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Women in Stanford marching band don’t need Title IX-driven ‘benevolent sexism,’ alumnae say

Stanford’s student-led marching band has a colorful history. You might call it the National Lampoon of marching bands, often taunting rivals and getting blue with fellow band members.

After years of tension, the university recently clamped down hard on the band, suspending it through the spring (and possibly indefinitely) following “constant and repeated violations” of alcohol and travel rules.

It’s going to be managed by a professional music director going forward, if it has a future at all.

But the women of the band, past and present, are scolding the administration for treating them like – dare we say? – snowflakes who need sheltering from those evil boys by a paternal figure.

Two members from the 1977 and 1983 graduating classes wrote a San Francisco Chronicle op-ed calling the band “the most egalitarian organization we ever belonged to.”

They note the school suspended it right as women were going to take over its management for the first time:

Yet now we hear that officials from the Stanford Title IX Office have asked for an explanation of why the band uses the word “sexion” instead of “section” for each group of musicians. Why? Because it’s funny. And it’s college.

Some of our alums have called the Title IX Office’s view “benevolent sexism.” Many of us had never heard this term, but we get what it means: It means protecting women when they don’t need to be protected. This makes us weaker.

We have received an outpouring of letters from women affirming the importance of irreverent humor and the kind of comedic camaraderie the band offers as a cherished source of both happiness and strength. We have heard from five women who said their band experience helped them heal after a sexual assault. …

And we are here to tell you that we enjoyed and embraced the band’s traditions and culture as our own, as equals, as best of friends in a group that valued, protected and empowered us as few other places in our campus lives or adult careers have ever allowed.

The Stanford Daily has hosted similar arguments by band members of all generations.

One op-ed signed by 174 women – spanning 1970 through 2016 graduates – told the administration they “can tell the difference” between sex jokes and sexual assault:

Your recent efforts to sanitize the culture of the [Leland Stanford Junior University Marching Band] by removing mildly suggestive street signs and words like “sexion” from the band lexicon strike us as textbook “benevolent sexism.” That is, chivalrous ideas and actions that claim to benefit women while actually reinforcing sexism in assuming that women are weak and need protection. Benevolent sexism works in tandem with hostile sexism (which overtly denigrates women and excuses violence against them) to reinforce rape culture. …

By all means, step up the fight against sexual violence on campus.

But don’t destroy the LSJUMB in our name. We don’t need that kind of help.

A student who said she was raped wrote that the band was her “healing space”:

The very things that [the Organization Conduct Board] has cited as examples of sexual hostility were the things that helped me achieve peace with myself and feel comfortable again in my own body. Spelling the word “sexion” with an “x,” making sexual jokes, having suggestive signage in the Shak and dancing with hip thrusts were all part of a sex-positive culture that helped me overcome my trauma. They normalized a word that previously made my heart rate jump and my thoughts spin out of control. They reduced the guilt and shame I had when thinking or talking about sex, because the neutral and frequent use of the word made me feel like sex was not a taboo subject. They empowered me to reclaim my body and feel good about the fact that I ultimately choose how I move and why.

Read the Chronicle and Daily op-eds.

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