Monday, November 13, 2006

Why Not Ms. Yale?

Is anyone else troubled, or irked, or maybe just puzzled by the YSAC's Mr. Yale competition? YSAC describes the contest in the following words:

"YSAC seeks the best, craziest and funniest representatives from each college to compete in the first ever Mr. Yale. This exciting showcase will feature modeling and talent competitions, interviews, special judges (including Dean Peter Salovey) and much more! It’s your chance to show your Eli spirit as we gear up for The Game. At stake: a chance to debut the Mr. Yale crown and sash in the the halftime show at Yale-Harvard."

I guess I don't understand why the "best, craziest and funniest represetatives" must be men. Perhaps YSAC feared a "beauty-contest backlash" in which female nominees would only be judeged by their looks. Alternatively, perhaps YSAC was only using the phrase "Mr. Yale" as an all-encompassing, universal term (a problematic action nonetheless), but even if this was the intenetion, Yale students took the Mr. prefix seriously. All 12 candidates are male students. Are we saying the only men embody the spirit of Yale? In my opinion, the whole thing smacks of the ethos of an earlier Yale, a Yale that promised to continue to produce "1000 male leaders" every year, despite the sudden influx of 300 female undergraduates. By identifying a male student as the quintessential representative of Yale College, we ascribe a male normative standard to the university. Women become add-ons, after-thoughts, supplemental figures to this core of male students. The YSAC contest revives Yale's historically partiarchal identity, an identity that most of us hope had faded over the last 35 years.


LA said...

I don't know, it is sexist, but I think there are more urgent matters facing women these days.
Linda Anderson

Basha said...

While I agree that there may be more urgent matters than the Mr. Yale competition or the 'swings eating contest, it is also imperative we point out sexism when we see it. Only when people recognize that such small acts can be hugely detrimental, will we be able to truly make steps to eradicate misogyny.

Maggie said...

Yes, of course there are more urgent issues, which is why we've posted on a range of topics from the inequalities in academia to the dilemmas facing modern mothers to date rape to the the double standard for female politicians. We would love to hear more feedback on these issues. Please feel free to read our posts on these topics and post comments. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Frankly, I find your response to the Mr. Yale competition to be rather shortsighted and biased in such a way that shows the poor effects that such devotion to activism unfortunately has a penchant for creating. Namely, mistaking a "keen eye for misogyny and the like" for just plain misinterpreting and making a mountain of what may be too small to be considered even a molehill.

When they refer to the "best, craziest and funniest representatives" of each college they are referring to the "best, craziest and funniest" of the men. Not of all representatives. If there were a Ms. Yale competition, I would expect nothing less than such rants about sexual objectification and misogyny from a site like this. Would you honestly have written an "Why not Mr. Yale" rant? Please don't lie. Especially to yourself.

The question of whether there are "more serious issues concerning sexism" is almost a moot point here. In my opinion there is nothing sexist here at all. They chose men specifically for the spectacle. Rarely has anyone seen a "Male beauty pageant." The event is supposed to be an entertaining one with an emphasis on the comedic. The YSAC most likely thought the idea of a bunch of Yale men dressed up and making fools of themselves for the gratification of the female members of the audience would be a cute role reversal and would draw more attention and audience.

The event was tremendously successful for those reasons as that is exactly how it came off. A women's beauty pageant would have been treated seriously, with competition and an emphasis on looks. That would have been most unfortunate, and the way it ultimately played out left no person slighted other than the twelve men who were sexually objectified and laughed WITH (not at). As one of them myself and someone in open communication with the others, they had a wonderful time.

I am disappointed you did not have as much to say about the objectification of men. While I would have quarreled with it, it would, in my eyes, have been more justifiable than the concerns you've voiced here.

As someone who firmly believes in the eradication of misogyny and sexism and who fights for equality among the genders, it's very disappointing when issues such as "objectification" take a back seat to a feminist rant about feeling left out.

~Mr. Calhoun

Branford '06 said...

As a (male) feminist, I find myself agreeing with much of what Mr. Calhoun above has to say. It reflects a deeper probe into the matter than does the blog post itself, which I found surprisingly and disappointingly superficial. (As a disclaimer though, I'm not all that familiar with this Mr. Yale thingie)

Maggie said...

Thanks for your feedback. I had only heard of the Mr. Yale competition through the YSAC advertisements, and I was not aware the degree to which it was a self-conscious parody. I admit that I should have investigated the matter further.

My point in posting about this event, though, was not to oppose objectification of men to objectification of women but rather to place events like this one in the context of Yale's institutional history. As Yale's archives from the 1960s and 1970s show, women were first admitted to Yale in order to enrich the experience of male undergraduates, and it was made abundantly clear that the representative of Yale would still be the "male leader." I wonder to what degree that concept of the Yale student still stands, and my intention in discussing the Mr. Yale competition was to raise that question. Clearly, I did not do a good job in illuminating that point, but I would love to hear opinions as to whether or not Yale still has shed its male identity.