My sabbatical is over! I went back to the classroom today, and was immediately attacked by Ellen Jamesian undergraduates for assigning a book about rape without posting a trigger warning on my syllabus. They also constantly accused me and one another repeatedly of racist, classist, homophobic, transphobic, and ableist microaggressions, and we were only talking about the syllabus today!
Just kidding. The students in HIST 369: History of Sexuality in America seemed fine, even enthusiastic. All of those who stayed after class to talk to me and my fellow instructor introduced themselves politely, shook our hands, and thanked us for answering their questions.
Can everyone who wants to scream and wail and rend their garments over so-called “political correctness” please get a grip on reality? Based on what I’ve seen back here at Baa Ram U., the kids are alright, the professors seem chipper, and the only people who seem to have a problem with what’s going on here are people who don’t work on a college campus. Today’s case in point, Emily Yoffe, a.k.a. “Dear Prudence” at Slate. Now I ordinarily enjoy her agony column, although I disagree with her sometimes. But when I read this yesterday I just about plotzed:
Q. Wardrobe Malfunction: The other day I saw a woman walking outside at my university whose skirt had ridden up high enough in the back to see the bottom of her underwear. I considered telling her but decided against it because I am a man and did not want to come across as creepy. She looked college-aged and I am in my mid 20s in grad school. Did I make the right decision?
A: When our family was in Toronto last year, we all went out on a very windy day. Our teenage daughter was wearing a very short skirt and while walking down a main boulevard, a polite Canadian woman came up to her and said, “Eh, excuse me. So sorry to tell you, but your bum is totally out.” (This has become a catchphrase for our family.) However, I think you made the totally right decision not to mention to this student that her bum was totally out. Given the hypersensitive atmosphere on campus today (see the great Atlantic piece “The Coddling of the American Mind”), it was probably best that you didn’t approach an unknown female with the information you could view her nether regions. Indeed, It seems ridiculous not to warn a stranger about a wardrobe malfunction, but sadly I think you were right to consider your advance could be wildly misconstrued.
. . . . .
Q. Re: Wardrobe Malfunction: I think it would have been OK to say something. Once, while walking through a crowded train station, a man tapped me on my shoulder to bashfully tell me that my skirt was pulled up and stuck in my backpack. It was apparent that his man felt awkward about telling me, but he was the only one to step up and do so, and I was very grateful.
A: Of course it’s OK! Anyone should be grateful to be told their nether regions are inadvertently on display. But this young man was reflecting on his assessment of the potential peril of tapping a fellow student on the shoulder and saying he was observing her underwear. It seems ridiculous to have to think such a benign act could be misconstrued. But if you read some of the extreme sexual harassment codes in place at universities, you will understand why this young man rightly hesitated to speak.
Jeebus. Fricking. Christ. On a cracker!
Why do people seem incapable of assuming that undergraduates are people too, and most of them speak the language, so just talking to them is unlikely to result in an accusation of sexual assault?
So many panics about college women, and so little reason for them. If if weren’t for the fact that so many of them keep showing up and earning degrees, I’d be a little worried that we were enduring a round of panic about women and college akin to the immediate post-Morrill Act years, when the expansion of university education meant that some became unduly worried about “co-education” and more women on campus. Late nineteenth-century physicians gravely warn the unsuspecting public that education would sap women’s reproductive potential, cause insanity, or just make them unpleasantly “mannish.”
I find it difficult to believe that anyone–young or old, male or female–who briefly alerted a fellow human being to a wardrobe issue, or to toilet paper trailing them out of the restroom, or an undectected zipper at half-mast or a missed button would get anything in response but a thankful-but-slightly-embarrassed smile and a wave and maybe an “Oops–thanks!” Who are these people who imagine that undergraduate women in particular are both so fragile and incompetent to discern helpful information from verbal or sexual assault on the one hand, and so aggressive and powerful as to pursue a formal grievance or charge against an unwitting good Samaritan?
Oh, that’s right: people who haven’t worked through their misogyny before publishing it.
18 thoughts on “It’s back to work at the hellhole of political correctness and man-hating that is the modern university”
I agree with you. I find people are grateful to be discreetly alerted to wardrobe malfunctions. I know I am the same. But, oh, those scary undergraduate women, breathing fire and vaporizing men with their gaze – I suppose that you and I are simply not seeing those campus fixtures that all of these others appear to know and fear.
It’s been a while, but I’m reminded of the version of the Crucible with Daniel Day Lewis in the lead. “Young women are dangerous” was the clear message of that film. I think it is precisely b/c so many women are flocking to higher education that these ridiculous concerns and the attacks on Planned Parenthood are occurring.
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I’m sure you’re right, Jessica.
I’m sure Yoffe calls herself a feminist. She’s the mother of a college-age woman. I wish more people would reflect on their anxieties or fears about young people before writing them down *and publishing them.*
The more I reflect on this, the more I believe that it’s a privilege to work with college-age students. Of course some are foolish and exasperating, like all human beings of any demographic, but there are so many more who are getting their work done AND learning something useful AND are able to articulate this.
Yoffe writes: “if you read some of the extreme sexual harassment codes in place at universities, you will understand why this young man rightly hesitated to speak.” But the guy in question said that he didn’t want to seem creepy (as a codger, I would feel that even more strongly, though I hope I would manage to say something). He’s asking about manners, she invokes those crazy university rules. This is a good way to conjure repression up out of nothing.
Women’s voices in the public sphere remain only slightly less controversial than in Anne Hutchinson’s day. It’s a zero-sum theory of speech: if young women can talk at all, somehow there’s less speech for men? Crazy.
Have you seen the recent kerfuffle at my university? What I found the most disturbing was not the actual banner and the sentiments it expressed (which were obviously horrible and offensive) but the media decision to present it as “scary” to incoming female students who responded by asking their parents to take them home.
