The Thinking 

The Militant Sisterhood

May 27, 2011


IN AN EXCELLENT piece at City Journal, Heather Mac Donald comments on two recent items in the news: feminist outrage over all-male special-operations combat forces and a federal civil rights complaint by female students at Yale who say they have been denied an equal education by raunchy campus jokes.

Mac Donald points to the glaring contradiction of women claiming, on the one hand, that they can be toughened, elite warriors and, on the other, that they cannot function in life if they are the butt of offensive jokes. Mac Donald writes:

Not only has the rise of women to positions of power and control in American society not dented feminist irrationality, it seems to have exacerbated that irrationality.

Mac Donald looks at recent commentary in The Washington Post by Anna Holmes protesting the exclusion of women from the Navy SEALs even though few if any women could physically qualify for the SEALs. Very few men even qualify. The SEALs, it’s worth noting, are trained to withstand torture. How is it possible for women today to withstand torture when the slightest criticism of their attire or behavior causes them to break down and take to the streets?

The complaint by the women at Yale came after frat pledges walked through the freshman quad crudely chanting, “No means yes, and yes means anal.” (Don’t you hope your children attend Yale someday?) One would think some of the most intelligent female undergraduates in the free world would be capable of defending themselves against this base behavior with words of their own. For the Yale students, however, the jokes did nothing less than harm their lifelong opportunities, even in a world of institutionalized favoritism for women. A full-blown civil rights case was warranted.

MacDonald writes: 

To the civil rights complainants … the [frat] incident and Yale’s allegedly inadequate response to it “precludes women from having the same equal opportunity to the Yale education as their male counterparts,” in the words of signatory Hannah Zeavin. (The signatories also want to gut further Yale’s already ludicrously inadequate due-process protections for those accused of sexual assault or harassment.) Yale has one of the greatest library systems in the world; it showers on students top-notch instruction in almost every intellectual discipline; it lavishes students with healthy food, luxurious athletic facilities, and rich venues for artistic expression. All of these educational resources are available on a scrupulously equal basis to both sexes. But according to the Yale 16 and their supporters, female students simply cannot take full advantage of the peerless collection of early twentieth-century German periodicals at Sterling Library, say, or the DNA sequencing labs on Science Hill, because a few frat boys acted tastelessly. Thus the need to go crying to the feds to protect you from the big, bad Yale patriarchy. Time to bring on the smelling salts and the society doctors peddling cures for vapors and neurasthenia.

Reality check: there has probably never been a more female-friendly community in the history of humanity than today’s Yale. Virtually all of its professors and administrators are dedicated to the proposition that women deserve the same opportunities that men do—if not more opportunities. I graduated from the college in 1978. If ever there were a trace of sexism there, it should have been in that first decade of coeducation, before the rise of an increasingly feminist-dominated bureaucracy and professoriate. Not once, however, did I receive anything other than full encouragement from my teachers and the other adults in authority. Since then, the college has added a seemingly endless number of administrative offices, faculty and student organizations, working groups, and academic programs explicitly dedicated to the advancement of women and so-called women’s issues. The idea that Yale could have become less female-welcoming than in the 1970s is preposterous.

Of course, one might legitimately denounce the frat pranks for lowering the tone of discourse on campus, if it were possible to lower that discourse any further. It is not. Take the annual Sex Week at Yale (SWAY), whose website describes such uplifting events as a demonstration session on “Pleasuring the Pussy”; a presentation by “Babeland, America’s popular purveyor of sex toys,” on “blow jobs and cunnilingus”; and a sex “discussion” by Sasha Grey, “one of the biggest names in porn and an amazing cross-over star, winner of 7 Adult Video News Awards among many other honors.” Given the full-throated public raunch demanded by students and accommodated by the administration, the sign WE LOVE YALE SLUTS isn’t much more than an actual description of the campus scene. But the basic principle of feminist domination is: “If we use crude, sexualized language, it’s ‘strong women celebrating their strong bodies.’ When a hapless man uses such language, it’s ‘crippling assault and harassment.’”

One might also legitimately object to the frat chants as unchivalrous and disrespectful of female modesty—in another universe. For feminists, however, the moribund concept of female modesty is just another sexist oppression designed to keep women down—except when we want to take offense and claim to be wounded by being treated as the sexual objects that we present ourselves as.

She continues:

Yale’s female students may not be able to get an education in history or economics, if we believe the Title IX allegations, but they sure are getting a lesson in feminist power politics. Most will move into positions of authority. Some will enter university administrations to oversee, sympathetically, more complaints like that of the Yale 16; others will go to government offices like the Department of Education’s civil rights division, where they will launch the massive resources of the federal government against a world biased against women, even as women increasingly run the show. Anna Holmes [of The Washington Post] claims that women are fully capable of the self-abnegating warrior ethos, willing to bear up stoically under crushing physical and mental adversity. The Yale fiasco suggests otherwise.

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