Case Study 1: Shannon Faulkner and the Citadel.

Is the use of violence a male language? If so, the story of Shannon Faulkner demonstrates that often when women seek to use it, they are violently excluded. In 1994, Shannon Faulkner sought to enroll as a full time student, a cadet, at the Citadel. The Citadel is one of America's most prestigious military academies. For over 150 years, American boys have gone to the Citadel to learn how to be men, to learn to communicate like men: to learn the langauge of violence. The Citadel is a publicly funded institution, and as such fell prey to a legal challenge for its exclusion of women. Shannon Faulkner was the first woman to take up this challenge, and has not been the last. Since Faulkner's victory, 43 women have enrolled at the Citadel; as of last spring (1999), only one woman had graduated.

The following excerpt from Susan Faludi's new book Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man (1999) chronicles Faulkner's struggle to enter the Citadel and the response of the institution and the cadets who populate it. What does this story tell us about the language of violence itself? What did Shannon Faulkner learn? What can American women and men learn from Faulkner's journey? And what general lessons can we draw about violence against women from this story?

Excerpt from: Susan Faludi, Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man, (1999), p. 114.

The Citadel’s defenders had long known it was only a matter of time before someone asked how a state-funded public school could legally ban women from its ranks. In the early 1990's, Shannon Faulkner, a high school senior from Powdersville, South Carolina, had asked that question – and thus begun a years-long court battle. The young men on campus were outraged at Shannon Faulkner’s effort to enter their preserve…. A federal judge ordered the Citadel to admit Faulkner to day classes during the spring semester of 1994 (previously women had only attended on a nighttime extension basis), and in July of that year, a U.S. District Court ruled that the Citadel must also admit her to the Corps of Cadets, the regiment all undergraduate men belong to, which promised, through the rigors of barracks living, harsh discipline, and drill, to turn boys into "Whole Men." Three weeks later, the Citadel won a stay of that order pending appeal. And so the legal battle raged.

That this crucible of masculine transformation could be misogynistic was a vast understatement. As became clear in the testimony at Faulkner’s court hearing, "female" was the ultimate insult among the cadets. Rone Vergnolle, an alumnus and the top-ranking scholar in the class of 1991, was asked, "Approximately how many times over your four years did you hear the word ‘woman’ used as a way of tearing a cadet down?" He answered:

I could not estimate a number. It occurred so frequently. It was an everyday part, every-minute, every-hour part of life there. And if the term "woman" was used, then that would be a welcome relief, compared to the large majority of the terms you were called, [which] were gutter slang for women. And it goes on all the way down to the genitalia, and that’s where the criticism was. And the point was, if you are not doing what you are supposed to do, you are not a man, you are a woman, and that is the way you are disciplined in the barracks every day, every hour. "According to the Citadel creed of the cadet," former student Michael Lake told me, "women have no rights. They are objects. They are things that you can do with whatever you want to." The only way to maintain such a worldview, of course, was to keep the campus free of women who might challenge it. The acknowledged explanation for this policy was that women were to be kept at a distance so they could be "respected" as ladies. Several months before the Citadel’s courtroom defense of its all-male admissions policy, I was sitting in the less-than-Spartan air-conditioned quarters of senior regimental commander Norman Doucet. He was explaining to me how excluding women had enhanced his gentlemanly perception of the opposite sex. "The absence of women makes us understand them better. In an aesthetic kind of way, we appreciate them more because they are not here."

Women who breached the Citadel’s borders were, however, not appreciated. Newly arrived female faculty members reported receiving obscene phone calls as well as pornographic messages and drawings. One female professor wouldn’t even put her nameplate on her office door because of the abuse she knew it would draw. When Jane Bishop, a professor of medieval history, posted on her door a photocopy of a New York Times editorial supporting coeducation at the academy, she found it graffiti-riddled in a matter of days. "Dr. Bishop," one scribble read, "you are a prime example of why women should not be allowed here." Another notation read "Women will destroy the world."

December Green joined the Citadel in 1988, the first women the political science department had ever hired for a tenure-track position. She was twenty-six and attractive – "someone the cadets might fantasize about," a colleague recalled. She soon began getting obscene phone calls in the middle of the night. Then obscenities like "pussy" and "you fucking bitch" began appearing on her office door. Though Green’s work at the Citadel was highly praised – she received an award for her teaching, research and service – she left in 1992, in despair over her inability to contain the cadets' fury.

"A lot of terrible things happened to me there," Green, who was now teaching in Ohio recalled. The hostility ranged from glowering group stares in the hallway to death threats on the cadets’ teacher-evaluation forms. Green had to get an unlisted number and eventually moved out to escape the harassment. The male faculty and administration offered little support. The department chairman instructed her to "be more maternal towards the students." (A cadet had lodged a complaint after she challenged an essay he wrote praising apartheid.) When she submitted the written threats she received to the dean of undergraduate studies, he took no action and his office "lost" them, she said. A professor who was a proponent of an all-male Citadel stood by one day while his students heckled Green out his classroom window. "You get what you provoke," another staff member told her. If the cadets choose to use women as their whipping-girls, their elders made it abundantly clear that they would not stand in their way.

