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Haste To Be Offended

This post concludes our trip down archive lane, exploring the controversy over the photo on the cover of the Student Telephone Directory in the fall of 1985 using Record coverage from September 17 and 24. Previous posts (1, 2, 3 and 4); on-line Record archive; and key pages (first and second).

To The Editor:

As the advertising editors of this year’s Williams Student Directory, we would like respond briefly to the “Sexism Flourishes” article in last week’s Record. We have no desire to offend anyone nor do we wish to draw this issue out in long debates in the Record as occured once last year. Though we too may question certain aspects of the cover scene, we do hasten to point out that it is the cover designer herself who is portrayed in the photograph and she alone who submitted the cover design.

David Bassett ’87
Rodolfo Ford III ’87
Kenneth Jones ’87

I love it! The woman pictured in the photo selected it for the cover herself. Do you think that Professor Lynda Bundtzen and her co-authors expected that? Recall their complaint:

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.

But if the woman herself chose (and staged?) the picture can she really have meant to imply “that her body and nothing else is what matters about her?” Excellent question! Barring false consciousness — perhaps a more popular concept in the 80’s at Williams than it is today — the woman could not (?) have meant that. Yet it seems reasonable for Bundtzen et al. to believe then, and believe now, that the effect of the image, whatever the intentions of its creator, would be pernicious. Since none of the authors that I have tried to contact, nor the current Women’s Collective at Williams, seem interested in returning my e-mails, we may never know their positions.

The last letter is the one most similar in tone to my own writing at EphBlog.

To The Editor:

Antje Lewis and her friends, in their haste to be offended and appalled at something this year, decided to focus their attention on the phone directory but they made some errors in their interpretation of the cover photo. The picture portrays three men (how she conclusively identified them as Williams men we don’t know) on the sunny shore with not three, but four objects in their possession: a telephone, a beach toy, a pair of flippers, and a Pro Model Turbo Surf Slider. (The fact that Lewis and her buddies could have overlooked the Pro Model Turbo Surf Slider is perhaps the unkindest cut of all, but anyway, back to the story.) There is also an Eph-woman there (Donna Ching ’84, who designed the cover) with three objects in her possession, namely the three men.

The picture shows the woman to have the desirable qualities inherent in all Eph-women — good looks and intelligence — she is the only one of the three with enough brains to be looking at the sea, what else do you go to the beach for? At the same time the picture denigrates all men by portraying them as aimless and without purpose (the beach-bum on the left), childish (the poor guy in the middle holding the toy), and the guy on the right clearly represents all businessmen, past, present, and future (the phone) as hopeless bimbos completely out of touch with what is going on. Why, look at at him, you can’t even see his face behind those sunglasses to know anything about the person inhabiting the body!

This cover implies that the administration condones an attitude toward men as intellectually inferior, which we do not believe to be actually the case. To have to look every day at something, our telephone directory, that so blatantly exploits the men in the Williams College campus is unjust and unnecessary.

Fred Eaton ’86
Peter Dawson ’86
Craig Blackmore ’86
Andreas Halvorsen ’86

1) Now that our readers know all the facts, what say you? Was this photo an appropriate cover image in 1985? Would it be considered an appropriate cover image today?

2) Who were the three men in the photo? Surely history will want to remember their names. They aren’t just good looking Ephs in bathing suits. They are people too!

3) Regular readers will notice that one of the authors of that last letter generates a fair amount of traffic to EphBlog because he is one of the richest Ephs of his generation. Perhaps the Development Office should speak to Admissions about letting in more of the sorts of applicants that have a predilection for mocking campus feminists. Just a thought!

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Big Deal?

Another letter to the Record in response to the complaints about the cover of the student telephone directory.

To The Editor:

What is the big deal? Is the cover of the 1985 Williams Student Directory really going to foster chauvinist and sexist feelings on campus? Is it really going to “perpetuate exploitive attitudes toward women”? Does the telephone directory have that much impact on the minds, thoughts and feelings of Williams’ students and faculty?

I object to the letter in last week’s Record for two reasons. First, I do not find the cover so offensive and insulting, and I do not believe its impact will be so strong as anticipated by the authors of the letter. However, I acknowledge a difference in opinions concerning the picture on the cover, and I enjoy an exchange of views. Secondly, I object to the manner and tone in which the article was written. Come on. Let’s be level-headed in our approach to this topic. The tone of the letter is far from level-headed. Such sentences as “The cover . . . must offend and appall anyone who considers its message” and “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” — such sentences are so tainted with extremism and pre-suppositions on the part of the authors that any well-intentioned message is lost. The article, imbued with its hypersensitive diction, just becomes polimical rant and raving.

A more moderate and level-headed letter could have objected to the cover and carried the same message. I still, personally, would not agree with the charge that the cover is objectionable. A more carefully written letter, though, would not have prompted me to write a rebuttal.

In conclusion, I would advise the writers of last week’s letter to more carefully scrutinize their word choice in order to convey a more credible message.

Jeffrey B. Lilley ’86

1) What do you think Professor Lynda Bundtzen would have said in response 24 years ago? What do you think she would say today? I sent Professor Bundtzen an e-mail on Tuesday but have not heard back. Do you think I will?

2) Jeff Lilley ’86 is the co-author of China Hands: Nine Decades of Adventure, Espionage, and Diplomacy in Asia and wrote this charming article (pdf) for the Alumni Review.

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Doubly Appalling

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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