Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Patriarchy 101

Hello everyone who finds their way here.

The following was written over the course of the past two days, in response to the Yale chapter of the fraternity DKE chanting "no means yes, yes means anal" on our campus last Wednesday evening. I have received SO much support from people near and far regarding my thoughts, and also many suggestions as to how to make my thoughts available to a wider community. Please feel free to use this however you think it might be best used-- in your classrooms, in your communities, between friends, between students! And link away...


October 18, 2010

I am a 2nd year PhD student in the American Studies program here at Yale, and as such, I’ve been following the DKE chant story with more than just passing interest. Though I was out of town and not able to attend the meeting held last Friday afternoon, I was anxious to hear how the Deans would handle the act and what disciplinary actions would be taken against the students, both those who chanted and those who instigated them into doing so.

I’m not writing to debate whether or not yelling “no means yes, yes means anal” is or is not misogynistic. There is no amount of “dialogue” that is going to convince me that it is not misogynistic, that it doesn’t blatantly espouse or at the very least condone acts of violence against women’s bodies and lives. No amount of “conversation,” whether face-to-face or through the comments threads in the Yale Daily News’s coverage of the story will change my mind about that. Furthermore, it bothers me acutely to think somehow that DKE should only be apologizing to the Women’s Center, and not to everyone, male or female. Rape is not a gender or heterosexual-exclusive phenomenon. Nor am I at all interested in debating the relative merits or demerits of the Women’s Center—I am not involved with the Women’s Center and so cannot speak to their political beliefs, but neither am I very certain that my own beliefs would diverge much, if at all, with those of the Women’s Center’s members and participants. I admit unapologetically that I am a feminist.

With that in mind, I write to express dismay over the disciplinary actions that have been deemed appropriate to DKE’s act. In all of the debate over how this “incident” should be handled, no one has raised the possibility that we have directly played into DKE’s larger program. First, DKE was well aware that they were being “provocative,” since they attempted to defray blame onto another fraternity while chanting. Second, this act was part of a longer history of similar things that have happened on the Yale campus, which were likewise responded to with “disciplinary” action. Those previous disciplinary actions must surely have been considered by DKE.

Given the proof of precedent and awareness, it appears to me that DKE considered those repercussions before the chanting began, knowing that the effects would not be so dire as to constitute a reason to mitigate their actions. I am unwilling to take the stance that these are just stupid boys who didn’t realize what they were doing, or that somehow we, as a campus, need to bring DKE into the fray of what I would hope is a larger culture of sensitivity about rape in the Yale community. Rather, I am crediting DKE with, ironically, more credit than many here—that this was a carefully considered act that strategically and willfully contributed to their larger purpose as a fraternity.

The only aim these “disciplinary” measures have achieved is to inculcate into the fraternity members’ lives the tools its members know they need to navigate through and around accountability. I sincerely believe that DKE knew exactly what they were doing, and the only thing we have achieved in calling for their accountability and for “dialogue” is to further their patriarchal project by teaching them first-hand how to get around accountability. This is how patriarchy perpetuates itself; it is how it functions at the most basic level. If these are our future leaders, what better way to “haze” and hail these young men into patriarchy than to force them to deal, first-hand, with the ways our culture requires only half-measures and shallow, conciliatory shows of contrition that do absolutely nothing except strengthen their understanding and ability to use the rhetoric of accountability that so often passes as “discipline”? In other words, I fundamentally and absolutely believe that DKE knew it would be held “accountable” for its actions, and that these young men knew and know that “getting away with it,” as they say, is part of learning how to be a successful member of the patriarchy. Witness, for example, the ridiculously transparent public apology on behalf of the entire fraternity that has been allowed to stand in for individual apologies by those actually involved.

The Deans have done nothing except give these boys a firm lesson in how to appear apologetic without doing a single thing to actually stop or reassess the ways larger systems of abuse, violence, misogyny, and patriarchy function in our society. While it is true that we do not know the exact extent of their “punishment” given confidentiality clauses in Yale’s policies, I am confident that I speak for many when I express skepticism that the disciplinary actions taken are appropriate to the egregious behavior of these boys.

