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Today someone brought Heather Mac Donald’s article Sisterhood and the SEALs: How can women join special forces when they can’t even handle frat-boy pranks? to my attention. Do forgive me if I’m misinterpreting something, but as far as I can tell, Mac Donald’s argument is that the feminist response to the sexist and rapey behavior of Yale frats (“No means yes, yes means anal,” etc.) deems women unfit to serve in the special forces. To boil that down further, Mac Donald seems to suggest that fighting rape culture at Yale proves that women are too, well, “hysterical,” to become Navy SEALs.
Mac Donald’s piece is a response to Anna Holmes’ column in the Washington Post arguing that the ban on women in the special forces be overturned. Anna Holmes’ discussed the realities of overturning such a ban. There are legitimate issues to consider, including both the stigma and taboo against the idea of women serving (and possibly coming home in body bags) and the fact that male and female bodies have differences that affect physical performance. She does not, however, mention the Yale controversy. In fact, it’s difficult, even after reading Mac Donald’s piece, to see the two issues as related.
Mac Donald clearly does not agree with or approve of the federal civil rights complaint filed this March by 16 Yale students and recent alumni arguing that the rape culture at Yale (as demonstrated by recent events) constitutes a violation of Title IX. But her attempt to use this example to demonstrate how women are not worthy of becoming Navy SEALs is just ridiculous. She reasons that members of the special forces must have mental stamina, aka the “fortitude to withstand threats, verbal and physical abuse.” Apparently, the feminist reaction to rape culture at Yale proves that women are unable to do so. Mac Donald writes: “Anna Holmes claims that women are fully capable of the self-abnegating warrior ethos, willing to bear up stoically under crushing physical and mental adversity. The Yale fiasco suggests otherwise.”
If I’m following Mac Donald’s logic to its end, it would seem to suggest that if women want to serve, they should shut up and suffer through direct woman-hating, rape-encouraging demonstrations in order to prove they have the “mental fortitude” to withstand the sort of verbal and physical abuse that occurs in the military? That’s just all kinds of wrong.
As Mac Donald divulges midway through the article, she is a graduate of Yale and clearly has personal issues with what’s going on there. Her love for her alma matter comes through, and though it is sortof sweet, it presents a clear bias through which she interprets this issue.
I graduated from the college in 1978. If ever there were a trace of sexism there, it should have been in that first decade of coeducation, before the rise of an increasingly feminist-dominated bureaucracy and professoriate. Not once, however, did I receive anything other than full encouragement from my teachers and the other adults in authority. Since then, the college has added a seemingly endless number of administrative offices, faculty and student organizations, working groups, and academic programs explicitly dedicated to the advancement of women and so-called women’s issues. The idea that Yale could have become less female-welcoming than in the 1970s is preposterous.
In more than one way, Mac Donald misses the point. The offenses of the Yale frats are offensive because they promote and support rape culture. Rape culture exists as strong today as it did in the 1970s, regardless of how far women have advanced professionally. The two are not one in the same. And Mac Donald’s personal experience at Yale, however charming, is completely irrelevant to the matter at hand.
Mac Donald clearly sees the fight against rape culture at Yale as an overreaction, which is certainly a valid opinion. However, the snarky and patronizing way she describes this so-called overreaction is outright insulting to feminism, feminists, and anyone who has ever been personally hurt by rape or rape culture. Here is a sample of the language she uses (emphasis added):
Not only has the rise of women to positions of power and control in American society not dented feminist irrationality, it seems to have exacerbated that irrationality.
But according to the Yale 16 and their supporters, female students simply cannot take full advantage of the peerless collection of early twentieth-century German periodicals at Sterling Library, say, or the DNA sequencing labs on Science Hill, because a few frat boys acted tastelessly. Thus the need to go crying to the feds to protect you from the big, bad Yale patriarchy. Time to bring on the smelling salts and the society doctors peddling cures for vapors and neurasthenia.
But the basic principle of feminist domination is: “If we use crude, sexualized language, it’s ‘strong women celebrating their strong bodies.’ When a hapless man uses such language, it’s ‘crippling assault and harassment.’”
One might also legitimately object to the frat chants as unchivalrous and disrespectful of female modesty—in another universe. For feminists, however, the moribund concept of female modesty is just another sexist oppression designed to keep women down—except when we want to take offense and claim to be wounded by being treated as the sexual objects that we present ourselves as.
If Yale really were the “hostile learning environment” that the complainants allege, girls would be shunning the college for the numerous alternatives available to them. Instead, alumni mothers who have been through the alleged gauntlet of Yale sexism inexplicably pull every string they can to get their daughters into a place that, according to the complainants, will prevent them from getting a full education.
The Yale legal action is a stunning example of the fevered unreality of modern feminism, desperate to assert victimhood, thin-skinned to the point of hysteria.
I hate to burst anyone’s bubble, but this type of language (“hysteria,” “irrationality,” “fevered unreality”) is northing more than the old-fashioned anti-feminism of someone who thinks that women should not only be banned from serving in the military, but should accept the “boys will be boys” answer to rape culture and sexual aggression.
Call me crazy, but I believe that fighting rape culture on college campuses is a good thing. I also believe it has absolutely no bearing on the discussion of whether women should serve in the special forces. Unless, of course, we’re talking about the high rates of sexual assault that occur in the military, not to mention how cases are handled and the healthcare (including abortions) withheld from servicewomen who are raped by fellow service members in active duty. But using the fight against rape culture on a college campus to demonstrate women’s lack of “mental fortitude” to serve in the military is illogical and highly offensive, especially to the dedicated and sacrificing servicewomen we honored yesterday on Memorial Day.