Recently, the Women’s Center Club has experienced an act of censorship and sexism on our campus. The Women’s Center Club is an organization on campus that serves to educate the campus community about a variety of women’s issues. Unfortunately, we have recently discovered that we have some limits as to what we can provide as educational opportunities about women’s issues to our campus community.
Apparently, we are only allowed to fight and advocate for women’s equality as long as it’s within the bubble that we live in on this campus. Apparently, we’re not allowed to challenge the social norms that oppress women both on and off campus. Apparently, we’re not allowed to reclaim words that were previously deemed as offensive and use them to empower ourselves. And finally, apparently, we’re not allowed to empower women on campus.
The Women’s Center Club wanted to invite a spoken word performance duo to campus titled, “Pussies, Pens, and Politics.” This duo consisted of two queer, feminist women of color from Philadelphia who perform about a variety of issues affecting women from all walks of life. We have been advertising this event on our calendar since the beginning of the semester through a variety of departments, offices and clubs, without one single complaint.
When we put through a request to take money from our account, a representative from the SSI Office called Dr. Bricketto to complain. After a series of emails, our request to take OUR money out of OUR account was denied by Dr. Bricketto, because the word “pussy” is “offensive to women”.
We have tried to explain to him that yes, in some contexts, the word pussy is offensive. However, it is important to consider the context of this program, as we are not using it in an offensive manner. Many branches of the feminist movement have taken back words previously deemed as offensive, similar to the identity of “queer” in the LGBT movement. Reclaiming words serves as a source of empowerment for victims of oppression because it involves taking something branded on them by their oppressor, and twisting it. This takes away the word’s insult and shock value, utilizing it within a movement as a term that empowers rather than oppresses.
Despite these explanations, Dr. Bricketto still refused to sign for the check unless we picked one of the following options: that we ask the performers to change their name, that we have our program approved by SGA or that we hold an emergency Campus Climate Intervention Team meeting to have our program approved.
Dr. Bricketto backed us up against a wall. My executive board members and I had nowhere to go, and since we refused to abide by his disempowering options to both us as student leaders and as women, and to the performers themselves, we were forced to cancel the performance.
The Women’s Center Club executive board and I have refused to ask these women to rename their performance. That would be like asking a band to rename themselves because the name is “offensive.” It is simply uncalled for, unheard of, and insulting beyond belief. In this context, it is even more insulting, because this request is sexist and disempowering to these performers who have clearly reclaimed this word for a reason: because it is empowering to them. To ask them to rename their performance for our university would go against our mission statement and everything that we fight for. Moreover, it takes away our power to decide which words we want to use and embrace as women with feminist values.
Nor do we feel that it is fair to be forced to go in front of SGA and defend our program. No other organization is required to do this, so why is it being asked of us? You cannot declare that only certain programs are to be approved by SGA – it is either every program gets approved by SGA, or none at all.
Finally, we refuse to put our advisor in a position of discomfort by asking her to go in front of the Campus Climate Intervention Team and address her colleagues, friends and bosses about why this program has the opportunity to be empowering for the women on campus. That is unfair to put her in such a position.
The individuals that were putting together this program – the Women’s Center, the Women’s Center Club, LGBTQA, and the Women’s Studies Program – study sexism and gender for a living. We are passionate about eradicating all forms of oppression that prevent us from achieving equality. To have somebody sit there and assume that he knows more about the consequences of this performance than we do is unbelievable. Do you not think we have considered all angles of this decision?
Men can most certainly be feminists and allies to our movement; we appreciate and value these men more than words can express. Dr. Bricketto is being neither right now. How dare he suggest, indicate, or even hint at that we don’t know how this may be oppressive? This is just my opinion, but I think the Women’s Center Club would know a little bit about sexism. I know, I know, – it’s such a radical notion! Who would have ever guessed that an organization that works to advocate for women might know what sexism is like?
Hypocrisy is really a phenomenal thing. If you really want to control funds that are oppressing women on campus, how about we take a look at the “Ram This” apparel in the bookstore? Especially the booty shorts that are clearly made for women, with “Ram This” on the back of the shorts. That’s pretty oppressive to me – and I know that I’m not alone in that opinion – yet funds are going to that.
The hypocrisy continues. Part of the university’s mission statement declares, “The University supports and encourages programs which benefit all people and which seek to eradicate discrimination and injustice.” Interesting. We’re trying to bring a program to campus that does just that, yet we’ve been denied.
I feel stripped of my identity on campus, I feel unrecognized, and I feel devalued. I feel disempowered as a student leader, and my desire to engage in the campus community has shrunk tremendously. Why should I be involved in a community that is not going to hear my opinions, my thoughts, or value my feelings and experiences? I feel silenced and invisible.
I am now utterly ashamed to be a part of this university. You pride yourselves so much on your acceptance of all individuals and appreciation of diversity. Clearly, you do not know what these terms of “acceptance” and “diversity” mean. Here’s an idea: get a dictionary, and look it up.
I hope this is a wake-up call, administrators. This is what you are making your students feel. Congratulations.
Sue Denim is a student at West Chester University.