Jessie Guillen/Sun Contributor

April 29, 2024

LIVSHITS | “Gender: A Loop, Tightening” in the Student Assembly

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Every few months, when I am wholly encompassed by a hopelessness that uniquely sinks its victim head-first, I relisten to Mitski’s Class of 2013. Her cries of girlhood and growing up comfort me; they later drive me to anger. They remind me that I am not alone in my experience, but also of widespread gendered injustice, as recently showcased in the Student Assembly.

This time around, I rediscovered an interview with Mitski that previously slipped past me: “I spent all my teenage years being obsessed with beauty, and I’m very resentful about it and I’m very angry,” she told Jillian Mapes, of Pitchfork, in an interview onstage in Brooklyn, my hometown. “I had so much intelligence and energy and drive, and instead of using that to study more, or instead of pursuing something or going out and learning about or changing the world, I directed all that fire inward, and burnt myself up.” Mitski precisely touches on the misery of teenage girls: We direct the intensity of feminism, a reaction to the world’s injustices, at ourselves. Since we register the senseless sharpness of sexism first-hand, we return to it, mull over the experience, to find the words for the encounter. When we lack the language to explain this violence, this wronging of the body, we reason that we deserve it: Something is wrong with us.

These ruminations were first acknowledged in my Introduction to Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies class last fall when Prof. Jess Marie Newman, FGSS introduced us to Sara Ahmed’s “Feminism is Sensational.” Ahmed wrote, “Feminism can begin with a body, a body in touch with a world, a body that is not at ease in a world; a body that fidgets and moves around. Things don’t seem right.” Sara Ahmed lists her experiences of being violated and wisely notes that they were too overwhelming to process at the time. She continues that the world is experienced as a sensory intrusion. So, to prevent future assault, we close off and drive that anger inward. In this process, we become girled: Violence becomes instruction that gives our feelings shape. Gender operates on how little space we take up, how tightly we squeeze ourselves to avoid male brutality.

When I read that former Interfraternity Council president and influential Student Assembly member George Rocco DeLorenzo ’24 planned to shield the already predatory Greek Life system and block women’s health resolutions, I first blamed myself: How could I assume that attacks on women’s rights happen only elsewhere — in esteemed legislatures and gilded courts — when the Student Assembly holds much control over reproductive freedom and gender equality on campus? Even more so, having been burned by men in previous experiences and unable to predict the next attack, I felt insufficiently girled.

Most recently, four 17 and 18-year-old first-year women accused Student Assembly presidential candidate Getúlio González-Mulattieri ’25, who is 36, of harassment. González-Mulattieri, who allegedly made repeated unwanted and inappropriate advances toward young women, followed an affective script: the stranger danger that Ahmed notes creates “bodies [that] become dangerous, others endangered.” From simple fist-bumps to a ride home on a rainy day,González-Mulattieri taught girls what to be cautious about in public spaces, turning previously innocent acts into containers of fear.

With this girling that drives my anger inward, I attempt to understand Ahmed’s reasoning for sensational feminism. To elicit change, I demand others to feel the anger I often direct inward. To speak as a feminist is to be identified as too reactive, as overreacting. To be a feminist is to be a killjoy. A feminist killjoy opposes the status quo, recognizing the patriarchal, racist and classist systems that exist and speaking up against them even if it makes other people uncomfortable.

When current Student Assembly Executive Vice President Claire Ting ’25 was disqualified from the presidential race after leaking DeLorenzo’s and Clyde Lederman’s ’26 misogynistic politics, she became a feminist killjoy. To the greater Student Assembly and specifically its Office of Ethics, Ting’s whistleblowing was not exposing a problem, it was creating it. Undoubtedly, the messages document an egregious abuse of the trust of the Cornell student body. But, to the Office of Ethics, Ting, describing what another has said as a problem, upset the situation, ruining the image of a pristine Student Assembly. As per Ahmed, “You become the problem you create.” I commend Claire for being a feminist killjoy, for clawing against “gender: a loop, tightening.”

Ilana Livshits is a first year student in the College of Arts & Sciences. Her fortnightly column Live Laugh Livshitsfocuses on politics, social issues and culture at Cornell. She can be reached at [email protected].

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