March 11, 2023

LETTER TO THE EDITOR | Re: “Lifting the FeMale Gaze”

Print More

To the Editor:

In “Lifting the FeMale Gaze” Isabelle Pappas ‘23 writes that feminism has started to “confuse itself with female victimization.” Despite the author’s clear intentions to lift other women up, I strongly feel that this piece does more harm than good. 

I ask the author, why did you not believe your friend from the onset when she confided to you that her professor is “always looking at her boobs”? Considering the extraordinary numbers of female undergraduate students reporting sexual harassment by faculty members, why did Pappas think it is “unlikely” that every male professor of her friend would be looking at her chest during class? And why did Pappas abandon her experiment after just one week’s worth of classes?  Perhaps the professor’s harassment took place during office hours, in a more private environment. Or perhaps it had happened many times before and after the author’s experiment. Or maybe the author was not observant enough. Just because the author was not able to witness this experience does not mean that it did not occur, and it does not mean that her friend came to an “absurd conclusion.”

I also wish to note the condescending tone of the author. Pappas’ friend was likely describing an uncomfortable experience she has had multiple times with someone who is older, more powerful and more credible than she is. We should all feel sorry for her, but not for the reasons Pappas described. There is a possibility that Pappas’ friend is not flattering herself, and the self-deprecation Pappas described does not come across in the mentioned conversation. The nonchalance in her tone is because Pappas had asked her a question after class, and it’s not a social setting in which she can break down into tears. Maybe the author would have believed her friend if she were teary eyed, but victims shouldn’t have to act in one specific way to be believed. Pappas’ friend’s comment “You’ll get an A. You’re pretty, and you have nice boobs” is not indifference, and it is not a comment stemming from flattery or self objectification. She may seem resigned, but that’s because it may feel like an impossible situation and she feels that no one will believe her, even her friends. 

The author refuses to blame the “proverbial man” but when there is a victim, there is a perpetrator of harm, and the patriarchy should not be excused from this case. We live in a patriarchal society in which male power bleeds into nearly everything. The author also cannot claim that there is no actual evidence that the professor was being predatory. The author entered into this search for “evidence” with a bias against her friend and the experiment was not thorough or lengthy enough to come to a sufficient conclusion. 

The author’s article perpetuates rape culture by placing the blame on women by writing “when women objectify themselves, they make themselves more vulnerable to the very men that they criticize.” Within rape culture, “women especially are made to feel as though it is their responsibility to avoid being sexually assaulted and police their behaviour as a result.” When we question the victim’s actions, we imply that the victim got what they deserved because they were not careful enough. This line of thinking separates us from the victims and makes us feel safer, but it only serves to divert blame away from the perpetrators. There is no “women like her”, because we are all women who have been, or may be in that friend’s position, regardless of any preventive actions we may take. The friend was not ogled by her professor because she believed that she would be. This is not a “victim card.” When men perpetrate objectification, violence and harm against women, the men are at fault. We need to stop telling women to police their actions so that they can be safe from men. Instead, as women, we should believe other women, especially our friends, and align ourselves with women, rather than joking that we are anti-feminists.

Laur Kim ‘23