In light of the recent vitriolic, anti-feminist, misogynist, and malevolent backlash directed at UConn senior Carolyn Luby in response to her courageous Op-Ed, “An Open Letter to UConn President Susan Herbst,” published in The Feminist Wire’s College column last Tuesday, we want to express our unequivocal support for her and our disgust with those who have threatened both her well-being and life–whether through direct threats or imaginings of such.
Let us be crystal clear: threats of rape, death, and other forms of violence are both reprehensible and unacceptable. They are serious matters that need to be recognized as such by everyone, including the proper authorities. History confirms that ideas and ideology do not simply exist in our heads. Ideological distortions, such as sexism, racism, misogyny, ableism, transphobia, homophobia, xenophobia, and the like are frequently translated into material fury: senseless, unconscionable individual and collective action.
To those who sit on their virtual barstools, who cowardly sit behind their screens, who find power in threats, your words and actions will not force us into silence. And to President Herbst, your silence will not protect you from accountability. And to the police officer who took Luby’s report, your ignorance to the ways language makes action is antithetical to the oath you took. And to everyone else:
Luby was right. “If you’re going to make a change like that to the Husky logo, then you should match it with a [cultural] change that reflects what you see.” Luby deserves an intelligent and thoughtful response to her very wise and valiant critique. Mascots aren’t innocuous. They are full of meanings, meant to signify ferocity. However, as Luby notes, the symbolic meaning becomes dangerous when sexual and other politics are entwined, as they often are, with what is supposed to be a harmless organizational symbol.
Rape jokes aren’t funny. They are not. Plain and simple. They are violent. They injure, and they can cause irreparable harm. Jokes allow the joke teller to disguise aggression and uninhibitedly express pleasure, and other feelings normally suppressed, in the taboo.
Hate mail is evil and potentially illegal. Think twice before sending electronic loathe notes. Instead, try sitting with your feelings. Hostility toward someone who has not in any way wronged you often highlights your own insecurities. Be courageous enough to do the emotional work so that you can be better. Causing or threatening someone else with harm is not a solution. And this goes for those yelling derogatory comments at Luby on campus, as well.
The culture of university corporatism and athletic worship needs to end now. Too often, star athletes get a pass for bad behavior because of the money they generate for schools. And too often, their offenses include violence against women. And before trying to name the few who were penalized for their actions, or trying to point blame elsewhere by exclaiming, “this is a problem everywhere!” pay attention to historical trends. This space is too small and time is too limited to produce an athletic roll call for shaming. Further, most stories of violence go unreported and/or are swept under the rug. The entire culture is indicative of a problem. Coaches, and those who worship at the altar of contemporary sports culture, who either act as bystanders or themselves perpetuate a culture of violence, need to be held accountable. The hate and violence resulting from Luby’s letter is evidence of the toxic culture that she wrote about; it is time to stand up to bullies.
Victim shaming and silencing is misogynistic and needs to end now. Barstool Sports and others with propensities toward “playful” sexism and misogyny, you will not and cannot silence nor shame feminist politics. It is because of you that we do what we do, and will continue to do what we do. It is because of you that this article was written. It is because of you that we stand together to challenge a culture that sanctions and promotes misogyny and rape culture. Whether your hate and destructive posturing is made on your actual barstools or behind your virtual barstools, let us be clear: we see you and we will not tolerate your misogyny.
Finally, to President Susan Herbst and the UConn Community: we demand that you ensure Luby’s safety. She deserves the right to move about campus and elsewhere unmolested. And she deserves to walk without fear of retribution for her words. Second, President Herbst, we strongly encourage you to take this opportunity to make your tenure really count by standing visibly and powerfully on the side of justice (not business or politics as usual) by:
- Making a public statement against violence against women and other marginalized groups–whether this violence is imagined, realized, written, or verbal.
- Taking Luby’s open letter seriously and responding to it respectfully and in the spirit of engaged dialogue and learning for which universities are known.
- Working with administration, faculty, and other campus groups to implement language, activities, and curriculum around zero tolerance for sexism, racism, misogyny, ableism, transphobia, homophobia, xenophobia, etc. at UConn.
This is the kind of “poise, confidence, competitiveness, and…determination to succeed in the classroom and on the field and the court” that both your mascot and the UConn student body should reflect. This is an “updated identity package” and leadership worth making noise about.
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The Feminist Wire
Tamura A. Lomax
Aishah Shahidah Simmons
Monica J. Casper
Heather Laine Talley
Darnell L. Moore
Heidi R. Lewis
Monica M. Torres
Nicole M. Giudotti-Hernández
Aimee Meredith Cox
Mecca Jamilah Sullivan
*To show your support, sign and share not only this letter, but our change.org petition. You may also send a letter to President Herbst here. In addition, the comment section below will not be used for further misogyny. Instead, it will be used for feminist love notes only. Share your support for Luby and others who have been brave enough to share their voices!!