El Salto published this piece of mine today (11-1-2020):
Here are some photos that illustrate the article’s theme:
El Salto published this piece of mine today (11-1-2020):
Here are some photos that illustrate the article’s theme:
(Photo from the Ancient Origins website)
In her 2013 novel/memoir, The Ridiculous Idea of Never Seeing You Again (La ridícula idea de no volver a verte), rock-star Spanish author Rosa Montero tells of a legend of a 9th-century woman, Juana (Joan), who had passed for years as a monk, made a name for her/himself, and then became pope. Juana had spent years traveling with another monk, who presumably was the father of the baby to whom Juana would give birth while occupying the highest holy office in the land. Montero writes (translation mine): “The legend says that she proved herself to be a well-qualified and prudent pope. But, Juana ended up pregnant, with the aforementioned man of the cloth as father, and, one day, as she traversed the city in a solemn papal procession, Juana went into premature labor and gave birth right there in front of the people of the city. Imagine the scene: the golden crown, the staff, the silk, the subdued brocade cloth soaked with blood and splattered with lowly bits of placenta. It is said that the people, enraged and horrified, leapt on top of the woman pope, tied her to the feet of a horse, and dragged and stoned her for several miles before killing her.”
This one story, so powerful in its possibilities, speaks to contemporary gender issues. There’s the unevolved Catholic Church, welcoming women to leadership neither in the 9th century nor now; there’s the Catholic Church, still relying on the piety of its women parishioners to advance its patriarchal agenda; there’s the brilliant woman having to dress as a man to enact her brilliance; there’s the transvestite/transgender element for the monk couple, who cannot openly express their love and attraction for one another; there’s placenta, exposed to the world in all its silky power; there’s a baby, left alone while its mother is murdered; there’s a mother, who must be shamed, harmed, and killed for her supposed transgression, and there’s the age-old story of a woman being taught her place. There is a blending of religion and government. There is reproductive choice and subsequent retribution. There is justice, in all its patriarchal glory. There is a return to “normalcy,” with the men in charge.
Montero concludes the recounting of the Pope Juana legend with the papal protocol supposedly established after Juana’s murder (translation mine): The youngest prelate “had to tap the presumptive pope’s genitals under the seat and then call out, ‘Habet!,’ or ‘He’s got them!’ At that point, the cardinals in attendance would answer, ‘Deo Gratias!’, I suppose full of relief and rejoicing that the new Peter was another Pater.” I know it’s Fathers’ Day season and all here in the United States, but of course it bears mentioning that the Pater-Peter-Father-Pope inherits his rightly place as head of household, decision-maker, public figure, with all freedoms and rights properly accorded to him. That’s patriarchy—we have confirmed you have balls, and now you shall have everything else.
I want to return to the characterization of the legendary Pope Juana as “well-qualified and prudent.” When, in 1991, the well-qualified and prudent lawyer Anita Hill testified in Clarence Thomas’ Supreme Court confirmation hearings regarding the sexual harassment she had experienced while she worked for him, she was maligned and scorned, and eventually ignored. (*See this 5-9-19 opinion piece by Anita Hill in which she again advocates in smart, specific, and determined ways for putting an end to sexual violence.)
In 2011, Thomas’ wife made an imprudent early-morning phone call to encourage Hill to stop her activism, and this year (2019), Hill received other ill-advised calls from Democratic presidential hopeful and current frontrunner Joe Biden, who step by little campaign-advised step, kept trying to take the nation’s temperature to assume as little guilt for his role in the 1991 hearings as possible. Joe is too busy preparing for his “Habet!”moment to understand and acknowledge the role he played in allowing Thomas to occupy the Bench for so long. Note, too, that David Leonhardt in this The New York Times opinion piece (1-13-19), encourages Biden to “Run, Joe, Run,” as he exhorts Biden to run for office because “your populist image fits the Democrats’ most successful political strategy of the past generation” and because “you are not afraid of losing.”
The anti-reproductive rights Roman Catholic presence on the Bench—Thomas for almost 28 years and now Kavanaugh for too many months—sets the tone for the entire nation, from Alabama to Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, and to Ohio. The religiously motivated and conservatively empowered pater familias confirms the might of the testicles and the decreased body autonomy for those with other parts in play.
I am so thoroughly mad about all of it.
Let me start with the active shooter who last night roamed the halls of my father’s assisted living facility, and then we’ll see how much more “all of it” I can cover.
