At the Chronicle of Higher Ed, Northwestern professor Laura Kipnis takes a cautious stroll down memory lane.
You have to feel a little sorry these days for professors married to their former students. They used to be respectable citizens—leaders in their fields, department chairs, maybe even a dean or two—and now they’re abusers of power avant la lettre. I suspect you can barely throw a stone on most campuses around the country without hitting a few of these neo-miscreants. Who knows what coercions they deployed back in the day to corral those students into submission; at least that’s the fear evinced by today’s new campus dating policies.
While much has been made here of the new campus sexual revolution, the one that absolves females of any responsibility for their choices and presumes males to be rapists, inchoate or extant, there are permutations as well that afflict the professoriat: relations between an academic and student are the product of coercion. They too are the “neo-miscreants.”
Kipnis is one of them, though at the time, she wasn’t quite so evil.
Forgive my slightly mocking tone. I suppose I’m out of step with the new realities because I came of age in a different time, and under a different version of feminism, minus the layers of prohibition and sexual terror surrounding the unequal-power dilemmas of today.
Who knew back then that women were so helpless, so exhausted, that they couldn’t make their own decisions and take responsibility for their own actions?
Admittedly, I went to an art school, and mine was the lucky generation that came of age in that too-brief interregnum after the sexual revolution and before AIDS turned sex into a crime scene replete with perpetrators and victims—back when sex, even when not so great or when people got their feelings hurt, fell under the category of life experience. It’s not that I didn’t make my share of mistakes, or act stupidly and inchoately, but it was embarrassing, not traumatizing.
It’s not that sex isn’t still a “life experience,” but rather that it’s one involving the potential of inflicting misery on others “even when not so great or when people got their feelings hurt.” After all, everything is a life experience, whether good choices or bad, or good choices that later, after a thoughtful discussion with a women’s studies professor, turned a choice into a rape.
If this is feminism, it’s feminism hijacked by melodrama. The melodramatic imagination’s obsession with helpless victims and powerful predators is what’s shaping the conversation of the moment, to the detriment of those whose interests are supposedly being protected, namely students. The result? Students’ sense of vulnerability is skyrocketing.
Kipnis has said this about as well as it can be said. The tears and hand-wringing about the poor victims of sex with subsequent regret is “feminisim hijacked by melodrama.” While uttering these words makes one a misogynist, or a self-loathing woman, in the dagger eyes of neo-feminists, this is the view from a feminist back in the wild west days when women weren’t helpless.
Indeed, before they were delicate flowers in need of protection from the omni-powerful forces of evil, there were women who chose to assert their independence and equality by doing whatever they wanted to do. It was the forces of patriarchy that tried to put them in their place, protect them, insulate them from the harshness of the world. They told the patriarchy to go fuck themselves, they would have sex with any damn person they wanted.
And feminists had a sense of humor. Well, sometimes, anyway. We told each other dirty jokes. And then, we laughed at them. That’s right, laughed.
However, we were warned in two separate places that inappropriate humor violates university policy. I’d always thought inappropriateness was pretty much the definition of humor—I believe Freud would agree. Why all this delicacy? Students were being encouraged to regard themselves as such exquisitely sensitive creatures that an errant classroom remark could impede their education, as such hothouse flowers that an unfunny joke was likely to create lasting trauma.
After all, one person’s humor could trigger terrible
melodrama trauma in a student.
There was more, but my eye was struck by the word “survivor,” which was repeated several times. Wouldn’t the proper term be “accuser”? How can someone be referred to as a survivor before a finding on the accusation—assuming we don’t want to predetermine the guilt of the accused, that is. At the risk of sounding like some bow-tied neocon columnist, this is also a horrifying perversion of the language by people who should know better.
What’s remarkable about Kipnis’ Chronicle of Higher Ed post, aside from it being placed outside the paywall, is that it reflects what was once the highest and best ideals of feminism:
For the record, I strongly believe that bona fide harassers should be chemically castrated, stripped of their property, and hung up by their thumbs in the nearest public square. Let no one think I’m soft on harassment. But I also believe that the myths and fantasies about power perpetuated in these new codes are leaving our students disabled when it comes to the ordinary interpersonal tangles and erotic confusions that pretty much everyone has to deal with at some point in life, because that’s simply part of the human condition.
In discussing why I, and a handful of others, seem to be so inclined to buck the neo-feminist orthodoxy, so horribly insensitive to the suffering of young women, Kipnis does an admirable job of explaining. It’s because I believe in equality, and you don’t.
Along the way, someone lied to you and told you that you get to wrap yourself in the mantle of feminism while swallowing the dogma that you’re entitled to be treated like the most delicate of flowers, infantilized, because you’re very sensitive. The inherent conflict of this fantasy position is obscured under millions of sweet empty words that allow the foolish and self-serving to believe that they get to do as they please without responsibility or accountability.
But you won’t believe me, because when I say so, it hurts your feelings. So listen to Laura Kipnis. Maybe she will get through to you. Maybe she can explain what it means to be a big girl rather than the helpless child you’ve become.