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Category: Education

Drunk, Ugly Animals: A Case Study in Objectification

October 1, 2010

Screen Shot of Removed Article via Jezebel

Fortunately, it’s too late to read the offensive articles published in last week’s edition of the Johns Hopkins News-Letter. The pieces were removed from the website after a storm of criticism from angry readers, and in their places sit two apologies from the editorial staff – the second responding to another storm of criticism directed at the first.

Why were News-Letter readers so angry? People were responding to Greg Sgammato and Javier Avitia’s “satirical” articles, “Local Bison Bear All At Psi Kappa Psi's Annual Lingerave” and “Banging Under The Influence: The Ups and Downs.” Whether the pieces were actually intended as satire is up for debate; some, like Sara Luterman, vice president of the Johns Hopkins University's Feminist Alliance, think that they were labeled as such after the fact. But what’s certain is that the articles were rude, cruel, and frightening in their close mimicry of the misogynist and sizeist attitudes that go unchecked on many college campuses.

Managing Editor Sgammato’s piece discussed a lingerie party, at which “fat chicks and hot chicks often go hand in hand…While seeing a hot chick in only her underwear is undoubtedly a treat, seeing a blimp without the welcome shield of clothing is a much worse fate for everyone at the party.”  He moans dramatically about his disgust with “the girl whose leggings expose a glimpse into the darker side of humanity…[who] will flaunt it like she's got it, when in fact she never had it and probably never will.” In case that’s not enough to raise your hackles and lower your self-esteem, the piece contained some more choice moments: Jezebel compiled a list of words used to describe women, including “elephant,” “livestock,” “grenades” and – most charmingly – “it.”

Sgammato’s piece follows the fine tradition of negating women’s humanity (by comparing them to animals), engaging in objectification (which cannot be done more literally than by using the word “it”), and treating women’s sexual- and self-expression as contingent upon and in service to men’s sexual satisfaction. He’s also careful to address women whose self-esteem may be too high for his liking: “In a matter of minutes, the girl [who disgusts him] will equate herself to Megan Fox.”

Avitia’s piece, which seems to be gaining less attention in the blogosphere, falls back on another longstanding idea: that women want to submit to sexually predatory men, and that alcohol helps them both get what they want. While this might be less dangerous to your self-esteem, it’s not hard to see the consequences of this idea in “blame the victim” responses to rape, violent crime, and sexual harassment (check out Emma Woods’ blog post about Ines Saines). For Avitia, alcohol is the magic potion that “cuts out the hassle of [men] having to pretend to care about a relationship and the protocols of a thing called "courtship;” women, liberated by liquor (or the claim to drunkenness), can “be promiscuous and not be considered slutty by society's biased standards.” Thanks for that acknowledgment of sexism in society, Avitia – I sure feel a lot better knowing you’re caught up on women’s issues.

It’s worth pointing out the anti-male sexism in this article as well. Whereas women are portrayed as submissive, sexually frustrated, and obsessed with their reputations, men come across as sex-obsessed (“thinking with the other head,” as Avitia charmingly puts it), incapable of relationships, insecure without alcohol, and prone to raping drunk girls. I’m not sure which I’d rather be – but lucky for me, Avitia doesn’t give me a choice!

The editorial apologies are posted here, but comments have been blocked. I’m willing to give the paper the benefit of the doubt on intention, if only because I don’t want to believe these articles could have gone through a 24-person staff if they had been presented as serious news pieces. But satire or not, these articles are unconscionable. Far from opening up debate, they put people on the defensive against what felt like a violent and hurtful attack.