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The Politics Of Feminism

Elizabeth Einaudi

By Kathleen I. Kouril

Elizabeth Einaudi, 1983 class marshall and Leverett House senior, says the best thing about her Harvard experience has been concentrating in History and Science. "It's been a haven," she explains, "a way to explore those things on the margin between science and society. It's a discipline which I think will help me to synthesize a whole variety of facts and influences in later life."

Einaudi's choice for the number-one part of her Harvard career might surprise some people on campus. She is, after all, the premier feminist of her class, a mover and shaker par excellence. What about the "Take Back the Night" march for women's security, the push for women's studies on campus, the campaign for tenured women faculty, the fight against sexual harassment, the year as president of the Radcliffe Union of Students?

Clearly these experience have been a very important part of Einaudi's four years at Harvard. Feminism, she says, is "an all-consuming passion," but it has also been the cause of some of her most frustrating moments here. "The intense pressure to perform at Harvard has consistently hindered women's political work," she says. "It's so divisive. It's impossible for women to unite for common goals, to get a sense of how they can combat sexism at this institution, when they're forced to spend so much of their time struggling to live up to that Harvard stereotype. It's a spectre hovering before our eyes, and none of us can fulfill it or counteract it."

Einaudi, who is from Bethesda, Md., has a mother in law school and a father who works for the State Department. It's not surprising that she's spent her time here involved in the politics of women's rights. Though Einaudi says she arrived "very open to new things, with no defined goals," she was attracted to Harvard by the implication of a female support network through Radcliffe that was important to me."

Once here, however, Einaudi discovered that though there was a "supportive niche for women" there was "no Radcliffe presence at all and a lot to be done." Alarmed by the frightening statistics on violence against women in the area, she created Students Organized for Security, a program to provide volunteer escorts for students wary of walking from libraries to dorms late at night. She also helped lead the first "Take Back the Night" march, an annual demonstration calling for better protection for women in general. Through SOS and the marches, Einaudi and other students put the issue of student security on the administration's agenda. The University responded by creating the College Security Committee, a group of administrators and students who have published pamphlets on rape and security awareness and issued recommendations on issues such as lighting on campus and shuttle-bus scheduling.

With the security issue in competent hands, Einaudi found herself being pressured as a sophomore to run for the presidency of the Radcliffe Union of Students. Preferring to work behind the scenes, Einaudi decided to run for the vice-presidency. She won that office but became chief executive only a few days later when the newly-elected president decided to take a leave of absence. She immediately found herself in the midst of an angry controversy about whether or not RUS had a right to exist. The issue had been raised in 1979, when the now-defunct Committee on Housing and Undergraduate Life (CHUL) voted to revoke RUS's right to its financial lifeblood, the $5 term bill fee charged to every woman undergraduate at that time. Radcliffe President Matina Horner rejected the CHUL vote, forcing a confrontation.

Einaudi points out that in a campus-wide poll at that time, female undergraduates indicated overwhelmingly that they wanted to keep RUS. The organization survived and remains an important symbol and resource for many women at Harvard. Under Einaudi's leadership, RUS began to take a more active role in promoting women's issues and did much to dispel the two negative images which had plagued the group for some years. As Einaudi puts it, "We were neither radical lesbians nor preppy tea-party girls. We were serious about real issues."

Women's studies, hiring practices, sexual harassment--all have been addressed by RUS during Einaudi's tenure. Yet she feels that too much emphasis has been put on two recent publicized instances of harassment. "What about sexist language in course descriptions and materials? What about inappropriate slides being shown in certain classes? What about an attitude, in general, which makes the women in a class uncomfortable?" she asks.

Einaudi is very pleased with Dean Rosvosky's recent letter to the Harvard Community on sexual harassment: "He actually placed the blanks where it belongs--on the instructors, not on the victims." Nevertheless, she says many women at Harvard are harassed and don't speak up.

Citing the generally cooperative attitude of Harvard and Radcliffe administrators with whom she's had dealings. Einaudi nevertheless laments that, "Administrators at Harvard don't have a sense of where they want to be in 10 years in terms of improving the status of women on campus." Radcliffe, meanwhile, "has to decide what its goals are in terms of undergraduate education."

"Someone me, described the relationship between Harvard and Radcliffe to me," says Einaudi, "and likened it to that of a divorced couple squabbling over who has a right to the kids. I think that's pretty apt."

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