Letters to the EditorIn my time as a student here at MIT, I have noticed a number of party posters which were degrading to women. I have noticed, with pride, a number of creative, pro-women displays of bisexual, lesbian, and gay sexuality and culture. I have also noticed a number of sexist and homophobic attacks masquerading as polite displays of offense. One example of the latter is a letter [``Party Poster Obscene,'' Sept. 11] by Charles E. Roburn `92.
I will respond first to the perhaps unfortunate placement of the poster. There are a number of out lesbians and bisexual women active in the Association for Women Students and this poster's primary purpose was to encourage queer women to go to the dance. Therefore, it only made sense to put a poster for queer women where a number of queer women might see it. It is unfortunate that there must be such conflict among student groups whose offices are so close together.
As for the rest of Mr. Roburn's letter, there seem to be a few concepts which Mr. Roburn has yet to grasp. In our society, there exists a power difference between men and women and between straights and queers. One expression of this power difference is the ability to control movies, TV shows, and advertising. Because in general, men control these aspects of popular culture, women do not have the power to represent themselves in ways which they find positive and appropriate. Men often exercise their power by representing women in demeaning and degrading ways. This misrepresentation, this degradation, is what is offensive. If we are to have a culture of equality, there must be room for all groups of people to represent themselves as they see fit.
When a group of men puts up a poster insulting women, they do not represent themselves, but women. Further, they represent their view of women, not women's ideas of themselves. The difference between this action and the GAMIT poster to which Mr. Roburn takes offense is this: the poster represents lesbians. The artist who drew the cartoon which Mr. Roburn found obscene is a lesbian. I have yet to find a lesbian who finds this poster to be negative misrepresentation or degrading imagery. The picture is not degrading; it is sexual. Sex is not by definition degrading.
Rebecca Widom `94
Poster Does Not Objectify Women
I speak for myself. I do not represent any person or any group of people (including GAMIT), unlike Mr. Roburn, who seems to think it is his responsibility to speak for every woman at MIT.
In his letter, Mr. Roburn attacks with the following four criticisms. He first protests that the poster is offensive. He then asserts that it is "overtly obscene, according to every definition of the term that I've found." He goes on to complain that GAMIT is hypocritical for making the poster when other groups would be "crucified" for distributing it. His final criticism is a declaration that the GAMIT poster is a provocative violation of MIT's stated policy of encouraging tolerance and sensitivity.
Mr. Roburn declares that the poster is offensive, but he never provides reason or justification for this claim. He never explicitly declares what it is about the poster that offends him. He does, however, implicitly state that he is offended by what he describes as obscenity within the poster. Obscenity is defined as that which "incites lust or depravity." Depravity describes that which is "marked by corruption or evil." Because Mr. Roburn chooses to use the word obscene rather then words like graphic or explicit, his statement is tantamount to asserting that lesbianism is depraved and evil. This is a concept which I, personally, find blatantly offensive.
The GAMIT poster does not attempt to objectify the women depicted within it. Rather, it displays a celebration of consensual lesbian sex. If a fraternity were to include a similar image within one of their posters, it would carry a completely different meaning. The poster would be objectifying lesbians. Instead of setting a positive example of pride, it would be appealing to a male voyeuristic fantasy. This objectification would degrade women and should then be considered highly offensive. The difference is apparent and distinct.
We must ask ourselves if these posters hurt anyone. They are a celebration of a group's identity. I urge everyone to understand what this poster is and to respect those responsible for it, rather than condemn them.
Robert Meissner `93