Sexist Slurs Permissible?

May 06, 2008

AAUW is concerned about sexual harassment issues on campus, and in February we posted a blog entry about an incident at Yale University where pledge members of the Zeta Psi fraternity held a sign that said “We Love Yale Sluts” outside the university’s Women’s Center. This stunt was part of a scavenger hunt required to gain membership in the fraternity. The Women’s Center and a student who felt intimidated by the group and their sign demanded that the university address this incident, which they felt was representative of fraternity-driven, campus-wide misogyny.

This week, the Executive Committee of Yale College found the young men not guilty on a charge of intimidation and harassment. The Women’s Center and others are upset because neither the pledges nor the fraternity culture on campus are expected to be disciplined or changed. The silver lining is that the university administrators have agreed to some of the Women’s Center’s demands, including the evaluation of extant sexual harassment prevention policies.

While it may be hard to prove legally that harassment or intimidation occurred due to the circumstances, it makes me wonder why their use of “slut” outside a safe place for women, including survivors of sexual assault, did not prompt immediate disciplinary actions and an official condemnation of the actions by the university or fraternity.

I agree with the Yale Women’s Center board and think that had the pledges stood in front of a multicultural center and held up a sign with a racial slur, the outcry against them would be stronger, and they would probably face disciplinary actions. Instead, a sexist slur that reminds women that they historically have been the sexual property of men and that is often used to ruin a woman’s reputation does not warrant such action …

What’s your opinion on the incident and its outcome?

Holly Kearl By:   |   May 06, 2008


  1. Crystal says:

    Sick and disgusting are the first words that popped into my head while reading this post. It has always amazed me how our culture consistently find ways to degrade our women with no consequences. We are raising a generation of young men and women who believe that using derogatory slurs towards women, even in a casual and joking manner, is ok. When did this become ok, especially on a college campus? It saddens me that the idea was even considered and agreed upon by these young men and the fact that these are college educated “men” who found this appropriate and amusing. The worst part is that the college administration found no way to punish these misguided young men. It makes me wonder if it would have been as hard to prove harassment if they had chosen to yell the words at women rather than use a sign. Would that have made a difference? If so, then please enlighten me on how?

  2. alan says:

    This is a REALLY disappointing situation. Hearing about it makes me ashamed to be a male, it makes me humbled to be a male in a position of some authority over many female employees. My heart goes out to the one female who had the courage to stand up and say something about it and all the others who didn’t but were hurt, or intimidated.

  3. Caroline says:

    I have been ranting about this issue for some time now, especially given the very imbalanced treatment Hillary Clinton has received at the hands of (mostly male) pundits and reporters. They can get away with charging her with all kinds of attributes they consider negative (“harsh,” “hard,” “strident,” “opinionated” and the list goes on to even worse) that clearly, in a man, would be considered “firm,” “strong,” “resolved,” etc. (And I’m amazed at how many are asking her to quit, who are quitters themselves, like Dean and McGovern.) My daughter (14) and her girlfriends call each other “whores” all the time in TMs. I am trying to find a way to put a stop to this and still maintain the open communication I’m lucky to have with her. Now, every time I question myself about whether some comment or action is sexist, I translate it into racial terms to test it. The grade most of the time? F!

  4. Suze says:

    The sexism and outright misogyny that has characterized this election has opened my eyes to where this country stands on gender issues, and in particular the role of women in power. I used to use the word “bitch” all the time myself. But what an eye-opener this election has been. The epithets used by Obama supporters about Hillary are nothing short of disgraceful: “monster,” “lying whore,” “c***”. And in the mass media, the level of discourse remains below the belt. Comments about how “whenever Hillary talks, it makes me cross my legs,” or “everytime a man hears Hillary speak, it reminds him of his ex-wife at probate court.”

    As a Hillary supporter, I get emails from friends with “jokes” such as a “Liagra” ad (a puerile pun on “Viagra, folks!) featuring Hillary as the liar–as if Obama and his cohorts haven’t done plenty of lying themselves (it just doesn’t get press coverage).

    As pointed out in a piece in the New York Times, Hillary eats babies and kills puppies. Sure. And Obama’s a f******’ saint.

    [editors note: the two words that contain asterisks were changed from the author’s choice of words by the editor.]

  5. Vulcan says:

    ‘intimidated’; not ‘intimated’

  6. Thanks Vulcan. That’s the danger of spell check. It never corrects the meaning of what is written.

  7. steffan says:

    One answer that liberals do not want to hear — Freedom of Speech For EVERYONE. Whether offensive or not people have had to deal with others saying and doing things we don’t like. Isn’t odd that nowadays people on the liberal side of things want to shut others voices because they don’t like what they have to say. What did the word “liberal” mean in the old days ? What’s next legislation to make people all think the same way. You people make me sick.

  8. saltlord says:

    I guess if one were to go along with your line of thinking, steffan, it would be perfectly acceptable to openly use racial slurs. We take freedom of speech for granted and assume that simply because we exist, it is our right. Can most of of say we personally have done anything to really earn that right? Freedom of speech came at a price and a lot longer and harder for many of us. No we don’t have to agree with what everyone says, but there is a level of assumed power and entitlement that goes along with names and the words used on the Yale campus. Whether other comments “make you sick” or not, they have the freedom to say what they like…just like you.

  9. Bruce says:

    Sticks and stones may break my bones. But, words will never hurt me. I remember back in the fifties being a child in a rather predjudicial society. and beinging called a n***** lover because my uncle had married a girl that was part black. I was so young I had no idea what the hecklers meant. I remember asking my mother and her reaction was to teach me the little ditty above. I guess in our current society we have come to a point where people are so sensitive that someones words can cause all kinds of trauma. Its too bad because the bullys and ignoramuses get the upper hand that way. To this day I still run into fools that say things to me that are mean and cruel. But I never let it get under my skin. I just feel sorry for them and move on.

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