Dr. Kipnis wrote once in a “slightly mocking tone” about neo-feminism run amok. Having long since established her own feminist bona fides, she thought herself above the fray, a voice not so easily disparaged by cries of hater and misogynist. When Northwestern prof Laura Kipnis wrote again at the Chronicle Review, there was nothing funny about it.
When I first heard that students at my university had staged a protest over an essay I’d written in The Chronicle Review about sexual politics on campus — and that they were carrying mattresses and pillows — I was a bit nonplussed. For one thing, mattresses had become a symbol of student-on-student sexual-assault allegations, and I’d been writing about the new consensual-relations codes governing professor-student dating. Also, I’d been writing as a feminist. And I hadn’t sexually assaulted anyone. The whole thing seemed symbolically incoherent.
Coherence, as Kipnis learned, has nothing to do with it.
Things seemed less amusing when I received an email from my university’s Title IX coordinator informing me that two students had filed Title IX complaints against me on the basis of the essay and “subsequent public statements” (which turned out to be a tweet), and that the university would retain an outside investigator to handle the complaints.
I stared at the email, which was under-explanatory in the extreme. I was being charged with retaliation, it said, though it failed to explain how an essay that mentioned no one by name could be construed as retaliatory, or how a publication fell under the province of Title IX, which, as I understood it, dealt with sexual misconduct and gender discrimination.
Kipnis goes on to describe, in painful detail, her experience with the Title IX investigation, the outcome of which remains a mystery at this time.* To lawyers, her description is brutal, as we can well appreciate both the absurdity of the process and her reaction to its Kafkaesqueness. It’s mandatory reading, and I won’t take away its sting by excerpting any more here.
Among her reactions was the sense of a cash register ringing at the offices of the outside counsel selected to conduct her investigation. Indeed, it bore the unmistakable appearance of a credit card with no limit, a point that Robby Suave at Reason ran with.
This anecdote, I think, reveals the men behind the curtain: it’s the lawyers and bureaucrats. The Title IX inquisition must be a cash-cow for the people tasked with handling such broad and outlandish claims.
Whether that was the intent or merely a happy, unintended consequence, it’s an important thing to bear in mind, as those making bank off a scheme have a strong incentive to rationalize it, fight for it, demand it, for their own purposes. So what if no one is saved? There’s money to be made.
But the most surprising, and informative, reaction to Kipnis’ travail comes not from voices easily dismissed as mansplainers or curmudgeons, but from woman central, Jezebel.
The Title IX creep that’s happening to Kipnis doesn’t just stop with her. Kipnis was allowed to bring a ‘support person’ , who was not allowed to speak, to her meeting with the Title IX investigators. A Title IX complaint was then filed against the support person. Certainly, such blithe use of a provision to expand the sphere of victimhood seems counter productive to the goal of protecting those who were directly victimized by sexual misconduct or discrimination.
It is a stunning example of feminism devouring itself.
On the lengthy list of words untethered from meaning, “retaliatory” is the first that must be added. Nothing Kipnis wrote, twitted or did was retaliatory, as that word is defined and understood. There was no conduct to exact a cost from anyone for their actions; but there were feelings of retaliation because, well, there were.
And the second word to be added to the list is feminism. Jezebel is married to the notion that these mattress carrying, incoherent students are engaging in some form of feminist protest against a feminist, retaliating against retaliatory retaliation based upon feelings of retaliation devoid of conduct remotely retaliatory. They didn’t. They aren’t. There is nothing feminist about it. Well, not if feminism has any meaning, such as the quest for equality between the genders.
The crime of feelz may have begun as a neo-feminist push against their perception of sexual conduct, their feeling that they did something they really didn’t feel like doing, and so a male must pay. But the feelz have no limits, no boundaries to ground them, and so amorphous feelings of discomfort, that their entitlement to a world where nothing makes them feel, you know, ugh, are intolerable. Grab a mattress, someone hurt a feeling.
The notion is facially unsustainable. We all have feelings, and the otherwise unremarkable conduct of others will regularly cause some bit of annoyance or unhappiness to us. But the same is true of our conduct causing hurt to someone else. And around, and around it goes. Short of never leaving the dark corner of your room, it is impossible to avoid doing something to violate another person’s feelz. Or live a life so tepid as to be unworthy of living.
That Jezebel had this, dare I call it an epiphany, inures to the credit of its author, Natasha Vargas-Cooper, and the site itself. But there is a catch that sucks a little bit of the glory out of their otherwise balanced view.
What if Laura Kipnis was a guy? What if Laura Kipnis didn’t have her old school feminist credentials to back up her criticism and bewilderment at the turn gender politics has taken?
Northwestern University professor Laura Kipnis found herself entangled in one such trial after two female graduate students filed Title IX charges against her because of an essay and a tweetshe authored. Kipnis was then plunged into a secretive and labyrinthine bureaucratic process that she believes threatens her academic freedom.
The “secretive and labyrinthine bureaucratic process” is the same, whether the target is male or female, whether the entanglement involves academic freedom or sexual assault. Its absurdity and gross unfairness is the same for all involved, regardless of gender or accusation. It’s just as wrong. Even Jezebel now recognizes this. This isn’t feminism devouring itself, but the feelz devouring everyone.
* Kipnis has since been cleared of the allegations.