Friday, February 27, 2009

Even Broader Recognition

Do you like Broads, or would you help us spread the word? Jump onto our Facebook Page and become a Fan!

Tell us what's up, what's good, and what sucks on the Discussion Board; we'll respond (in one way or another). And feel free to send relevant links or campus events so we can share them on here and on the Page.

Friday, February 20, 2009

More on Law School Women Fighting AutoAdmit

For a lucid account of the actions taken by two Yale Law School women against the website AutoAdmit, see David Margolick's "Slimed Online" in the March issue of Condé Nast Portfolio.

I always see Portfolio as a lean, elegant liberal finance mag fighting a losing battle against its stodgier counterparts. I hope it doesn't fold, as sites like Gawker have been saying it will since before its first issue came out. Full disclosure: I was an editorial intern there last summer. Important note: Portfolio's editor-in-chief is a clever Yale alumna.

Two observations from Margolick's article:

"In the 21 months since they filed suit, the women have already made some headway. But there are also accusations that the victims are becoming victimizers. Some of the defendants say the case amounts to an all-expenses-paid elitist temper tantrum in which two privileged women have cast an overly broad net, thus failing to differentiate between the really wicked and some of the tamer flamers, and have jeopardized careers in ways far more serious than theirs ever have been. One way or another, their suit highlights a culture and a legal system that still aren’t quite sure how freely people can or should speak online, how seriously to take what they say, and whether they can or should be sued for saying it."


"...In the view of Dave Hoffman, a professor at Temple University Law School who has blogged about AutoAdmit, the site offered its patrons a peculiar, vicarious kick: It allowed people who were straitlaced and risk-averse enough to want to be lawyers in the first place to become briefly, crazily irresponsible. They could spout outrageous lies, or, in the manner of Sacha Baron Cohen, invent entirely new personalities for themselves, invariably as homophobes, racists, or misogynists. Speaking a common language and flouting the same taboos, such posters became a close-knit fraternity of complete strangers who rarely even knew one another’s names. But for all their trash talk, many could even feel principled about their misbehavior; after all, they were free-speech absolutists. And they became cyber-survivalists when anyone tried to tone down or remove their posts."

One Year Later, Forty Years Back

I am reprinting here my op-ed of this morning. It's a sort of director's cut, since some of my final edits didn't make it into the published version. To read it on the YDN website, go here.

Presca Ahn

I write 40 years after Yale welcomed its first female applicants, and one year after a group of fraternity brothers blocked the entrance to the Yale Women’s Center, crowding around the typewritten phrase, “We Love Yale Sluts.” I write in response to the article, “A year later, little impact from ‘Sluts’ controversy” (Feb. 16), which addressed the latter incident but omitted the former.

The Zeta Psi boys’ “Sluts” escapade was not special because it was bigotry — much uglier speech has been voiced, and is still voiced, behind closed dorm room doors, on the comments boards of the News Web site, and at campus parties. It was special because, finally, there were faces to the bigotry — 12 faces, to be exact, accompanied by gestures of pride or of glee.

Hate speech makes its subjects, the harassed and the derided, a little less free in the environment that permits it. Last year Yale was beset by hate speech that went unclaimed: homophobic “NOGAYS” fliers, a swastika formed with snow, racist graffiti on residential college walls and rape threats targeting specific students on an anonymous gossip site.

With no one to blame, what was Yale to do? For lack of evidence, it could only condemn these incidents of hate speech. For lack of evidence, it held “forums” to “discuss” the “issues,” so that we could “express” our “views.”

Then came an incident of hate speech whose authorship we knew, whose perpetrators we could name. And Yale failed us. It formed a committee or two; it held another forum. It listened sympathetically as a few of us expressed our concerns, and less sympathetically when we proposed constructive action. And then, as the furor died down, it looked away.

There are many tired women at Yale right now. They are women who shrug, since boys will be boys; women who say, “You do not speak for me, Women’s Center. I do not oppose what the Zeta Psi boys did”; or women who — most powerfully — know in their hearts that we may fight male contempt at Yale, but that the real world will offer us much worse. Especially with these last women, I disagree. In the world outside Yale, a group of men who publicly rally around a phrase with the word “sluts” would be fired from their jobs, if not prosecuted, and subjected to punishing scrutiny on all sides.

At Yale, a group of men who publicly rally around a phrase with “sluts” were exonerated and protected, and their critics were called — by their peers — unsympathetic whores who had nothing better to do with their privilege. What the Zeta Psi boys did wouldn’t fly in the real world, not even at the male-dominated financial news network where I worked this fall. But last spring it was indulged at Yale, my school, which enrolls more women than men.

A student who physically assaults another student is punishable by the law. A student who drops a crucial footnote is punishable by the Executive Committee. Campus hate speech is less harmful than physical violence, but certainly more harmful than small-time plagiarism; it occupies a space between these two offenses.

Who is responsible for policing that space? A student club with few resources beyond hope, anger and words which foolishly presumed to advocate for Yale women (who, if the backlash is to be believed, are perfectly happy to be called sluts — our mistake)? Or a powerful and storied American university that promised us much, but tolerance and safety at the very least?

This is not the Yale I was promised, or that any of us were promised.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Ms. Jessica Svendsen Explains It All To You

I've been living in New York this year, but on a rare trip back to Yale I saw parts of Jessica Svendsen's meticulous, beautiful project Graphic Feminism. Jessica's talent isn't news; for a while now she's been a powerful architect of what feminism looks like on campus, and there's a subset of gender students and the Yale Women's Center collective who murmur reverently about Jessica's designs. But this new project of hers strikes with particular strength. Her collage of comments ("Your Comments Here") resurrects the whole atmosphere of last spring's struggle in the wake of Zeta Psi's hate speech. I interpret a mordant humor from the piece, although-- it being what it is-- there are a lot of other ways to experience it.