Yale Daily News’s official response to this “incident” is equally egregious, and they should be held accountable as well (see “News’ View: The right kind of feminism,” October 18, 2010). The editors and staff have simply used DKE’s act as another opportunity to bash the Women’s Center, scapegoating the people who are attempting to treat this as an opportunity to discuss the real sexual climate at Yale as a bunch of “histrionic” women whose political beliefs are out of touch with the majority of women students here. The Women’s Center has become the center of this controversy, with an undue burden placed on them to account for their beliefs. This farce of “dialogue” has shifted attention away from what we should all be focusing on—the actually chants and the behavior of the DKE pledges and members. My support goes out to the Women’s Center members, who have been forced to take a “measured” response to this event out of fear of further reprisals and the fear that they will “alienate” women who are unwilling or afraid to speak from a place of depth or experience about what rape and the threat of rape means in their lives.

Thankfully, I am not in the same position as the Women’s Center members. And yet I have no doubt that my thoughts about this will be met with claims that I’m hatching some kind of conspiracy theory or that I’m being unduly “accusatory.” Yes, I am. I am accusing these young men of constructing a ritual rite-of-passage that interpellates them into patriarchy by strengthening their “bonds of brotherhood,” and that it amounts to little more than another “boys club” of privilege and power. Indeed, I am a 31 year old woman, with a son who will turn 11 in a month. Most of the young men of DKE are closer to my son’s age than mine, and perhaps that accounts in part for my visceral reaction to their chants. I fear that I still live in a world where a “boys will be boys” attitude prevails. But I cannot let my personal convictions overshadow the fact that my visceral response goes far deeper than that—that I personally find “no means yes, yes means anal” threatening and intimidating. How much worse for the students forced to live in close proximity with these young men? What about the young men who find this threatening and intimidating as well, and who cannot speak out about it for fear of retaliation against them?

This is not just an undergrad issue. This is not something that the Women’s Center should be held accountable for, and they should not be unfairly placed in the position where they need to speak for the entire campus. There are faculty members, staff members, and an enormous body of graduate students who need to stand up and show solidarity with the undergrad students responding to DKE’s chants. This does not just affect the small number of students living in the college around Old Campus. This affects all of us. I am not, let me be clear, suggesting that there is no place for “dialogue” and “conversation” about rape and misogyny. But to treat dialogue and conversation as an appropriate response and as “disciplinary action” after the fact is not only irresponsible, it is utterly inept.

This is Yale, and it is a powerful institution with a powerful chapter of DKE. These are young men who in many cases come from a place of power and privilege, and their power and privilege have just been shored up indefinitely. All I see here are our “future leaders” experiencing first hand lessons in how to manipulate the system to their own benefit.

DKE knew that. Shame on them.

But shame on us for being duped into helping them along.

Michelle Morgan

Graduate Student, American Studies, Yale University


  1. Michelle,
    Thank you for writing this and for posting it publicly. Let's NOT be duped -- again and again -- by the likes of these 'men'.

  2. Well, that was fast:


  3. I am so proud to know you! Thank you for saying this and posting it where it can be more widely shared. You are one phenomenal woman and I am honored to count you as family!

  4. Very very well done! You give me hope that feminism is not dead. Thank you for pointing out so eloquently the basic underlying crux of the problem- the patriarchy that winks and nods and deflects the blame back to the victim.
    Blessings on you!

  5. @proudmilitarymom: no, feminism is NOT dead. thanks for your kind words.

  6. Thanks for this post! This seems to be another in a too long series of incidents in which feminists are condemned for being out of touch and unable to "take a joke." I wonder whether the chanting students would find "no means yes, yes means anal" equally funny if they were incarcerated in a US prison where, as Human Rights Watch and other human rights organizations have pointed out, rape is endemic. Mind you, I hope this never happens to them, but I wonder if the chant would have a changed meaning for them in those circumstances.

  7. Brilliant. Thank you for this.

  8. Wow -- compelling, rational, and incredibly insightful. Please promise to add to the canon of American social thought. American -- and Western -- culture will benefit.

  9. Brilliant and important, Michelle.

    --Robin Bernstein

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  11. Right on Sister! A student at Wayne Law in Detroit standing in solidarity. This should not pass in vain. Thank you for refusing to let it.