Friday, February 03, 2006

Facing Off


Last Wednesday morning the virtual world of www.facebook.com found a new medium: printouts. Anonymous individuals printed out individual profiles and group profiles from the website and posted them all over Yale campus bulletin boards. Circled in red were Yale student's homophobic and misogynistic remarks (ex. "cubs fans are f-ing homos" and "we love tits"); written under these remarks were email addresses: anti_homophobia@hotmail.com and anti_misogyny@hotmail.com. By mid-afternoon, a vast majority of these printouts had been removed, presumably by the singled -out individuals (though I did see one kind boy rip down his roomate's profile for him), or by members of Yale Recycling or of the administration. The group who did it may face legal consequences, if they come forward.

First things first: we were not involved, though some seem to think this is the type of thing we condone (see one comment in the below post). When we have a problem with something someone said, we'll be sure to let the individual know what we think and that we (Sabrina and Della) are disturbed. Believe us, we know how it feels to be attacked anonymously (just check out the comments section), and we find it counterproductive to the rational dialogue which produces change.

That being said, the red ink found some disturbing things. The facebook.com is a space laden with misogynistic, homophobic, and (let's not forget) racist and classicist ideas - and the fact that some quotes were taken out of context is irrelevant. The particular profiles chosen were just a small (if somewhat problematic) sample. Additionally, activists of all kinds have a tradition of making public, anonymous statements that attack certain individuals. Holding people accountable in this way can be powerful - just look at the buzz on campus about the printouts. For a far more cogent explaination of the value in the posts and the complications involved, check out Loren Krywancynk's editorial in the YDN.

But publicly slandering particular individuals within the Yale community anonymously is not an effective response to rampant -isms. Such attacks only put people on the defensive and make them far less willing to engage in a meaningful and productive dialogue about the implications of their words (Morgan Locke's letter to the editor is an example of such a response), and we at Broad Recognition have learned this the hard way (just check out our October archives). The benefit of being part of a college community is that we have the time and the safety (most of the time) to have real discussions and real disagreements. Think about it: a blog like ours would have no place at a high power law firm in NYC or even a large non-profit. So let's take those printouts as tangible testiments to the fact that we live in a homophobic and sexist world, in a homophobic and sexist "liberal" university. Let's face it; anyone who thought those things didn't happen here has obviously not been paying attention. But let's also affirm that this is not the way we seek to produce change.

Rather than bickering about what happened on Wednesday, we should ask what we're going to do about it. How do you get someone to face up to what those statements say about women, what they say about men, what they say about sexuality and violence, and what they say, most importantly, about them as individuals?

Talking to each other, face to face, is where we need to start. It requires patience and it requires distance. Of course, it's personal and, of course, we're tired of having to explain time and time again why something is so blatantly wrong. But we have to - because obviously people still don't get it. We need a new medium; the facebook and printouts outside of the post office will not suffice.

5 comments:

Michael said...

I applaud your condemnation, and from what the rumor mill tells me, most people felt little but condemnation.

laura said...

I agree with your conclusion that the anonymity of the action wasn't productive or fair; but can it really be called "slander" if you're just displaying something that these people already made public? If the group who did this had put their names up instead of a hotmail account, it would have basically been the same as what broadrecognition does: calling out misogyny that goes below our radar screen, whether it's in the YDN, facebook, or class discussion.
(I'm surprised more people haven't commented here.)

YLS '08 said...

Laura -- exactly. Truth is an absolute defense to libel. It's one thing to print out pictures and make up quotes from them; but printing out something already displayed in a public forum, there's no legal action there. Also, there can't be an invasion of privacy suit because the students who posted their profiles on a public Web site had no expectation of privacy.

To the bloggers: I'm a little disappointed in you. This seems like exactly the type of activity you should support. It's nice that you personally feel comfortable in calling people out when they say sexist or homophobic shit, but not everyone feels that way (especially gay men who fear violence). This was an excellent way to bring public attention to a big problem at Yale, you should support it.

Michael said...

Facebook is not a public forum. Facebook is intended for the Yale community, not a billboard on a street. To quote Facebook's privacy policy:

"No personal information that you submit to Facebook will be available to any user of the Web Site who does not belong to at least one of the groups specified by you in your privacy settings."

I'm pretty sure those people didn't specify "Available to City of New Haven" in their privacy preferences. I'm glad broadrecognition condemned these cowardly actions.

Frank said...

Della and Sabrina criticizing slander? Impossible!