I stand in the hallway of Brookdale Residence Hall, and stare at the flyer hanging on the wall across from my room. It boasts Superman in his full glory, and from afar, it seems like an innocent flyer promoting a movie. At a closer glance, though, I notice the following text surrounding the famed superhero:
Stern for housewives presents: Superman
Brought to you by the misoginistic [sic] club
Sponsored by: Put Wonder Woman back in the Kitchen Club and Tired of Women’s Rights & co.
On the wall right next to this flyer is the flyer the YU Feminists Club used to promote the screening of Wonder Woman that we hosted on September 14th. The Wonder Woman flyers were mostly removed after the event, so you could imagine my surprise when the flyer was rehung (but with a companion) right across from my dorm room.
The first emotion I felt when seeing the flyer was anger. I was angry that individuals would take the time to mock a club attempting to promote positive change on campus, especially when this change is incredibly difficult. The anger then morphed into dejection and disappointment. I was disappointed that my fellow YU students, whoever they were, could disrespect their peers by posting divisive, offensive content in the halls of our dormitories.
I debated writing this article. After the sexism and backlash the YU Feminists Club has received, I’ve attempted to save my battles for the right moments. Everything said by me and other members of the board will be heard by most of the YU community, and so we must be cautious. However, I think it’s time I speak out.
I’ve come to realize that students at YU, both male and female, imagine the president of the YU Feminists Club to be a bra-burning recluse, who despises men and wishes for the destruction of Orthodoxy. They imagine the members of our club to be antagonizing individuals, attempting to invade their safe spaces with images of a “toxic” gender equality that’s sure to ruin the traditionalism that they hold dear. But, to the surprise of most, my co-president and I are not bra-burners, and the members of our board and club do not despise men. What we are is a group of individuals dedicated to smashing the stigmas surrounding feminism. The goal of our club is to introduce the YU community to gender equality, to make them comprehend even a fraction of the struggles faced by women in the Jewish community, and the world at large. We want to open minds and hearts to the notion of institutionalized sexism, because as Malala Yousafzai once said, “We cannot all succeed when half of us are held back.”
It hasn’t been easy. Of course, I never expected it to be. When you introduce something like feminism on an overtly conservative campus, there is bound to be some criticism. There is bound to be the occasional sexist comment, or misogynistic action. But some of the events that have occurred since the start of this semester have led me to believe that there is a decency problem on this campus.
I’ve spoken about decency before. Last semester I wrote an article in the YU Observer about an incident with a gay friend of mine, and the mockery a few Stern girls made of him. I wrote about the dearth of common decency on this campus, and the lack of respect people at YU tend to have towards individuals who are different than they are. Change seems to bring out the worst in the YU populace, and that needs to change.
At the start of the semester, I posted an application for the club’s open board positions in the Facebook group, YU Marketplace. What resulted was astonishing: we received 15-17 “troll” applications, including three applications from Ben Shapiro, one from Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, and one from Robin Thicke and his passion for “blurring the lines” (meaning, when a woman says “no” she really means “yes”). Some of the applications made me laugh. I sat and marveled at all the effort and time put into submitting these troll applications, and I applaud those who made them–I was thoroughly entertained. Additionally, I received many applications which were submitted by one individual using the name of a friend, as some sort of a practical joke. Because, yes, I know, gender equality and institutionalized sexism are utterly hilarious. In all seriousness, though, I don’t believe any other club has gone through this process when searching for board members.
One application called feminism the “yetzer hara”, and one applicant wrote that he wanted to be on the board because “my shadchan told me it’s bad for my shidduch prospects, and I absolutely do not want to get married.” The stereotypes paraded in the applications appalled me; it’s no wonder women at Stern refuse to identify as feminists. Women are afraid that if they’re self-proclaimed feminists, they’ll never be able to find a husband. They’re terrified that if they stand up for their beliefs, the men at Wilf will see them as radicals threatening Orthodoxy. Who wants to date a girl who advocates for the “yetzer hara”? Who wants to date a girl who believes in empowerment to the point that she might overpower you? I have found that many Stern women feed into these stereotypes and stigmas surrounding feminism. They despise feminism; they mock it and roll their eyes at the mention of it. They demean it because they either agree with the stereotypes or don’t care enough to change them.
And that’s okay. I don’t need the support of every student in this school; I don’t even need the support of 25% of the student body. The YU Feminists Club was not started for the misogynists, but for those searching for a space to discuss gender equality without feeling judged by their peers, and to question the stigmas surrounding feminism. If an individual at this school does not agree with the notion of feminism or what the club stands for, that’s alright. I respect and support all opinions. If you know me, you know that I’ll debate with you strongly about those opinions, but at the end of the day, everyone has the right to believe what they’d like to believe. What I find utterly reprehensible, though, is the lack of decency and respect regarding beliefs of fellow students. You don’t have to like feminism, but why must you bash it? You might not agree with what we have to say, but why troll us with countless misogynistic, immature applications? Why post that flyer on the walls of our dormitory? If you’d really like to speak with me about your opinions of the club, you are more than welcome to approach me; I would be interested in an open conversation.
Trust me, I can take a joke. I know the stereotype about feminists and their lack of a sense of humor, but I will not laugh at utter incompetency. An analogy I can provide, for all the pro-Israel individuals reading this, is as follows: imagine if Jewish students at City College posted a flyer for a pro-Israel event that they are hosting on campus. They return the next day to discover another flyer hanging next to theirs, reading:
CCNY for BDS presents: Apartheid
Brought to you by the Anti-Israel Club
Sponsored by: Put Jews back in Europe club, and Tired of Israel’s Rights to Exist and co.
If any of us saw this flyer, we’d be enraged. Why must these individuals mock and degrade the right of Jewish CCNY students to host a pro-Israel event? They don’t need to be Zionists, but why go this far? You might have someone tell you they meant it as a joke, and they were simply trolling the club, but you know better. You know that this is a blatant act of anti-Semitism.
It’s not much different with the Superman flyer. When I saw the flyer, I didn’t laugh. Sexism isn’t funny in my eyes. Sexism, like anti-Semitism, is dangerous and chilling. The flyer was idiotic, because it served no purpose but to dishearten feminists at this university.
All we, as members of the YU Feminists Club, wish to do is empower Jewish women (and men) to take control of their lives, and be leaders of their destinies. We want to encourage bold career choices, and the breaking of gender norms, to create a better, more equal society. At the Wonder Woman event, we didn’t sit in a circle and practice witchcraft, nor did we create voodoo dolls of men we dislike. All we did was watch a movie of female empowerment, and revel in the beauty and strength of Israeli superstar, Gal Gadot.
All we want is respect. All we’d like is the same decency granted to the Israel Club, the Pre-Law Society, and Active Minds. We’d like to be treated as any other club would like to be treated at this school.
We have a lot of work to do to get to that point. We cannot progress as a university if a club such as ours is sneered at by individuals when we attend the Beren Club Fair, or mocked by members of the university on Facebook. We cannot move forward if we are afraid to attend the Wilf Club Fair, because we’d be hated on by the men uptown.
This university has a responsibility. We have the responsibility of maintaining a moral high ground. We are a university of Jews, and we must make all Jews feel welcome. We must make all students in this school feel like they are being respected. The administration must condemn acts of sexism and misogyny that have recently run rampant at YU. We cannot advance, as a people or a school, without looking at ourselves and fixing our ingrained prejudices. Just because we’re feminists, doesn’t mean we’re not human.