Last night a gunman shot two people at the Pennsylvania retirement community/assisted living facility where my father lives. The news reported his “active shooter status,” which remained in effect for hours. The assassin killed his parents, who lived in the apartment across from the one where my dad’s best friend lives. Let me repeat: an active shooter took two lives last evening and moved freely through this assisted living facility.
There is more to the story, of course, besides my siblings’ and my anguish about our 84-year-old dad being alone in his apartment, unaware of what was going on in the hallway outside, and not schooled in the world of text messages. The gunman had first gone to the home of his ex-wife, shot at her in her driveway (he did not succeed in killing her), and then proceeded to the retirement home/assisted living facility to kill his parents. It turns out he had received divorce papers yesterday. Here we are, then: yet another incident involving a man angry at a woman and attempting to control her—her decisions and her physical movements–through profound violence and supported by—let’s just say armed by—his country’s love of guns. (*See this Gender Shrapnel Blog post on gun violence.)
We know it is all linked: the hatred of women, and especially of women who make their own choices, and the need to control those women through violence, often sexual violence, often murder; the hatred of people of color, any person of color doing any daily action in any private or public space, and the need to control people of color through violence; the Islamophobia directly fomented by United States’ leaders and the careful, steady encouragement of U.S. Christian heteropatriarchy (yes, I went there); the dog whistles and direct calls to violence against women, people of color, members of the LGBTQ community, and non-Christians; the reduction of full human beings to less than human beings through violence enacted on their bodies; the love affair with the NRA lobby and guns, guns, guns; the KKK; the United States government. We have rapists, abusers, and/or harassers in all three branches of the government, that’s how thorough we are. One simple and startlingly tragic headline exemplifies our nation’s fascism: “Detention of Migrant Children Has Skyrocketed to Highest Levels Ever” (reported on 9-12-18 in The New York Times). Read this paragraph from the article, and take special notice of the word “quietly”: “Population levels at federally contracted shelters for migrant children have quietly shot up more than fivefold since last summer, according to data obtained by The New York Times, reaching a total of 12,800 this month. There were 2,400 such children in custody in May 2017.” I think “quietly” translates to “chillingly.”
I usually try to write in measured tones in this blog. I like having readers of all sensibilities (who love curse words, who hate them, who believe it’s worth it to reach across the aisle, who think that’s folly, who identify in many different and open ways, who choose no labels, etc.). I have no measured tones to offer today, though. Boiling mad, hopping mad, flummoxed, frustrated, exhausted, yes, these terms all work. But I am also absolutely fucking seething about the state of things right now. I am fucking seething at the goddamned patience too many people are demonstrating.
Enough people have already written far better than I can on Brett Kavanaugh’s bid for the Supreme court and Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s bravery in coming forward to make sure the U.S. public understands the kind of person he is. (*See for example this op-ed by Anita Hill and this performance by Samantha Bee; I also want to recommend this piece by David Roberts for its appeal to “dudes” and its nuanced explanation of #MeToo.) By the way, make sure to see Samantha Bee’s clip of Kavanaugh joking around in 2015 (that’s three years ago, not 36, for you folks paying attention at home) that “what happens at Georgetown Prep stays at Georgetown Prep, and that’s good.” I have written on a few occasions on Trump and Thomas (for example, here) and our not-so-subtle ability as a nation to get rapists and harassers into the highest offices of the land (for example, here and here), rewarding them for their many outstanding contributions to the Christian heteropatriarchy.
In the meantime, Serena Williams also had to apologize again for being a black woman in a white space. It was not enough for the French Open men and women to infantilize Williams by, as my high-school-aged children would say, “dress-coding her.” Then the U.S. Open officials also had to attempt to force obedience through unexplained point and game penalties, a $17,000 fine, and a press conference in which Williams could address only the gender disparity in behavior expectations and not the race disparity. (See Claudia Rankine’s Citizen for a full analysis of this, as well as her op-ed in The New York Times.) I say this all the time, and I do not know how it strikes women of color when I do, but Jesus Christ, what privilege I have to manage only the gender piece. There is such weight, such unrelenting weight to bear. Hurray for Serena Williams, and hurray for Naomi Osaka, too. They both kick freaking ass.
