A commencement speaker at a Virginia all-women’s college upset students and alumni for her criticism of the #MeToo movement on Saturday, according to a report from Inside Higher Ed.
The #MeToo movement has driven up the demand of female speakers during commencement ceremonies, according to the The Associated Press. So attendees of the Sweet Briar College graduation ceremony seemed taken aback when speaker Nella Gray Barkley – a 1955 graduate of the college – said she only gives the movement “partial sympathy” when discussing sexual harassment and feminism.
“I have little patience with the woman who arrives breathlessly at her boss’s hotel room for a so-called conference,” Barkley said in speech that was not vetted by the college. “What does she think was going to happen?”
She came under fire for comments to the graduating students like “it is you who makes the ground rules,” that it’s “only natural for men from Mars to follow the shortest skirt in the room.”
Barkley also told the audience: “I’m no raging feminist. I actually love men, and I married one.”
She said during her speech that she didn’t intend to suggest graduates put on their armor and “ride into battle in a man’s world.”
“In fact, I do not believe it’s a men’s world,” she said. “We women just need to claim the part of it we want and claim that with high expectations and no ambivalence.”
Almost immediately after her speech, in closed Facebook groups, students and alumni began criticizing Barkley, calling it “shameful and disgusting” and that the school should be “embarrassed” for hosting her. The college, however, strongly defended her speech.
In an email to students Sunday night, Sweet Briar College President Meredith Woo applauded Barkley as a “trail blazer” and “distinguished alumna” who provoked a conversation on campus.
“At this stage in your life, you have not experienced the complexities and contradictions which get presented in so many guises and contexts,” Woo wrote. “Regardless, one principle is unassailable: that you, as woman, have dominion over your physical self, free from coercion, pressure or influence related to your sexuality.”
Woo said Barkley, in her speech, “celebrated and applauded” women who came forward during the #MeToo movement.
“But she also raised the question of agency and purpose: how we act responsibly to avoid and thwart situations that happen all too often in life,” she said. “You don’t have to accept or refuse her perspective – that is not the point – but I ask you to think about it. That’s what you have earned as [an] alumna of Sweet Briar – a woman with an ability to listen, cogitate, and take from it what you wish, and get on with your life.”