By ANNIE ATURA
October 21, 2010
One of the take-away lessons from the DKE controversy recalls the old adage: many a true word is spoken in jest. The Yale Daily News unfortunately did not learn that lesson from their fraternity brothers soon enough. As has already been adroitly articulated by the outraged bloggers (parents, alumni, students, and activists) that descended on the News’ website on Monday, the YDN perpetrated the same victim-blaming that has rendered innumerable sexual harassment cases almost intolerably painful for their survivors.
Prompted by biting criticism, the YDN took it upon themselves to issue damage control for the widely panned opinion piece. But if this second piece was intended to right the wrongs of the first, it failed on every count. The YDN’s “apology” was not an apology at all. The News did not apologize for the content of the editorial itself; they apologized instead for writing something too difficult for their readers to interpret correctly. They patiently explain: “We hope to clarify the opinions presented in the editorial and apologize for the misunderstandings that arose from our words.” But does the intent that they adumbrate merit our forgiveness? No. In fact, the opinion editor’s meaning, as clarified by the YDN and as allowed to be printed by their Board, still demonstrates sexism and an obnoxious lack of humility and perspective.
We might first notice that the YDN failed to understand the nature of its readership’s outrage. The YDN received such a negative response not because it was not “clear” enough, but because the editorial comprised an outcropping of the very problem it purported to address. The editor’s note reads, “On Monday, the News used this space to editorialize on the Women’s Center response to last week’s DKE chanting controversy. In doing so, the News’ View generated its own controversy.” But this incident would have been much less painful if it were a separate controversy. Instead, it seemed to reiterate the same insouciant disdain for women and for the gravity of rape that prompted the chanting in the first place.
Next, we might notice that the YDN makes the enormously disingenuous claim that “the Women’s Center has a history that makes many women on campus wary of seeing the Center as ‘their’ place, whatever its name.” In fact, the YDN has authored this “controversial” history almost single-handedly by making constant reference to the signifiers of what is apparently (to them) the “wrong kind of feminism,” like the oft-cited vaginas on the wall and the “rock-and-roll” culture of a board that held – gasp! – naked parties. If freshwomen are wary of the history of the Center and unsure of their place in it, the YDN is largely to blame; given the fact that the Board turns over annually, no vestige of these past events remains at the Center today, save that which the YDN interjects in their coverage of the Center. Even with regard to the latest controversy, the News went out of its way to contact past board members in the hopes of finding more controversial rhetoric than the measured response issued by current Board members. This contrived dissonance may make for spicy reading, but it’s little more than yellow journalism; the YDN actively seeks quotes furthest from the “mainstream” of campus feminists and then justifies its condescending editorials with the very discord it has fabricated.
The YDN corrects their harsh dismissal of feminists on campus by clarifying that the editorial merely “hoped to draw a distinction between the boards of past years, which contributed to that attitude [one of sectarianism], and the boards of last year and this year.” Just as the editorial board of the YDN asserted in the title of the editorial that they knew and were ready to promote the “right kind of feminism” – a claim that, by the way, the Women’s Center would be skewered for mentioning even in passing – the YDN is now continuing to openly foist that restriction on the Women’s Center by selectively praising the “kind of feminism” referenced in their most recent press releases. How about me, a self-defined feminist? How am I to fit in at the Women’s Center that, according to the News if not reflected by the Center’s actual programming, pointedly distinguishes itself from the “negative” boards of Women’s Centers past, in which I might have been welcome? Is this bastion of “normalcy” the all-inclusive center the YDN calls for? Once again, the paper shuts down women’s ability to feel offended by what offends them.
The YDN is intentionally painting a portrait of “radical feminism” as belonging to uninformed, reactionary, and laughable women, and continuing to caution impressionable lady-readers against subscribing thereto. It is unthinkable that this explicitly gendered barb shared a column with an assertion that gender-equality is basically a done deal.
The Women’s Center, even when led by the “sectarian” Boards that the YDN scorns, has always encouraged discussion. Last year, the presidents of all of the fraternities were specifically invited to the Center’s Sex at Yale talk, following the Pre-Season Scouting report incident, and DKE’s President at the time did indeed attend. Efforts to continue collaboration eventually lapsed on his end. But the YDN critically places responsibility for this flawed dialogue on women rather than on the men that actively threaten them. This is the YDN’s “apology:” “[T]hough the forum was an admirable response to utterly contemptible behavior, it should not be the last of the Center’s efforts to include more of Yale’s women, and men, in the discussion.” Has the Women’s Center not been falling all over itself to include people in discussions? How many emails do we receive concerning their dialogues? How many dialogues have YDN members initiated? How many have DKE members begun? Who reached out first for conciliation – the Women’s Center board or the DKE pledge leaders? Who has begged to talk about sexual culture for decades? Who is violating whom?
The YDN’s coup-de-grace was the blasé non-apology it offered with regard to the deliberately provocative diction that appropriately raised the loudest objections: “Without rehashing each word, we can say we regret the tone, and many of the phrases, of our News’ View.” I cannot take seriously any apology that won’t even deign to look its wrong-doing in the face. Does it make the editor in chief of the YDN uncomfortable to repeat the misogynistic words she allowed to be published just a day before? Well, that puts her in lockstep with much of her paper’s readership. But no, why should the YDN bother to correct each slur, one at a time? I’ll take it for granted that the editors understand why I feel that the tone and the phrases they used were inappropriate. After all, they understood that those phrases were inappropriate to begin with, right?
Don’t be slimy, YDN. If you aren’t sorry, don’t attempt to throw a sop to Cerberus with an empty apology. The people who were appalled by the obvious disrespect of your editorial aren’t a three-headed dog; we’re just community members distraught and offended by the ignorant flippancy with which you’ve covered this issue. You are our major outlet for campus news and opinion. We had depended on you for something better.
Annie Atura is a senior in Yale College. She is an Associate Editor of Broad Recognition.