Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Date Auctions then and now.

In our weekly staff meeting at the CWG, a staff member announced that a sorority and a fraternity plan to sponsor a date auction in the coming days. Around Valentine's Day, date auctions on campus (usually sponsored by Greek-letter organizations) are as predictable as, well.... the Vagina Monologues. Although date auctions really pre-date the arrival of V-Day 11 years ago, by decades.

This reminded me of a story that I heard related as part of an alumna's senior thesis on activism in our Upper Valley community. It appears that back in the 1970s, soon after co-education, there was an auction of women held on the Green. The then-Dean was the MC accompanied by his wife, and he auctioned off the "co-eds" to wash a man's car, or for similar such tasks. Women activists in the Upper Valley community found out about it, and started at the other end of the Green, marching over, paper chains around their ankles connecting them in a column. Da da da Dun. Da da da dun. They intoned. When they reached the platform, they climbed up, asked the Dean for his bull horn and proceeded to inform the crowd of how demeaning it was to women to auction them off for the delight of the men.

I love that story. I love that the community activists felt that they had a right and a duty to intervene. I love that women spoke up against auctioning off other women - that they spoke up for human dignity. I love that they made their point, and probably made a few of the participants rethink what they were doing. I love that the community women connected students' actions to their lives.

Today, as far as I can perceive, most students don't seem to find anything objectionable about date auctions. Community activists don't appear to concentrate their efforts on college goings-on of this sort.

Every year we at the CWG and OPAL, make an effort reach out to try to get students to think critically about what it means to auction themselves off: what are the messages about human worth; can one auction off human beings - especially women and men of color - without invoking the horrific history of the slave trade and 21st century sexual slavery? To hold a "date auction" in February, which is Black History month and also our tradition of V-Day about raising awareness to end violence against women & girls, one might argue, is adding insult to injury.

The Center provides opportunities to explore this and other issues related to gender. Check out our website for V-Day activities and more. Stop by and let us know what you think.

Peace & Sisterhood
Xenia Markowitt
Center for Women & Gender
Dartmouth College

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