The cadets also saw the face of the enemy in another group of females they had to deal with: "the dates." …Cadets described to me classmates "knocking around" uncompliant girlfriends. At one Citadel party, graduate Ron Vergnolle had seen two cadets hold down a young woman while a third, drunken cadet leaned over and vomited on her. Vergnolle added that bragging about humiliating an ex-girlfriend was a common practice – and the more outrageous the humiliation, the better the story. Two such cadet storytellers, for example, proudly spread the word of their exploits on "Dog Day," a big outdoor party sponsored by the senior class. Enraged with their dates, they followed them to the Portosans and, after the women had entered, pushed the latrines over, trapping them inside. A cadet reportedly tacked a live hamster to his "date’s" front door, while another boasted that, as vengeance against a date who had rejected him, he had smashed the head of her cat against a window as she watched in horror. "The cat story," Vergnolle said, "that was this guy’s calling card."

These attitudes showed up in the ditties the cadets chanted in their daily runs around the parade ground. Many of these cadences were the usual military "Joadies," well known for their misogynistic lyrics. But some were of more recent Citadel vintage, including lyrics about gouging out a woman’s eyes, lopping out body parts, and evisceration. One, sung to the tune of "The Candy Man," went like this:

Who can take two jumper cables

Clip 'em to her tit

Turn on the battery and watch the bitch twitch

The S & M man can
The S & M man can
The next verse started, "Who can take an ice pick…" and so on. This was the world that Shannon Faulkner had applied to enter.

The day after Thanksgiving, 1993, the phone rang at the home of her parents, Sandy and Ed Faulkner, in Powdersville, a tiny community on the outskirts of Greenville, about 250 miles away from Charleston. The caller, a neighbor, said they had better come outside – a car had been circling their block. On the their front lawn, Sandy and Ed at first saw nothing. Then, turning back, they took in the words BITCH, DYKE, WHORE, and LESBO, painted across the white porch columns and along the siding of the house in gigantic and, in Sandy’s words, "blood red" letters. Ed got up again at 6 A.M. and, with a bucket of white paint, hurried to conceal the message from his daughter.

A few days after the judge ordered the Citadel to admit Faulkner to the Corps of Cadets, morning rush-hour drivers in Charleston passed a huge portable sign, wheeled out at night by a group of cadets. It read DIE SHANNON. In the previous year, instances of vandalism and harassment had mounted at the Faulkner home. Someone had crawled under the house and opened the emergency exhaust valve on the water heater. The gas tank on Sandy’s car was pried open. Someone driving a Ford Bronco mowed down the mailbox. Another motorist "did figure eights through my flower bed," Sandy said. Someone with access to Southern Bell’s voicemail system managed, twice, to tap into their voicemail and change their greeting to a recording featuring the rap lyrics about a "bitch" with a "big butt."

At school, where Shannon was taking day classes while awaiting her admission to the Corps of Cadet, sneering continued in every venue from the pages of the Brigadier, the school newspaper, to the stalls in the restrooms. Tom Lucas, a graduate student in the Citadel’s evening program, told me about one bit of graffito in the campus men’s room that stuck in his mind: "Let her in – then fuck her to death."

Faulkner’s ordeal as an official cadet would be brief. She lasted less than a week. Physically ill from and psychologically wrecked by the unremitting fury of her peers, she withdrew. The media shots the next day documented the reversal that the cadets had achieved. Shannon was captured weeping, her head hanging down, humiliated. The most widely used photograph of the cadets, on the other hand, showed them victorious and gloating.

The cadets would reenact this battle with succeeding waves of female cadets. Two young women withdrew after cadets sprayed kitchen cleanser and deodorant spray in their mouths, then doused one’s sweatshirt with nail polish and set her on fire.

…That the young men [of the Citadel] were culturally outgunned was apparent on the rainy day that Faulkner showed up for admission. Her procession halted at the top step of the academic building, where her attorneys’ announced that their client would entertain a few questions. Before a tangle of microphones, Faulkner called on journalists with polished aplomb. She already knew some of the newscasters by name and recognized them familiarly. No, Sally, she wasn’t worried about the physical rigors of the Citadel – this very morning she had risen at 6:30 A.M. to jog. Yes, John, she was sure she could win the guys over with her "outgoing" personality – "I’ll make these guys speak to me." No, she didn’t worry about their hostility; they’d lighten up when they got to know her as an "individual." Yes, she intended to sign up for extracurricular events, maybe even write for the Brigadier.

With a polite, but firm smile, Faulkner advised the press corps that they needed to wrap things up; she would take only one more question. This teenage girl, on the verge of her nineteenth birthday, had an unerring gift for media management and for how it (like other seductions) necessitated never saying too much, never being too available. An eager journalist shouted out over the noise of the crowd and the rain: Just what was she hoping to prove by challenging the Citadel? Faulkner responded without a second’s hesitation: "The only thing I have to prove is to myself. I don’t have to prove anything to anyone else."

A few journalists broke off from the Faulkner brigade to approach the young men, hoping to coax them into the frame of the story. They soon gave up. The cadets didn’t make for good copy; they seemed robotic, as if programmed to parrot a party line: "She’s ruining a 150-year-old tradition"; she’s destroying a long and proud tradition"; "she can never experience the bonding of the Citadel experience" …

Additional Readings.

Before proceeding to the discussion of this case study:


Group A Participants: Please think about and respond to the following questions. Post your answer here.

Group B Participants: If you would like to discuss these questions, please post your comments on the general discussion page.

Why do you think that the men at the Citadel were/are so hostile to participation by women? What would the presence of women threaten? What are your thoughts on women learning to ‘speak the language of violence’ by enrolling at the Citadel? Why the violent exclusion? Of what significance is it that the military is overwhelmingly controlled by men?

[Introduction] [History] [Scope] [Feminist Legal Theory] [Case Study Intro] [Case 2: Bobbitt] [Case 3: Safe-T-Man]