"Don't be such a girl" is the kind of unenlightened throwaway that you might expect from a frat boy or your older brother. You would probably yell at him or peg him with a football. But it's harder ("that's what she said!") to combat in the average liberal Columbia male. Letting these comments go seems anti-feminist, but no one wants to hit her male friends in the head with the SCUM (Society for Cutting Up Men) Manifesto. A couple years ago, the hockey team posted signs telling potential recruits not to "be a pussy," and while the team was disciplined (for swear words, we presume, not chauvinism), that phrase has yet to die its rightful death. And with explicitly defined feminism having gone the way of "Gym Crow" on campus, there seems, in our unscientific observations, to be some tendency to regard the term with skepticism.
The speech we're talking about does not necessarily include smatterings of racist remarks, and these liberal guys don't say, "That's so gay." These are people with good values and good politics. Irony is implied when they make sexist remarks because they are beyond all that caveman shit.
There are a few problems here. The first is simply saturation point. How many times can you make a sexist joke ironically before you're just acting like a chauvinist? Following from this is the obvious problem that sexist speech invariably reflects genuine sexist currents in American thought. If, even in semi-jest, you constantly equate "being a girl" with sucking at sports, you are reinforcing a long-held, completely unproductive point of view to everyone around you. There is simply no need to equate those two things, and frankly, we can't wait until some "girl" Title IX's your ass.
The onus should not merely fall on these haplessly ironic males. Women have a responsibility to call out latent and explicit sexism and to ensure that men (or other women, for that matter) are not allowed to stand unchallenged when they make sexist comments. But this tends not to happen. Why? Well, do you want to be the shrill bitch who's always coming down on the guys when they joke around? It's hard to break out of the linguistic stalemate.
The overarching issue is that we no longer consider the personal to be political. For some men, this results in unintended sexism, and for women, the impossible obstacle of defending feminism without seeming antiquated. Gender needs to be reintroduced into our political discourse on both the national and campus levels. Humor itself isn't the problem—it's that today's self-proclaimed progressive jokers have not seriously engaged with gender issues. American feminists of the 19th and 20th centuries, like many historically oppressed identity groups, have made important advances through legislation. The imperative for further progress is that the discussion continues. Unfortunately, we've allowed ourselves to simmer in post-political correctness, with the potentially disastrous result of allowing our speech to move powerfully backward. There has to be balance between understanding the political implications of our speech and excluding certain topics from the discourse because they're hard to talk about. The era of the PC police has passed, and yet feminism remains off the table.
In some circles on this campus, there is already a renewed consciousness that the personal remains political, most notably in the constellation of anti-violence groups. These groups are the core of gender-related activism at Columbia, yet their actions are often considered apolitical by students not directly involved because they seek fewer legislative goals.
The challenge then is that of a cultural, rather than legislative, struggle. How can activists organize around something that cannot be cured with policy changes? These anti-violence groups may be showing us the way by running educational workshops, rallying for Take Back the Night, and facilitating training for rape crisis counselors. They are attempting to force students to think about gender issues, especially regarding sex, and to allow students concerned with gendered violence to make the alleviation of that violence a part of their daily work. Not all of us are going to be involved in campus anti-violence groups or take on extensive work in gender studies. But a renewal of our understanding of personal behavior as political action may be a start to engaging with the frustratingly fluid issue of gender attitudes among our peers.
Sarah Leonard is a Columbia College junior majoring in history. Kate Redburn is a Columbia College junior majoring in history and African studies. Shock and Awe runs alternate Tuesdays. Opinion@columbiaspectator.com