On my own campus, we continue to play nice with racism, refusing to make any serious progress on the recommendations made so thoughtfully in the wake of the August, 2017, events of Charlottesville by the Commission on Institutional History and Community. We are so patient and so nice with the people who still really like our institution’s legacy of slavery, demonstrated through such hallowed names as George Washington, Robert E. Lee, and John Robinson, names that identify the school and are celebrated on many of its buildings. As the recumbent Lee lies in state in the back part of the altar of Robert E. Lee Chapel, we count on invitations to esteemed speakers of color to disrupt the white, sacrosanct monumentality of it all, rather than taking steps ourselves to dismantle the space for university functions. Oh, it’s so nice to be nice, isn’t it? Such a relief? Nothing like again using the bodies of people of color to do the work that can and should be done by white people.
Please know that I am not saying that all members of my community are idle in the possibility of real change. Quite the opposite is true. Good people are tackling these issues from many different angles, expressing their views in sensitive ways, and insisting upon a change that just seems too long to come.
There are real and metaphorical active shooters on the loose, and the level of vigilance required takes its toll. How many of these good, thoughtful people inhabit bodies that are less healthy than they were two years ago? As we battle the criminality and utter lack of ethical standards of our nation’s leaders, how can we also find time to take care of ourselves and each other? This question is plaguing many groups of which I am a part, and I believe there are few ready answers. The only thing I know to do is to keep at it, all of it.
(Merida, Spain. Photo by E. Mayock)
(Meme from social media; Access Hollywood quote)
The assaulter-in-chief continues to be busy, as he ejects Haitians by the tens of thousands from the United States, proposes a tax plan that benefits only him and his cronies, launches more money-making products and schemes from his White House perch, and moves on North Korea to grab its metaphorical pussy and put us all in danger. In the meantime, we citizens must plan for his impeachment, indictment, and/or imminent invisibility.
The post-Cosby, post-Weinstein, post-Louis C.K., post-Spacey, post-Franken, post-Rose, post-Moore era tells us that there is nothing “post” about any of this. We are living with and among men who use their power and position to serially harass and assault women (and men and transgender individuals). As I wrote in the 2016 Gender Shrapnel book (and often have to remind people who write to say, “But, Bill Clinton, but, Bill Clinton…”), I have never viewed sexual harassment and assault as the domain of only Republicans, and I do believe we have to understand politics and entertainment as real workplaces, subject to Title VII and Title IX.
If we have learned nothing else from the #MeToo era, it is that many men use their power and privilege to stalk, bait, hunt, harass, assault, and rape women. The only saving grace of some Democrats is that they at least don’t also (or at least always) punish women through brutal legislation that denies us our humanity. Both sides of the aisle swim in hypocrisy. The Democrats run on being the party strong on women’s rights. See Susan Brison’s article on Al Franken to understand the depth of Franken’s hypocritical stance on women’s rights. On the other side, the Republicans boast of being the “family values” party. Ohio state lawmaker Wesley Goodman ran an anti-gay, pro-“family values” campaign, only to resign last week when it was discovered that he has had relationships with men, at least one alleged as non-consensual. Roy Moore is the symbol of the entrenched Christian-values right that is completely bereft of values, except for crime, greed, and stupefying self-interest. If these power-laden individuals spent more time thinking about others’ needs, they would be less criminal and more effective legislators and governors. As it stands, they are assholes and, in some cases, felons.
Franken and Rose both formally stated that they don’t remember the encounters the same way the women did. Exactly! This is the problem. They have approached, groped, and/or assaulted women to remind themselves of their own power. These very actions remind the women, both in the moment and for years beyond, of their own lack of power in public and private spheres. There is no way these accounts can or will ever line up—not until the harassing men learn to check their privilege, and likely not even then. Louis C.K.’s non-apology statement re-enacted the allegations of his pulling out his penis in front of unwilling women and forcing some kind of interaction with it. The more this individual used the word “dick,” in the very statement that was supposed to demonstrate recognition and contrition, the more he emphasized again that he gets to put his penis wherever he wants to, no matter the willingness or unwillingness of his audience. These statements and non-apologies serve to attempt to discredit those who have registered the felonies and misdemeanors and to re-harass the already harassed.
