Another Victory in the War on Women

Breaking news! International Monetary Fund (IMF) Managing Director Christine Lagarde, who was to deliver the Commencement address at Smith College, has withdrawn from the May 18 ceremony.  According to the AP story, Ms. Lagarde

said it was clear that many did not want her on campus and that she did not want to distract from a joyous occasion.

An online petition with hundreds of signatures said Lagarde represents a corrupt system that fuels the oppression and abuse of women worldwide.

So another accomplished woman will not be on the podium when the processional ushers in the graduates.

I wonder if human rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have commiserated with Ms. Lagarde? In this graduation season, Ms. Ali has found herself dis-invited from Brandeis University. Secretary Rice withdrew from the Rutgers ceremony when it became clear that a group of faculty and students didn’t want to hear what she had to say.

The Commencement Committee vets all speakers carefully to make sure there are no females with dangerous opinions.

The Commencement Committee vets all speakers carefully to make sure there are no females with dangerous opinions.

While it is old news that dissent is frowned upon on the majority of US college and university campuses, the targeted silencing of powerful women is a new and disturbing trend.  The take-down of these distinguished national and international leaders truly frightens me. How many young women graduating this year will wonder why there is no one who looks like them speaking at Commencement? How many young women who may be questioning their most deeply held beliefs will be driven underground in the face of such powerful condemnation? The message could not be clearer: You’re just a girl, sweetie. Don’t think for yourself–that’s not what the female brain is for. Don’t aspire to change the world. You’re just a girl.

Thank goodness quirky little Hampshire College is bucking the trend. Laverne Cox is scheduled to deliver the Commencement address on its campus in South Amherst, Massachusetts.

Maybe “bucking” isn’t the most felicitous choice of words.


10 thoughts on “Another Victory in the War on Women

  1. As a smith student, I wanted to point out to you that part of the reason Smith women were protesting Lagarde was because she does not look like many of us. Smith, as a women’s college, operates under a policy of only choosing female speakers. However, we have not had a WOC speaker in over a decade. Many students protested because they view the institution Lagarde heads, and therefore represents, as harmful, especially to women and women of color. Lagarde has been replaced by Ruth Simmons, an ex-president of Smith College and Brown University. A woman of color who accomplished many remarkable things. Many women of color at Smith will finally be seeing someone that looks like them, after ten years of waiting.

    I take no stance on the Lagarde issue, and was not involved in the protests. I just feel the need to point out that the comparison is not really the same to the condoleezza rice and Brandeis situations.

  2. I do agree with your overall point, that dissenting opinions are important to hear, and that women should not be silenced because people disagree with their views. But I also believe their are ways in which campuses can create dialogue around controversial issues, and that perhaps commencement is not a place for that, as it seems to cause more headaches on a day that should be all about the graduates and not the controversy of the speaker.

    • Sure. So let’s just invite bland, non-polarizing speakers whose views everyone in the audience will find non-controversial. Like Arianna Huffington (Smith 2013), Jane Lynch (Smith 2012), or Rachael Maddow (Smith 2011). Please.

      • I think, had lagarde not been offered an honorary degree and only asked to speak on the campus for a non commencement event, the protest would not have been as great. Or, had the administration taken student objections seriously and listened as opposed to blowing them off, students would not have had the need to protest Largarde to the point of her backing out.

        But don’t bother listening to the person who was on campus and hearing all the arguments first hand. That would just be silly.

      • I seriously doubt any member of Smith’s administration did anything other than listen carefully and respectfully to what students had to say. Perhaps someday, when you mature, you will understand that there is a difference between giving someone’s opinion serious consideration and nevertheless reaching a conclusion different from hers and “blowing them off.” At least I hope you will–or the wonderful education you received at Smith will have been wasted.

      • Actually…not so much. As I said, I’ve been on campus. I’ve heard exactly what happened in the meetings I received the admins emails and attended the forums, and I can tell you that they missed the point. Students weren’t trying to defeat free expression of ideas, they were trying to get some recognition that Smith chose to award an honorary degree to a woman that heads an organization that we are taught in many classes has harmful policies, especially for women in the developing world. We had one forum, in which 4 Econ professors and one study of women and gender professor spoke, all four Econ professors were not IMF critical, and drowned out the voice of the one professor who was. In meetings, dissenting opinions were pretty much avoided all together. The administration could’ve turned it into a learning experience and a vehicle of discussion. They did not. They ignored student voices until the students physically gathered outside the trustees house and shouted for recognition. They weren’t trying to silence Madame Lagarde, and they were in no way trying to discount her numerous groundbreaking accomplishments. They just wanted someone to understand why they believe she was a poor, unjust choice (smith hadnt had a WOC speaker in ten years, she heads an organization many believe to be harmful to WOC).

        I would’ve liked to hear what Madame Lagarde had to say. I am equally excited to hear what President Simmons has to say, and I’m even more excited students of color finally get to a see a speaker that reflects them more thoroughly.

        I still don’t believe our situation is comparable to the Rutgers or Brandeis situations. This was a body of students at a women’s college (therefore predominantly other women) protesting a woman whom they recognize the accomplishments of but did not view as someone they wanted to be awarded an honorary degree by their school, and, if she had an honorary degree, they wanted more vehicles for campus wide discussions of both sides, as opposed to the administration not responding. And they wanted the administration to know and acknowledge the lack of WOC as commencement speakers. This isn’t silencing or diminishing a powerful woman, this is women exercising their freedoms to stand up against something they saw as unjust.

    • Exactly. There is no room for dissenters on our college campuses. They may give fragile young girls the wrong ideas.

  3. I’m not a fan of the IMF either- IMHO it largely facilitates a transfer of assets from poor and middle class people in rich countries to rich people (kleptocrats and big men, mostly) in poor countries. I’m guessing, though, that most of the protesters don’t have a clue as to what the IMF does, and couldn’t name 5 countries that are affected by IMF policies, and how those policies are carried out. In addition, there seems to be a tremendous bias in favor of women of little or no real achievement (Jane Lynch, Hillary Clinton, and Gloria Steinem, come immediately to mind) as commencement speakers. You think that Smith would invite Carly Fiorentina (sp?), Meg Whitman or Nikki Hayley? Unlikely. Also, I don’t believe these were spontaneous protests. The professors that ginned this up should be fired.

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