Ok. I guess since this blog is all about the interactions between feminism and Orthodox Judaism, I really have no other choice but to comment on the recent YU Beacon controversy.
For those of you not in the know, the Beacon, an online newspaper at Yeshiva University run jointly between the men at Yeshiva College and the women at Stern College, recently published a work of fiction in their creative writing section which discussed one young female student’s first time having sex, and the ambiguity and regret she felt afterwards. You can read all about it at Fox News, The New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal. Basically, there was a brouhaha* between the editors of the paper and the school administration which resulted in the student council pulling their funding from the paper, after the editors refused to remove the article from the site.
As you can sense by my tone, I really didn’t want to write about this topic. Look, I chose not to go to Stern College for a reason, and this is exactly why. I wanted a place where I was free to discuss my opinions, thoughts, and personal life without censorship. (By contrast, when I was at UMD, the big controversy surrounding free speech was the showing of a high budget hard core pornographic film, first intended to discuss safe sex in the porn industry but then mushroomed into a discussion on free speech and censorship after the MD Senate threatened to remove all funding from the University of Maryland-$424 million, a far cry from the $500 that was pulled from the Beacon-if the film was shown. In the end, the movie was shown and the free speech discussion occurred, but was not paid for by the university, nor were any university resources used for the showing of the film.)
As a law student, I feel I have to clarify a big inaccuracy that has been circulating around the internet. YU did not remove the article, but even if they had, this is not a violation of free speech. The law surrounding free speech is pretty darn clear that only government censorship is inappropriate, but rights between private parties are absolutely not protected by the free speech clause. The University of Maryland is a public university, and therefore can not infringe on freedom of speech. Yeshiva University, on the other hand, is a private university and can censor whatever the hell they want.
A nuanced point, but an important one nonetheless. Students do not choose to go to Yeshiva University so that they can write about sex. Sure, college is a time of personal growth and development, and many students may have wanted one type of environment when they were 18 but would have chosen a different one had they made the decision at age 22. However, they made their [chaste] bed and now it’s time to sleep [alone] in it.
Another, not so important, point. The article featured a whole lot of name dropping (“My newly purchased Longchamp bag”, “I hear that familiar Blackberry ping”, and “wanting nothing more than a lifetime subscription to the New Yorker and an endless supply of blueberry smoothies” to cite just a few.) A woman named Shani Tzoref commented on Heshy Fried’s (of FrumSatire fame) facebook status with this to say about the extensive namedropping:
“I wish it would be reasonable to interpret this as a literary attempt to show that the protagonist’s view of life was shallow and superficial, and to take this as a commentary on the misguided oversimplifications about sexual encounters reflected in her immature conceptions both before and after “the act”…. not much chance, huh?”
Those were my thoughts exactly. Except, I think I was nicer to the author. I actually
thought think that this was her intention. The author, so it seemed, was trying explain how this Stern woman thought that she was just like “any other twenty year old woman”, because she rides the subway and has a blackberry. However, after her rendezvous at the hotel, she realized she didn’t want to be a normal twenty year old woman, she wanted to be a good Stern student, and immediately regretted her decision to have sex with her boyfriend.
The truth is, while I’m tired about hearing of these ridiculous stories that pass for scandals at YU, I actually think the controversy is important. It helps raise awareness in the Jewish community about issues that are affecting the Jewish community. If I wrote here in my blog about frum people having premarital sex (which I have), it wouldn’t raise nearly the amount of commotion that a YU story would, because people don’t have any sort of expectations for an anonymous blogger. Even though Simi Lampert, the Beacon’s editor-in-chief, claims that she had absolutely no idea that this would blow up the way it did, I highly doubt that’s accurate. Either she’s completely oblivious to the closed mindedness of the Orthodox community (in which case perhaps she is not qualified to be an editor-in-chief of a Yeshiva University newspaper), or she was, and she chose to publish the article specifically in order to start a controversy. Some might give her flak about that, but I respect it. Controversy is what creates change in Orthodoxy, and obviously, that is what we need right now.
Regarding the cut funding, I completely, 100% support it. Not because I support censorship or blackmail, but because I support journalistic integrity. When a newspaper is funded by any source, their information becomes exponentially more biased, because they must adhere to the restrictions placed on that source, and will not feel free to critique it. For that reason, most University papers are independently operated, which is a good think, since they frequently run criticisms of the University policies. It is time for the Beacon (and the rest of YU’s plethora of student newspapers) to cut themselves off from the yoke of the university and become a real voice of the people, rather than a voice of the University’s administrative board.
*I love it when I have the opportunity to use the word “brouhaha” in a written work. It’s arguably my favorite word in the English language.