Ronan Farrow’s “Harvey Weinstein’s Secret Settlements” (The New Yorker, 11-21-17) very capably lays out the power play inherent in non-disclosure agreements and the enormous disservice these documents do to our society. The documents silence those who have suffered sexual harassment and rape and ensure that serial felons can strike again. Farrow makes explicit that Ambra Battilana Gutierrez, at the age of 22, was bullied into signing a non-disclosure agreement, but that she also insisted on trying other remedies. In addition, Zelda Perkins appears to have attempted also to impose legal vigilance and restriction on Weinstein, but she was shut down at every turn. Our legal system is poorly equipped to institute real remedies and operates only for the almighty dollar, thus reinforcing the sheer power and financial and social capital of these serial harassers.
Yes, it is appropriate to go back and understand our nation’s indulgence of Bill Clinton, who, at the very least, was not molesting girls. Still, two other things are even more urgent: (1) for our nation to revisit the question of Clarence Thomas’s sexual harassment and to end his long term as Supreme Court Justice; and (2) for our nation to gather information and testimony from the 16 women who went on the record against Donald Trump, the sitting President of the United States (it’s still hard for me to refer to him using this term), in order to accuse him of sexual harassment and assault.
Let’s put it bluntly: Anita Hill is a hero. For over 26 years, Hill has shared her profound legal expertise on sexual harassment, discrimination, and retaliation through her writing, teaching, and talks. All the while, Clarence Thomas has set silently on the most important bench in the land, benefiting from the all-white-male panel’s aggressive dismantling of Hill’s testimony. Even Joe Biden’s “apology” removes blame from himself and emphasizes Hill’s victimhood, rather than her truth-telling and bravery. Biden soft-pedals admission of participation in the attack in his use of the passive voice (e.g. “Anita Hill was victimized”). Until I start hearing first-person singular apologies with real admissions of wrongdoing and a plan for rightdoing, I will reject this ridiculous genre of harassment apologies. What will it take, all these years later, to reckon with 26 years of Thomas on the bench?
The current events surrounding sexual harassment, discrimination, retaliation, and assault should make us regret the Clarence Thomas case and address the cases before us now. We could look back on this era and proudly declare that we cleaned up our act. The most significant case before us, of course, is that of Donald J. Trump. *See Amanda Marcotte’s call to investigate Trump, published yesterday in Salon. I wholeheartedly agree with Marcotte’s recommendation: “There is one solution that hasn’t been, as far as I know, floated yet: The Justice Department could appoint a special counsel to open an investigation into the years of accusations against Trump.” YES. Exactly this. As Marcotte astutely notes, the investigation is warranted and will keep the public’s ever-straying attention on this issue. Two special investigations (Russia and sexual harassment/assault) are a drop in the bucket for this sitting “president.”
Those of us who live in the United States should share the above meme every day, in every way possible. We must write to senators and congresspeople to insist on this special investigation. We have done this for healthcare, travel bans, DACA, and the tax scam, and we need to respect women’s and transgender individuals’ rights enough to advocate for Title VII and Title IX protections to be applied to the groper-in-chief.
While Trump’s “Al Frankenstein” tweet served to slam Franken, it actually worked harder to re-enact the harassment of Leeann Tweeden. Add this action to the list for the special investigation.
This week Fox News removed Bill O’Reilly from its roster (reported on by The New York Times here). Finally. After multiple complaints of sexual harassment, discrimination, and retaliation. (*See the Gender Shrapnel Blog post on Roger Ailes and Fox News here.) The New York Times reported: “Mr. O’Reilly and his employers came under intense pressure after an article by The New York Times on April 1 revealed how Fox News and its parent company, 21st Century Fox, had repeatedly stood by him even as he and the company reached settlements with five women who had complained about sexual harassment or other inappropriate behavior by him. The agreements totaled about $13 million.” The New York Times reports that O’Reilly was still able to hold a meeting with the Pope this week and will not lose his book contract with Henry Holt. Bill also keeps the $25 million (figure cited in this The Washington Post piece) that Fox News would have paid him in the upcoming year. I think Bill is doing just fine, in case you were worried.
The Chronicle of Higher Education has featured for several weeks now Laura Kipnis’ article titled “Eyewitness to a Title IX Witch Trial.” The article, published in The Chronicle’s Review section, has given ample publicity to the publication of Kipnis’ new book, Unwanted Advances: Sexual Paranoia Comes to Campus (HarperCollins). In this blog post, I am addressing only Kipnis’ piece in The Chronicle. I haven’t yet read the book. I disagree with the main points of the article, but maybe the book will offer more nuance.
