I have been following the aftermath of Sister Souljah’s appearance at UofL since I first heard about it at the November 21 meeting of the President’s Commission on the Status of Women. Subsequently, I have read pertinent email postings in the online edition of the Louisville Cardinal, as well as letters and stories in the hard copy editions of the Cardinal and the Courier Journal. I also attended the December 4 forum in Humanities 100.
As a result, I have been deeply disturbed to learn that in the wake of Sister Souljah’s appearance, a member of the Klu Klux Klan visited the Provost’s Office with a written request for “equal time” at the university. Thus, there are several points that I need to make.
First, it is axiomatic in feminist theory that social constructs of gender and race are not mutually exclusive phenomena, but rather social realities which always overlap in the lives of individual women and men. Thus the controversy around Souljah’s appearance is of deep concern to me as a feminist, precisely because so many of the players involved are women-both women of color and white women.
Second, it is axiomatic in the work to end sexual violence against women that sexual assault, stalking, and intimate partner violence are gendered crimes. That is, they are crimes most often committed by men against their intimate partners, who are most often women. Thus, public education and prevention programs which address these crimes must target both women and men, but in different ways.
Specifically, since most men do not condone sexual violence, men have a moral obligation to confront in themselves and in one another, internalized cultural norms which promote such violence, since “only men can stop rape.”
At the same time, women have a moral obligation to identify and confront in ourselves and in one another, internalized cultural norms which suggest that sexual assault and intimate partner violence are the victim’s rather than the perpetrator’s fault.
By analogy, it seems to me that the majority of the white community at UofL (of which I am a member) condemns the historical legacy of racial violence and lynching perpetrated by the Klu Klux Klan. In addition, we abhor any veiled or implied threat from the Klan to other colleagues and students at the University of Louisville today. I think we have the moral obligation to make that abundantly clear. This letter is one attempt to do so.
Mary Karen Powers
UofL Women’s Center