The Magazine

God and (Wo)man at Yale

Feminist hysteria (cont.).

Oct 17, 2005, Vol. 11, No. 05 • By HEATHER MAC DONALD
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IN THE WAKE OF THE embarrassing Harriet Miers nomination, it is time to ask: Shouldn't feminists--the source of the mandate for a female Supreme Court justice--be disqualified from any influence on public affairs? An exchange in the Yale alumni magazine provides the perfect vehicle for analyzing the lunacy of feminist ideology and its unfitness for the real world.

In May, the magazine ran several articles on religion at Yale, provoked by the university's decision to sever ties between its chapel and the Congregationalist Church (now known as the United Church of Christ). The magazine's cover showed a close-up of four smiling clergymen sharing a laugh against the backdrop of Yale's neo-Gothic arches. The caption read: "So, a minister, a priest, a Buddhist, and a rabbi walk into a university . . . no joke: religion at Yale."

This image was more than two female Yale graduates could bear. "I was ashamed at the cover of last month's alumni magazine," wrote Danielle Elizabeth Tumminio in a letter to the editor. Demonstrating the deconstructive interpretive skills she undoubtedly picked up as an undergraduate, Tumminio went on: "[T]his image sends the message that Yale as an academic and spiritual center has not progressed far from the days when only men could take books out of the library, enroll in classes, and graduate with diplomas that gave them the privilege to lead congregations. . . . [I]t waters down religion at Yale to a patriarchy in which students are asked to conform to the God of the old boys' network."

The Rev. Clare Robert, a divinity school graduate, was equally distraught: "I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw the latest issue of your magazine," she wrote. "I believe an apology is in order." To the Rev. Robert, Yale's cover shows the failure of "30-plus years of feminism and feminist theology." She asks incredulously: "Didn't anyone look at that front cover of four clergymen and see how unrepresentative it is of Yale, of the people in the pews, and even the campus ministries these men supposedly represent?" Inevitably, Robert also took offense at the article's title: "Gods and Man at Yale." A more "sensitive" editor, she admonished, would have amended the title to "Gods and (Wo)Man at Yale"--and literary style be damned.

The world learned last January that the neurasthenic streak in today's feminists has become so strong that they collapse at the mere mention of scientific hypotheses that displease them (as befell MIT biologist Nancy Hopkins upon hearing Harvard president Larry Summers aver to possible sex differences in mathematical ability). Now it turns out that the neo-Victorians cannot even tolerate the sight of men together without breaking out into shame and dismay.

Tumminio and Robert's elicitation of the "patriarchy" from the magazine's cover is a heavy burden to place on one light-hearted photo--especially since the photo happens to be true. It depicts Yale's four university chaplains--Protestant, Jewish, Buddhist, and Catholic--who just happen to be men. Contrary to Robert's assertion that the picture is "unrepresentative" of Yale, it is perfectly representative of the leaders of Yale's main religious communities and is a wholly unremarkable way of introducing the topic at hand.

The irony is that despite their gripe about the cover, Tumminio and Robert implicitly acknowledge that there is nothing remotely "patriarchal" about Yale. Women have a "prominent role" in spiritually nurturing Yale students, Tumminio notes, and serve in large numbers on the divinity school faculty. "Womanist and feminist theology" features prominently in Yale's "religious traditions," says Robert.

The suggestion that the alumni magazine's editors are insensitive to women is equally delusional. This is the same magazine that enthusiastically follows every latest development in Yale's women's and gender studies program, as well as in its queer studies initiatives. In the issue in which Tumminio's and Robert's letters appear, the renowned-alumnus slot goes to Debbie Stoller, the editor of Bust magazine ("For Women With Something to Get Off Their Chests") and author of Stitch 'n Bitch Nation, which inspired an international network of women's knitting groups.

But feminism is above all else insanely narcissistic and hermetically sealed off from reality. The truth doesn't matter. The fact that the university chaplains are male is irrelevant. Feminists such as Tumminio and Robert insist that they must see the female image everywhere, and if they don't, they find solace in something far more satisfying: perpetual injury and rage. Actual equality and access to every social institution count for nothing; one lousy picture, however accurate, triggers an eruption of grievance.