In the lengthy review article (about her own book), Kipnis recounts at great length the process by which Northwestern University adjudicated a case against philosophy professor Peter Ludlow. The case has been covered in The Chicago Tribune, Inside Higher Ed, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and The Daily Northwestern. I’m only familiar with this case through reading these articles and therefore am no expert on it. I understand that Ludlow was accused by an undergraduate student, who had been Ludlow’s student, of forcing her to drink alcohol and making unwanted sexual advances towards her. Soon after this became a formal lawsuit, a graduate student (from the same department as Ludlow, but not his student) accused Ludlow of raping her. These are the two cases at the center of this story. Northwestern University had no policy prohibiting faculty-student relations (called “dating” by Kipnis in the Chronicle piece).
Kipnis takes issue with Northwestern University’s handling of the case in the lengthy hearings of Ludlow, at which were present the faculty panel and “three outside lawyers, at least two in-house lawyers, another lawyer hired by the university to advise the faculty panel…,” (cited here) along with Ludlow’s lawyer. Kipnis was there in the role of “faculty support person” to Ludlow. Her account of the hearings is supplemented by Ludlow’s file of e-mails, text messages, memos, and formal university documents. I appreciate Kipnis’ detailed account and willingness to question Title IX proceedings that are still woefully inadequate on most college and university campuses. She believes that the university was trying to respond to unclear Title IX guidelines and that this resulted in the “witch trial” of Peter Ludlow.
Laura Kipnis is implicated in the case as well because her earlier defense of faculty-student “dating” had resulted in a Title IX complaint against her at Northwestern. Kipnis believes that prohibitions on such behavior are paternalistic and remove sexual agency. I believe we need to understand this entanglement to analyze well Kipnis’ highly public (and well remunerated) opinion on this case.
I would like to examine the language Kipnis uses in this piece. Kipnis remarks, “So when Ludlow’s lawyer called, of course I said yes—I was being offered a front-row seat at a witch trial.” The “witch trial” analogy seems poorly applied in the case of Ludlow, who has enjoyed great privilege and position for years. I get that “warlock trial” doesn’t do the trick, but I’d rather go in that direction. I also don’t completely understand the desire to witness a so-called “witch trial” because I don’t wish the pillory upon people, whether they are innocent or guilty. On the other hand, if Kipnis had made clear that her goal in being present at the hearings was to bear witness in the name of justice surrounding fraught Title IX policies, practices, and procedures, then her participation in, association with, and writings about the case to me would be more convincing.
The conflation of the term “sex” with “sexual harassment and discrimination” and “sexual violence” presents problems that weaken some of Kipnis’ arguments. “Sex” refers to (1) biological determinations that have been appropriately complicated by gender and sexuality studies and (2) physical contact (often officially referred to as sexual intercourse, with reference to genitalia) between and/or among individuals. Kipnis states, “I soon learned that rampant accusation is the new norm on American campuses; the place is a secret cornucopia of accusation, especially when it comes to sex” (cited in her 4-2-17 Chronicle piece). The hyperbolic language (“rampant” and “cornucopia”) belies the realities of sexual assault on college campuses, where 2016 statistics (RAINN statistics here) still tell us that one in five women is sexually assaulted during her time at college or university. The figures are worse for transgender, genderqueer, and gender non-conforming individuals. Kipnis uses the bald term ‘sex,’ instead of giving it context in the hierarchical layers of colleges and universities.
Nowhere in this lengthy piece does Kipnis deal with actual statistics that speak to a culture of sexual violence, embedded in power hierarchies, on our college and university campuses. Kipnis claims that “new codes banning professor-student dating infantilize[d]students—this wasn’t feminism, it was paternalism.” Kipnis’ foray into questions of feminism and sexual agency is interesting and necessary, but becomes much more complicated when the professor-student relationship is added to the mix.
Professors do wield power. We design syllabi, determine the flow of class, assign grades, vote for assignment of department awards, and write (or don’t) letters of recommendation. Undergraduate and graduate students can develop a type of hero worship (something I detect in Kipnis’ enraptured tone as she describes Ludlow) that might translate as sexual attraction. No matter an institution’s lack of policy on “dating” (Kipnis’ oversimplified term), or “fraternization” (a charged term in and of itself often used in the workplace), a professor who gets entangled in a relationship with a student in his class or department is exercising power. Students in the same department are often nominated for the same awards, scholarships, and grants, and therefore departments breed competition, a competition that takes on a different look and a less fair landscape if a professor is sleeping with one of the students involved.
