The Right Kind of Progressivism

Feminism's battles are not yet won

About two weeks ago, the Yale fraternity Delta Kappa Epsilon offended many members of the campus community with a cheer that included the following: “No means yes, yes means anal.” The ensuing backlash was further enflamed by a Yale Daily News editorial, which criticized the Yale Women’s Center for its “overreaction” to the incident as well as its history of radicalism. The Yale Daily News has since issued an editor’s note and clarified its original statement. However, the editorial’s original message, that Yale’s progressive campus environment diminishes the need for radical feminist voices, is symptomatic of a problematic view in our society that feminism is a nearly finished cause.

First, jokes about the quality of Yale’s education aside, Yale and other institutions of higher education inculcate the ideals and morals of the next generation of American leaders; campus environmental norms and values become national ones. Thus, such institutions must be held to a higher standard. The “boys will be boys” attitude expressed in the YDN editorial is unacceptable. After they graduate, these boys will go on to represent Yale, and perceived expressions of sexual violence should not be part of Yale’s legacy.

More insidiously, the editorial alleges that the radicalism of the Yale Women’s Center is unnecessary on such a “progressive campus” and fails to represent the interests of the typical Yale female. But Yale’s campus liberalism does not eliminate the need for feminism. Regardless of the battles already won, there will always be a need for radical voices on college campuses to monitor the campus climate. The purpose of organizations that represent marginalized peoples is not to appease the masses. Rather, by pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable and responding to offensive behavior such as the DKE incident, the Yale Women’s Center creates dialogues and environments more accepting for the average Yale women. Indeed, it is through the radicalism of the Yale Women’s Center that the “average women” who are discussed by the editorial are able to lead more equal lives. The article’s idea that the Women’s Center fails to represent the best interests of Yale’s women misses the important role of such organizations.

Still, the problematic attitude that the battle for feminism and gender equality has already been won is hardly a problem exclusive to Yale. Sentiments similar to those expressed in the editorial that “all of us agree on gender equality” and thus that feminists have fewer legitimate battles to fight are sadly all too common in our society. The end of progressivism, and indeed of progress itself, is the result of silencing progressive voices through the assertion that society is acceptably equal.

It should be unnecessary to point out that facts still prove gender equality is not the norm. The persistence of gender income disparities demonstrates that society still does not value women’s abilities as much as their male peers. Further, despite the fraternity’s intent of humor, as Jeff Gordon, president of the Yale College Council, pointed out in a response article in the YDN, campuses across the country, including Yale, are no strangers to “sexual violence.” Nationally, domestic violence and abusive relationships still disproportionately affect women. These phenomena are not to be taken lightly. Jokes about rape are not acceptable, and their existence is proof that women’s bodies, even at Yale, are still not fully respected.

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