How did the Williams community respond to the cover of the Student Telephone Directory? An op-ed piece in the Record.

Sexism flourishes

Telephone directory cover “exploitive and appalling”

The cover of this year’s student telephone directory must offend and appall anyone who considers its message. The picture which appears on the cover portrays three Williams men, apparently enjoying themselves tremendously on some sunny shore, posing for the camera with three objects in their possession: a telephone, a beach toy, and a woman. The pose of the woman, who wears a sweatshirt branded with a bold “Williams” and has her backed turned toward the camera, implies that her body and nothing else is what matters about her. We can’t even see her face to know anything about the person inhabiting the body.

That the picture exploits this woman by displaying her as an object for men is appalling enough, but that it should have found its way onto the cover of the phone directory is doubling appalling. In all likelihood, the picture was taken and chosen in good fun. That being the case cannot excuse that such “fun” is not funny, but instead perpetuates exploitive attitudes and actions toward women. It seems to imply that the college administration condones this attitude toward women, which we do not believe actually to be the case. It seem instead that soem student has misused the trust of the administration. Still, one can’t help but wonder: How could this have happened?

That it did happen shows us that, despite the admission of women to Williams, sexism flourishes here as well as it does elsewhere. At least someone at this college must still conceive of Williams as primarily a male institution in order to show such disregard for the worth and qualities of their fellow students who are women. Women are not here at Williams or anywhere else for men, but for themselves and in their own right. To have to look every day at something, our telephone directory, which so blatantly challenges that right, is unjust and unnecessary.

Antje Lewis ’87, Mike Best ’86, Wendy Brown, Lynda Bundtzen, Suzanne Burg ’87, Timothy Cook, Dave Fairris, Elaine Freedman ’87, Kathy Haas ’86, Martha Hughes ’86, Bruce Kendall ’86, Lila Abu-Lughod, Sarah McFarland, Melissa Perkins ’86, Cheryl Salem ’87, Chris Sayler ’86, Sheila Spear, Bob Volz, Mark White ’84

1) What set of facts about the students who took and selected this photo would most validate the claims made in this letter? What set of facts would most challenge those claims? What do you guess are the facts?

2) Among the non-student authors, David Fairris is now at UC Riverside; Timothy Cook passed away three years ago after moving to LSU; Wendy Brown is at Berkeley; Lila Abu-Lughod is at Columbia; Lynda Bundtzen, Bob Volz and Sarah McFarland are still at Williams.

3) Although I differ (!) in my ideological priors with these authors, I am also concerned with anything that “perpetuates exploitive attitudes and actions toward women.” I have two daughters, after all. Alas, I seem to be unable to make this point at EphBlog, at least when it comes to criticizing the behavior of male Ephs. Recall this newspaper description of the interaction between Mayo Shattuck ’76 and his wife Molly, a cheerleader (at that time) with the Baltimore Ravens.

In the Constellation Energy skybox last week, Mayo Shattuck managed to look both forlorn and delighted, switching from camcorder to digital camera to brand-new binoculars as he searched for a figure four stories down and half a football field away. He could just make out her face above a pair of churning pompoms.

“Just watch,” he said. “That smile will never come off.”

He was grinning pretty hard himself, flanked by executive buddies, some casting hopeful glances at their own wives.

My opinion is the same now as it was three years ago.

Hmmm. And what glances did those wives cast in return? The choices that Molly Shattuck makes affect more than just her own life and those of her family. Her choices affect all of us. The wives of those executives are unlikely to be cheerleader material, just as their husbands would not stand a chance at linebacker. But Molly’s choice changes the framework in which those executives think about the meaning of “wife” or, perhaps more distressingly, “second wife.”

You can be sure that some of the cheerleaders on Molly’s squad would welcome the chance to live her life, to marry a man who might provide for them in the manner in which Mayo provides for her. Those cheerleaders, many of whom did not go to college and almost all of whom went to colleges unlike those attended by Mayo’s “executive buddies,” deserve a chance at the happiness they see in Molly. Perhaps she could introduce them to some of the men in the skybox.

Placing a photo of an attractive, scantily clad woman on the cover of the student telephone directory affects, not just the students in the photo, not just the (male) students who look at that photo everyday, but the other female students in the Williams community. Mayo Shattuck, by inviting his executive buddies to the sky box to ogle his cheerleader wife affects, not just his wife and his buddies, but other women who are not a party to the event.

I wonder what Professor Lynda Bundtzen would say about Mayo Shattuck?

UPDATE:

1) Ken/Derek/Ronit and others are very critical of the authors of the op-ed piece, using terms like “simplistic and reductionist,” “ideological,” “ignorance compounded,” and “reads like a Mad Cow parody.” Why does it always fall to me to defend the left-wing members of the Williams community? ;-)

More seriously, recall our discussion about posting the glamor photo of the Princess of York. I understand why someone would say that neither photo is appropriate, that the student in charge of the phone directory should not have used that photo and that I should not have used the glamor shot. I also understand why someone (like me) would argue that both photos are fine. I can’t understand why someone would argue that this photo is fine but that posting the Tattler cover photo was somehow beyond the pale.

2) During the Princess Eugenie discussion, Ronit wrote:

It’s not a question of whether or not David had a “right” to post something, it is more about whether or not the actual content being posted is the sort of thing that we, as a community, would like to see on EphBlog. What I’m proposing is that a voting tool would allow for some measure of editorial “democracy”, such that our readers would feel like their preferences are an important part of what shapes this site.

Exactly right. This post currently has a -45 rating, which is close to a record. Would the folks who voted No have voted Yes if I had not brought up Mayo Shattuck? Are there really no/few readers who like these sorts of posts? If no one likes them, I will devote my energies elsewhere, and no hard feelings either way. Just curious.

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