When things go wrong in the relationship (however we choose to define it), and we know they often do, this power piece is at play. College students are often trying to figure out sexual desires and identities, and, so, yes, questions of power and sexual agency are more than just a little complicated. If and when students and professors sleep together, structural systems of power become even more apparent. Kipnis’ use of the term ‘sexual paranoia,’ in this review piece and in the book title itself, trivializes this important developmental stage for 18-22-year-olds and conflates sexual exploration with sexual discrimination and violence. Kipnis also reduces real concerns about rampant sexual discrimination, harassment, and retaliation and about rape and sexual violence to one oversimplified, offensive phrase, ‘sexual finger-pointing.’
Kipnis praises Jessica Wilson, a philosophy professor and former student of Ludlow, and Wilson’s character defense of Ludlow at the hearings. Kipnis writes, “Like a great teacher, Wilson flipped the question [about Wilson’s own account of “unwelcome behavior” from a different former professor] around. She’d been speaking from her own experience, she pointed out. Yet didn’t the panelists have to ask whether she was telling the truth? They hadn’t been there, so how would they know? And if she were being entirely honest, she herself wasn’t sure if the disturbing thing was a professor trying to kiss her, or simply that she was getting unwanted attention that she ‘wasn’t participating in.’” Kipnis neglects to make clear that “getting unwanted attention that you’re not participating in” can be or can easily lead to real violation. In addition, Kipnis replicates sexualization and hero worship in her description of Wilson: “Here was a smart, attractive, successful woman from one of the top philosophy departments in North America who revered Peter Ludlow.” She later remarks that, after Wilson completed her testimony, “it felt as if there were an erotic current in the room.”
Kipnis also tires of “exhausted clichés about predatory males and eternally innocent females…” I think it’s fair to say that anyone who follows the pages of The Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Ed, and the major national dailies might find these “clichés” to not be exhausted enough. Of course it makes sense to get away from the polarized language Kipnis critiques, but college and university campus statistics and the underlying realities of sexual violence on campus are still acutely bad. The tone Kipnis uses when speaking of the two complainants is condescending at best. When Kipnis blames herself for not coming to Ludlow’s defense in a particularly tense moment in the hearing, she wonders if she hadn’t done so because she was “so shaken [her]self, so frozen and appalled” that she couldn’t. This is exactly what happens to many people who have experienced aggression and assault (and to some who have witnessed it), just like the two complainants in this case had claimed themselves. If the two complainants are deserving of scorn, I would like more information to understand why.
The strength of Kipnis’ article (and, I surmise, her book) lies in the legitimate questioning of the efficacy of legal processes in Title IX hearings on college and university campuses. She rightly criticizes Northwestern for running hearings soaked with lawyers from all sides, hiring an outside lawyer to advise the university panel, and worrying more about image than justice (Kipnis writes: “Ludlow was bad for the brand.”). Kipnis also says that she “was being warned off the subject,” and I am certain that was the case. Universities have many direct and subtle means to silence unpleasant subjects and cases that sully the brand. My simplified view of the stance that universities adopt is that they support the side that brings the fewest monetary and public relations risks. Oftentimes this means that complainants are silenced and run off campus, and, on far fewer occasions, it means that alleged perpetrators are.
We should all be wary when a university hires outside counsel to “advise” an internal panel. The advice provided stems from whatever is in the university’s best interest. At that point, the university can be considered wholly separate from the complainant and the alleged perpetrator. Kipnis points to the fraught intervention of universities in their own processes when she writes, “The university was set on getting rid of Ludlow, and the hearing was a formality. I also knew enough about the procedures to know that the faculty panel’s vote was merely advisory; the provost would make the final call, and it had been the provost’s decision to put the dismissal machinery in motion to begin with.” Exactly! This is a profound problem not only because it is evidently unjust, but also because it exploits student, staff, and faculty labor and their potentially sincere belief in the benefits of university adjudicative processes.
No matter where we readers fall on matters of sexual agency and exploitation of professional power, we can certainly question the Big Brand Machine of colleges and universities, whose students and employees have become little more than additional institutional risks.
The Chronicle has featured Laura Kipnis on several occasions and for several weeks running. It might be a good moment to consider other editorial decisions that take into account real statistics and violations of actual people.
Last week I learned that titles like “Sexual Assault Prevention Training in the News” don’t grab readers. Maybe this week’s title will, and certainly one of the people to whom it alludes has spoken famously about grabbing.
