Propagating sexism has consequences

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Ms. CMU, a new organization on campus, held a “Who Needs Feminism?” campaign at the Fence last week. Its efforts are part of a larger campaign that first started at Duke University in April and spread like wildfire thanks to Facebook and Tumblr.

The campaign consists of individuals holding up signs outlining the basic reasons why they are feminists; it’s a “PR” campaign for feminism, to show people all the reasons why feminism is still necessary. Ms. CMU’s members were trying to get Carnegie Mellon students to do the same. The one time I walked past them at the Fence last week, they were clutching a small whiteboard, calling out, “Come tell us why you need feminism!” Alas, even though there were plenty of people walking past them, I didn’t see anyone stop.

It’s unfortunate, because Carnegie Mellon could use more feminism. There’s still plenty of sexism pervasive on campus, a prime example being an incident with the Fence a few weeks ago. Some Hamerschlag residents decided to paint, “McGill, I could use a sandwich...” on the Fence. On an ensuing conversation on The Tartan’s Facebook page, many students defended it as “just a joke,” dismissing those who found it offensive as being overly sensitive and humorless.

Consider this: Sandwich jokes and other similarly sexist jokes reinforce the stereotypes within our culture that women are inferior and subservient to men.

You may say “So what?” but those stereotypes have quantitative consequences. Studies have shown that, when members of groups believed to be academically inferior — African-American or Latino students, or women in math and sciences — are reminded of their race or gender right before taking a test, they will get lower scores than they would if they weren’t reminded of such stereotyped qualities. It’s a phenomenon dubbed “stereotype threat,” and considering the size of the math and science programs here, reinforcing these stereotypes is detrimental for women in those majors.

Even the administration could use a strong dose of feminism. All of the deans of our university’s seven different colleges are male, and women only make up a little under 30 percent of the top administrators at Carnegie Mellon.

But gender issues aren’t limited to underperformance or underrepresentation in leadership roles. They expand into far more dangerous territory. A 2009 report from the Center for Public Integrity indicated that more than 20 percent of college women will be a victim of rape or attempted rape by the time they leave college, but a later investigation that the Center conducted found that “on many campuses, abusive students face little more than slaps on the wrist.”

Only 12 percent of students found “responsible” for rape are expelled, while the rest merely receive practically negligible punishments — one student accused of rape was found guilty of “sexual contact” and was suspended for the following semester, which was a summer semester during which he would not have been taking classes anyway. And considering that over half of assaults nationwide go unreported, there are probably many unreported assaults that allow the attackers to go without punishment.

You might think Carnegie Mellon is an “elite” school, and thus would be immune to such issues. But just because we don’t have public conversations about assault on this campus, that doesn’t mean assault doesn’t happen. I know women who have been stalked and harassed by Carnegie Mellon men. I’ve personally been assaulted by another Carnegie Mellon student.

Feminism gives us the space, the vocabulary, and the strength to address each of these issues head-on. It’s personally given me the confidence and ability to overcome the issues I’ve faced.

I think Carnegie Mellon needs feminism. Do you?