“It’s a little cold out there to be wearing that.” He jeers at me as I open the front door to my dorm building. A housemate follows in shortly after me. “Stupid white bitches. They’re just drunk blondes that don’t know how to think,” he says to his friend. It’s 1:45 a.m. and I’m coming home from a social event. I am not looking for trouble, not even for conversation. It’s been a long night after a long week and I am ready for bed. Yet my act of simply existing somehow warranted this comment.
Perhaps it was the clothing my friend and I wore — typical Cornell “going out” clothes consisting of pants and a tank top. Perhaps it was my makeup, a little bit heavier than my everyday look. I do not know what it was that invited this comment, but these men clearly felt safe making misogynistic remarks to complete strangers minding their own business.
My friend and I silently walked to our room, shamed and confused. Should we have spoken back? Would they have said that if we were with a man? What if an RA were nearby? Something about the situation — our aloneness, or their assumption of our intoxication — enabled them to make comments without any fear of consequence. They spoke as if we were not humans, certainly not peers. To them, we were “stupid bitches,” objects of ridicule who could not and would not show resistance to their belittling attitudes.
Complicating their cruelty was the use of the word “white.” On multiple occasions, I have witnessed men use this modifier to absolve themselves of their misogyny. White privilege and white fragility certainly exist and are not negated by sexism faced by white women. White women have historically and currently played nuanced roles in racial oppression, and are not immune to criticism. However, using the word “white” in an otherwise misogynistic sentence does not inherently make it a socially just or morally “woke” form of misogyny. Whether it’s “bitch” or “white bitch,” some derogatory comments against women hurt all women.
Even if Cornell students like to think that our education allows us to transcend bias, there is a culture of casual sexism among young male students. Often these men have the social awareness to refrain from blatant misogyny, and instead opt for coded language, snide remarks and talking over women in discussions. They mock us for our shopping, or social media posting, or partying. To have fun as a woman is to invite critique, but to be academically successful is to be a threat.
My reaction may seem dramatic. I may only be worsening some readers’ opinions of Cornell women. But I want to speak out on these little jests too commonly made by my peers. Though I was not drunk, these men assumed I was, and likely thought that I would be a complacent and potentially disoriented recipient of their harassment. That night it was just words, but men like that may take advantage of other vulnerable women in other ways. Every time a misogynistic comment goes unchecked, it reinforces the perpetrator’s belief that he is “allowed” to act that way. Silence enables escalation. The druggings of last semester may seem entirely separate from the comments of these men, but they are connected by a culture of complacency.
With that in mind, I encourage the men of this campus to call out their peers when they hear these supposedly harmless comments. It should not fall on women to assert their right to respect.
Julia Poggi is a sophomore in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected]. The Outbox runs every other Sunday this semester.