Mainstream and not-so-mainstream media, from People and Cosmopolitan to The Washington Post and The Atlantic, have been crackling this week due to the revelation from a resurfaced 2002 Mike Pence interview that the only woman with whom Pence will dine alone is his wife, Karen Pence. (*Here are links to more coverage of this issue: The Guardian, Slate, and Canada Free Press.) As you know, Mike Pence was governor of Indiana and is now the Vice President of the United States. His level of world awareness and understanding of gender essentialism boils down to one word: cooties. Pence seems to believe that all women are temptresses and that he has limited ability to hold himself back from such temptation and infection. Therefore, he will not have a meal with any women who aren’t Karen (that’s a lot of women) and won’t hire women staffers with whom he would potentially have to meet alone in the evening hours (that’s all staffers). Jia Tolentino remarks in her The New Yorker article on the piece, “That Pence was able to do so speaks to an incredible level of inequity in the workplace; no successful woman could ever abide by the same rule. How could you sex-segregate a thrice-daily activity and still engage in civic life?”
(Pence with the only women with whom he trusts himself to interact) (http://canadafreepress.com/article/pences-dinner-arrangements-with-women)
What Pence is doing technically is not harassment, but discrimination. He is discriminating against all women and limiting their professional advancement because he is afraid that he will harass them. Actually, that gives Pence too much credit. I’m guessing he is just afraid that he is too weak not to have sex with all of these women who so obviously will be throwing themselves at him because he is so desirable.
Tolentino states that Christian evangelicals often invoke the “Billy Graham rule,” which, Tolentino writes, is a refusal to “eat, travel, or meet along with a woman” and which “stems from a story that the famous pastor told about walking into a hotel room and finding a naked woman, bent on destroying his ministry, sprawled across his bed.” While Tolentino appropriately detects some hyperbole in this account, it might be helpful to imagine the gender roles reversed. What if a famous woman minister returned to her hotel room after a night of preaching to the masses and found a naked man sprawled on her bed? I hardly think she would have the luxury of separating herself from all encounters with men in order to avoid scandal. This version of the story would likely have her limiting encounters with this individual man out of fear of assault, not out of fear of scandal. Of course, the Billy Graham rule also seems to limit contact with any non-Christians, thus violating Title VII based on not only gender, but also religion.
Pence’s ego drives the decision to discriminate, just as Trump’s drives him to harass and assault. (*See The New York Times’ transcript of Donald Trump’s comments about women.) As you can see, we have here not the Tale of Two Harassers, but a White House of virulently white, pro-Christian, pro-male men. Pence castigates women (limits hiring, work access, and promotion of women in high-level government) because he doesn’t trust himself, and Trump speaks of violating women because they are mere objects for his consumption. Again, Pence alienates women with a weird version of pedestal politics: his wife Karen is somehow pure through her singular connection to him, but all other women are just Biblical temptress bots. Trump alienates women by verbally and physically harassing them individually and en masse, thus training women to raise red flags around him, while also cementing their place as the non-hireables. These two powerful men distance those who are unlike them (non-white; non-man; non-Christian) and, in particular, privilege their power in the public sphere over everything else.
As I write in Gender Shrapnel, these behaviors have broad implications for people of color, non-Christians, and women as individuals and as members of specific groups. Individuals who experience the Pence-type discrimination and/or the Trump-branded harassment are limited in their horizontal movements, that is, their movement through the work day. These individuals won’t be invited to power lunches or golf games, where networking and decision-making take place, and they might have to actively avoid a harasser whose physical presence threatens, looms, and impedes work production. Discriminatory and harassing behaviors also suppress vertical movement, or the ability to advance in the workplace through good work, collaboration, and professionalism. Members of groups offered protections under Title VII law can sense themselves as further limited by a group identification (or, importantly, a perceived group identification) that is undervalued or even actively discriminated against. The Title VII protections are often difficult to enact, especially in conservative judicial districts in many areas of the United States. Nothing like having the White House be the beacon of bad (and illegal) behavior.
It was the worst of times; it was the worst of times.
(But at least we have late-night comedy and The Onion: http://www.theonion.com/article/mike-pence-asks-waiter-remove-mrs-butterworth-tabl-55661)
Chris Gavaler Explores the Multiverse of Comics, Pop Culture, and Politics
Chris Gavaler Explores the Multiverse of Comics, Pop Culture, and Politics