007, the University thought suppressing conversation and education about sexual assault would suppress the crime itself.

While the Women’s Center Board’s litigious response to the Zeta Psi incident a few years ago may seem to some to be the loudest Yale’s feminists have spoken lately, Naomi Wolf’s, YC ’83, 2004 article in New York magazine “The Silent Treatment,” not to mention Ms. Wolf’s whole career, is still one of the most famous dressing-downs of any educational institutions to date. In 2004, the Rhodes Scholar and Yale graduate wrote a feature piece describing her efforts to face the sexual assault she experienced at the hands of none other than Harold Bloom, who headlines the Humanities department to this day. Wolf had already written about her encounter with him in her critically acclaimed 1997 book, Promiscuities, albeit with the identifying details obscured. While her story is almost 30 years old and her article has been available for the better half of a decade, there are comments on it online as recent as last week—testament to the upsetting strength of her exposé.

In painstaking detail, she describes how she tried to make use of the Grievance Board process that Alexander v. Yale secured for her 25 years earlier. Courted by the Office of Development, she thought she might use her fame to gain some leverage with the administration. And she was quite wrong. Wolf tells a chilling story of self-protective denial coming from every level of the Yale administration. Stonewalled in her attempts to protect women on campus from the threat she had experienced in Bloom, she finally found the media to be her only outlet.

In the conclusion of her article, she admits a kind of ferocious defeat, stating that if another young Yalie came to her with this complaint, she could not in good conscience endorse the pathways that Olivarius and her ilk fought so hard to secure: “Wishing that [then-President of Yale] Bart Giamatti’s beautiful welcoming speech to my class about Yale’s meritocracy were really true, I would, with a heavy heart, advise that young woman, for her own protection, to get a good lawyer.”

The actions of the DKE pledges last Wednesday would have had consequences in the real world. If those statements had been made at a company, rather than a university, they would have been fired, and any woman who worked there would have had a good shot against her negligent employer as well. If these boys end up running companies, running governments, running the world, they will not be allowed to get away with such behavior, though they might fondly remember the days when they could, and dig deep for the chapter, the team, and Yale.

Of course, Yale isn’t a company. The administration often correctly reminds us that a university has other commitments, like free speech. But the law that currently ensures more safety for working women than female undergraduates (in legal theory, if not always in practice) was first conceived and tested here, in Law School classrooms and college dining halls. We should remember that the next time the administration affects a tone of injured surprise and dismay when women’s safety and dignity are compromised. Undergraduates, by nature, don’t have long memories, but institutions do. Yale knows that sexual harassment—and worse—is a campus problem, and has known it for decades. Throughout those same decades, students, faculty, and alumni have regularly suggested solutions and offered help, to no avail. Maybe in 30 years I’ll drop my kids off on Old Campus and tell them to avoid frat parties and not to trust the administration. But we can only hope that before then, much sooner in fact, Dean Mary Miller or one of her successors will finally take the lessons of Yale’s own history to heart.

Alice Buttrick is a 2010 graduate of Jonathan Edwards College. She was the Women’s Center Public Relations Coordinator in 2009.

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