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Replace This Paradigm

Kelly Garcia writes:

What is the goal of the Women’s Center?

I went to one of their meetings to ask. I was told that our society was built around male ejaculation. They told me it was their goal to replace this paradigm with something better. Confused, I asked for clarification. They told me to take a course on women’s studies and refused to clarify further. Considering how uncomfortable I was as the only man in a room with at least a dozen feminist women, I don’t think I’m brave or stupid enough to put myself in a similar academic setting.

The Women’s Center appears to me to define dialog as a willingness on the part of their opponents to consider that their positions are wrong and that the Women’s Center is right. I commend that. But I’ve seen no signs that the Women’s Center as a whole is willing to seriously and publicly question its own fundamental tenets. They accuse others of being close-minded but give no evidence of themselves as being genuinely open-minded on the issues.

Again, the key distinction is between the Women’s Center (a Williams College administrative unit that should be maximally inclusive and not ideologically driven) and the Women’s Collective (a Williams student group with whatever ideological views its members happen to hold). I, like all good Ephs, celebrate the existence of the Women’s Collective, even though I find their views absurd. The greater the diversity of voices in the Eph conversation, the better. The problem comes when that particular view controls the Women’s Center.

One of the reasons that a Women’s Center is a bad idea is because women who disagree with the views of the Women’s Collective think that a Women’s Center is unnecessary and, therefore, don’t bother with it.

UPDATE: Andrew Goldston ’09 has further thoughts and a great quote.

Perhaps a good analogy would be if Williams had a “Poltics Center” instead of a “Women’s Center.” Now, one can imagine a case for a Politics Center, an administrative unit of the college with dedicated space and staff (perhaps just a CLC assigned to it, perhaps something more permanent). Such a Center would, to fulfill its mission, have to be non-ideological. It would need to represent all points of view, invite speakers with different perspectives and so on. If, for whatever reason, a Politics Center became indistinguishable from College Democrats, than that would indicate that Williams does not need such a center as an administrative unit of the College.

Similarly, a Women’s Center that actually did the same (non-ideological, events from all view points) might be good idea. But here, in the real world, such a Women’s Center is impossible because Williams women who do not subscribe to the viewpoint of the Women’s Collective think that the whole idea of a Women’s Center is stupid. So, they don’t participate. So, all the events are leftist (or use whatever ideological terminology you like). Certainly, there has been no attempt to, say, invite Wendy Shalit ’97 to campus.

A Women’s Center is a bad idea. With luck, it will whither away in due course. But long live the Women’s Collective! The more active student groups there are on campus, whether or not you agree with their point of view, the better.

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#1 Comment By Anonymous On April 10, 2007 @ 9:45 am

They could have solved a lot of problems if they’d called themselves the Williams Feminist Society or something. That being said, I don’t have a problem with the name “Women’s Center.” One organization cannot possibly represent 50% of the people on this campus–and I don’t think they should be trying, either. Does the BSU represent the views of every black person on campus?

P.S. Note Ruth Aronoff’s extremely generous response to Roy Garcia: “I’m very sorry if Roy came away with answers to his questions that are in conflict with the views of the members of the Women’s Collective. (The notion, for instance, that society is based on male ejaculation is not a belief held by the Collective.)”

#2 Comment By hwc On April 10, 2007 @ 12:22 pm

What a hoot! The WSO thread David linked is almost entirely Williams men disapproving of the Williams Women’s Center. Now there’s a surprise!

#3 Comment By hwc On April 10, 2007 @ 12:31 pm

BTW, if these men were smart, they’d stop yanging about the Women’s Center and form a Men’s Center to explore why young men are getting their butts kicked by the ladies in college admissions, to the point where most elite colleges have to give an affirmative action boost to men just to enroll equal numbers.

Poor things, they probably don’t even see the problem.

#4 Comment By Andrew On April 10, 2007 @ 12:31 pm

David,

First, thanks for the link =D

With that out of the way…after giving it some thought, I have a problem with your argument here, though in the past I’ve made similar arguments:

Perhaps a good analogy would be if Williams had a “Poltics Center” instead of a “Women’s Center.” Now, one can imagine a case for a Politics Center, an administrative unit of the college with dedicated space and staff (perhaps just a CLC assigned to it, perhaps something more permanent). Such a Center would, to fulfill its mission, have to be non-ideological. It would need to represent all points of view, invite speakers with different perspectives and so on. If, for whatever reason, a Politics Center became indistinguishable from College Democrats, than that would indicate that Williams does not need such a center as an administrative unit of the College.

Your use of politics as an example here strikes a chord with me, and changes the way I look at the situation. Thanks for that!

The logic that a Politics Center that adopts positions on certain issues is necessarily ideological to the point of partisan participation is false. NYU Law’s Brennan Center is staunchly good-government and pro-ethics, which means they wind up sounding off on a lot of the same talking points as reform-Democrats in NY state politics. But the Brennan Center is hardly an arm of the Democratic Party, or any other NY progressive organization.

I guess what I’m saying is that there is an appropriate middle ground for a Politics Center and, indeed, the Women’s Center. It should not become a mouthpiece for a stock liberation feminist agenda, but it shouldn’t be a neutered (no pun intended, I swear) sponsor of “fair and balanced” panel talks, either. It’s free to try and find the appropriate middle ground, analogous to a Politics Center’s non-partisan embrace of good governance and government reform issues (which happen to be issues adopted overwhelmingly by progressive Dems and rejected by some old-guard NY Dems and most NY Republicans).

Now, all that said, I’m not at all saying they’ve done a good job hitting that middle ground so far, but we’ll see what happens as we get more data.

#5 Comment By Andrew On April 10, 2007 @ 12:35 pm

Anonymous: the Women’s Center is not analogous to BSU, because the BSU is a student org, and the Women’s Center is an arm of the College, at least in theory.

And yeah, Aronoff is really generous. Roy Garcia sort of exists to piss people off, and articulate his critiques in a, err, less-than-useful manner. I wouldn’t have given him a straight response in her position. So kudos to her for being a better person than me =D