It has been more than two years since Beth Mendenhall first suggested that the popular K-State phrase "EMAW" (Every Man A Wildcat, for the visitors) be replaced by the "more inclusive" "EPAW" ("Every Person A Wildcat"). Now, it's September 2011, and the Pride of Wildcat Land no longer includes EMAW in its pregame show, and we have a massive social-media campaign to #SaveEMAW.
Like most other K-State fans, I thought this was an anomaly, one of those weird ideas that college students who are chosen to write for the campus newspaper occasionally put into a column that is preserved for posterity. Until last week, that was a valid supposition. But when word started to leak out that EMAW was no longer part of the pregame marching band show, the debate reappeared. With a vengeance.
Ostensibly, the edict came down from Anderson Hall. The rumor is that K-State's First Lady, Dr. Noel Schulz, was not too fond of EMAW and wanted it removed. Reports indicate that "university officials" asked the band to stop using it, but I've never seen confirmation that Dr. Noel Schulz was the source of these instructions.
As noted above with the Facebook and Twitter links, the edict has stirred some serious controversy. It has led to a fellow K-State site, goEMAW.com, to give Mendenhall the chance to share her point of view on the current EMAW/EPAW debate. She responded with an eloquent defense of her position.
I hope to address this debate without getting too far afield of BOTC's mission, which is to discuss K-State sports and issues of importance to K-State generally without devolving into political and sociological debates that are not relevant to our shared interest in K-State sports. However, I realize that I'm walking a fine line here, and I ask that you give me the benefit of the doubt, and stick with the substance of the debate.
I don't doubt Mendenhall's premise in her editorial where she states that language shapes our perception of reality. Given that language is how we describe the world around us, how could it be otherwise? Now, I will admit readily that I have not studied the social science behind language's implications for how we perceive the world. Between journalism school and law school, I have learned quite a bit about the English language. In those studies, however, I have not had occasion to consider the social scientific evidence that purportedly supports Mendenhall's position that male-centered language is a component in the perpetuation of gender inequality.
As such, I don't have much to offer there. I can't offer a critique of the studies or their methodology. But from reading her editorial, I can offer a critique of Mendenhall's methodology. For instance, she dismissively states that the absence of malicious intent is unimportant. Sorry, but intent is always important. There's a reason that "intent" is an integral part of our criminal justice system. If EMAW and K-State are truly a state of mind, truly just a statement that "we are all Wildcats," then it really does not matter how that statement is expressed. I suspect that I am like many others in using the acronym "EMAW" as an innocent expression of the K-State state of mind that Mendenhall mentions. My intent is not to exclude women, but to express pride in my alma mater. Intent matters.
Further, Mendenhall categorically dismisses anecdotal evidence of K-State women who do not have a problem with "EMAW" as the statements of unenlightened rubes who do not understand the entrenched power structure that is holding them down. Perhaps she did not intend the statement to be that broad, but that's how it came off. In fairness, I'll assume that she did not intend to be so broadly dismissive. But dismissing the opinions of other women is not any more productive than the vigorous attacks of the anti-PC crowd who oppose Mendenhall. My wife, who is certainly not a K-State woman, holds three advanced degrees and is a successful and upwardly mobile woman in the corporate workforce. She thinks the concern over EMAW is a worthless waste of time. In fact, she may be more dismissive of the debate than I am, but maybe that's just because she is not a K-State fan.
In summary, I am skeptical that phrases such as "EMAW" contribute significantly to gender inequality in the United States. But that doesn't mean that I don't think Mendenhall and others who share her viewpoint aren't entitled to that viewpoint. And, frankly, I don't think the end of the band spelling out "EMAW" before football games is an event that requires a rude and inconsiderate response to Mendenhall.
On this note, Mendenhall makes several allegations of rude and inappropriate behavior. I was not a witness to any of these purported events, so I have no idea if they occurred. But given the heated response, on this site and elsewhere, to the EMAW/EPAW issue, let's just say I wouldn't be surprised if they did occur.Mendenhall alleges that Tim Fitzgerald told her that her position was silly when she approached him about it before last weekend's game against Kent State. Maybe that's true, and if so, Fitzgerald's actions come off as rude, but let's remember that she approached Fitzgerald while he was doing the pregame show for 101.5. Those who know me can tell you I can be a little irritable if interrupted at work. It's the nature of the beast.
But Mendenhall certainly doesn't deserve to be dismissed as "silly," and she doesn't deserve the outright abusive conduct that she claims occurred at the Kent State game, when she was honored for her role in K-State's national championship in debate last year, or in online forums. She claims she was told to "eat shit" at the Kent State game, and that online commenters have told her to "know her role" and made more sinister statements that come off as thinly veiled threats of sexual assault. Again, I have no first-hand knowledge of these comments, but I don't have any good reason to doubt them, either.
And this is something I find sad about how we react to college sports. Think about the things you value most in life. Surely spouses, children and family come first. While I love K-State sports, it is not the most important thing in my life. Within the sphere that is "K-State sports" in my universe, the band spelling out "EMAW" on the football field before games is pretty low on the list. My guess is that most of you are the same. Many of you are married, have children, and have a day job that, while it may not be exciting, it does put food on the table and pay your bills. In your world, whether the band spells out "EMAW" before a football game is pretty irrelevant.
Maybe none of you were the ones who told Mendenhall to eat shit at the Kent State game, and maybe none of you were the ones who made thinly veiled threats of sexual assault or told her to know her role. I certainly hope not. Because, as important as K-State sports are to us, they should not be so important that they lead us to treat other K-State fans rudely because they don't agree with us on a matter so trivial as a small part of the Pride of Wildcat Land's pregame show.
Maybe some of you are reading this and thinking "it's not about a seemingly insignificant part of the band's pregame show, it's a bigger issue of creeping political correctness in this country." Fine. You are perfectly entitled to that viewpoint. But my suggestion is that your point is better made by addressing your opponent's argument on the merits, and not resorting to personal attacks and name calling.
As I stated above, I don't agree with Mendenhall's position. But I also don't think the band spelling out "EMAW" before a game justifies rude behavior toward a fellow K-State alum, and one who has represented K-State well in terms of accomplishments in the University's name, at that. If you disagree with Beth Mendenhall or Dr. Noel Schulz, address their argument on the merits, not by hurling insults.