Perhaps I am wrong (as I am not currently on campus and don’t know the precise reaction) but I would guess that way more women responded with disgust and disdain. But it seems that in this current climate, one (female or male) can only be viewed as predator or prey.
Good points esp. re: victims and predators.
People who protest something they don’t like aren’t vicitms: they’re protestors!!! And women who decide not to enroll after all aren’t victims, either: they’re voting with their feet. In both cases, women are clearly making their own decisions, but they’re accused of “victimology” anyway.
Exactly! And that women are so fragile and ultimately controlled by the actions of men that they are willing to walk away from something they have been presumably working for all their lives because of the actions of a few fools. While shocking and offensive, that banner was totally an anomaly. So unrepresentative of the wider climate on campus, which the media doesn’t really care about because it doesn’t fit the current narrative they want to present.
I’m not seeing real-life examples of the hyper-vigilant on-campus climate described in the press, either. That might be because our students are less privileged than those at many of the campuses from which such stories seem to be arising, and thus less entitled, and just plain busier simply trying to make their way through college without going into any more debt than necessary, or it might be because complaints are considerably rarer than the press coverage would make them seem. Probably a bit of both.
I’m inclined to view such press accounts as part of an overall tendency to demonize/beat up on higher education, which probably goes in cycles, but never entirely goes away. Some of the stories seem like they might be part of an increasing tendency to suggest that higher ed administrations have gotten too big and too powerful, with which I’m generally inclined to agree, except that I realize that, when the budget axe actually falls, we’re far more likely to lose librarians and IT/classroom support folks than sub-deans (whether those devoted to monitoring gender equity or some other issue).
P.S. The banners don’t seem to be quite a one-off; I’ve now seen a facebook post of similar (copy-cat?) banners at a college in Ohio (posted by a relative who thought they were funny; aargh), as well as coverage of what I suspect is the original incident in Virginia. The point about highlighting the example of the one (possibly only) student who was frightened (as opposed to the many who probably rolled their eyes and carried on) is interesting.
There’s a somewhat similar moment in a Washington Post story about freshman move-in centered around trips to the Container store (https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/the-kids-are-off-to-college-but-not-without-one-last-emotional-trip-to-the-container-store/2015/08/25/847f651e-4a79-11e5-846d-02792f854297_story.html ); in a story devoted mostly to allusions to the cost of college, dorm outfitting/decorating as a growing market niche, and the need for parents of the helicopter generation to “contain themselves” as their offspring become increasingly independent, there’s quite a thread of allusions to the possibility of date rape, e.g. “She knows to wear shoes in the dorm shower. To tell your roommate where you’re going. Don’t set your drink down at parties, make a budget, floss, be a good person!” At least they’re mostly couched in the (hypothetical) parent’s voice; the daughter is portrayed as wanting to buy some more makeup to be worn at frat parties. There are downsides to that portrayal, too, of course (plenty of sex stereotyping in the article about freshwomen being the ones who are into dorm equipping/nesting), but at least the daughter is portrayed as being excited and ready to plunge into college life. Of course, the only mention of academics is the cost of textbooks (oh, and an allusion to the difficulty of calculus; math is hard, you know), but that’s pretty much par for the course in such stories.
HAha. Yes, I think reporters are totes jelly that higher ed hasn’t yet fallen to bits because of Khan Academy and the internets in general. I’ve written about the venom directed at us by reporters before. Clearly, they’re not reporting the fact that most professors are in fact adjuncts and they only focus on the TT and so-called Tenured Radicals in their stories–otherwise they wouldn’t be so envious!)
Well, I suppose moving everything online *would* eliminate on-campus rape (because there would be no campuses). It would not, of course, eliminate the rape of traditional-college-age women. I’d love to see statistics some day about the relative vulnerability to rape of 18-22-year-old women who are and aren’t college students, not because I want to stick my head in the sand about the dangers of the particular atmosphere that often prevails on college campuses, but because I’m pretty sure that many of the same attitudes pervade the larger society, and I suspect that young women trying to get a foothold in the service, or even craft/trade economy, without the benefit of a college degree are at least as vulnerable as the female college students everybody is — with some justification — so concerned about.
Yoffe is on my RSS reader, but as a hate read.
Slate makes me gag. So I don’t bother reading it.
I just don’t get the panic over trigger warnings. I never thought a trigger warning was a way of getting out of talking about something controversial. I assume it is a way giving your audience a heads up to say, we are talking about something controversial and shocking, but I’ve got your back. I am going to listen and help you out if the discussion throws you. When I talk about Antisemitism, the Holocaust, and Nazi Ideology in my Western Civilization class every semester, I say, “This is pretty revolting stuff, but I think you need to know about it, and it goes without saying I don’t endorse any of it.” Nobody seems to think I am dodging the issues or giving the students a way to duck out of the reading.
or the Atlantic article about coddling… that was just surreal. I have never seen that behavior in my own school and I don’t think it happens in any of the posh liberal arts colleges in the Upper Midwest. I think its just Haidt and Lukianoff talking up their own books and foundations.
I agree with everything you say. Class has a lot to do with the ressentiment aimed at the few leftist students in posh enclaves who get a little carried away. I avoid the term “trigger warning,” in part because it’s such a cliche, but also because I don’t assume that my students are fragile or pre-traumatized, but that’s effectively what I tell them when (like you, Matt) I lecture or lead a discussion on depressing and disturbing historical facts and processes.
When you read those Atlantic articles carefully, they never present evidence of 1) actual prohibitions on free speech or 2) punishment that results from a Stalinist prosecution of a Thought or Speech Crime. They’re incidents in which people don’t like the fact that students talked back or questioned their speech. That’s all. It’s a complaint about student free speech, in the end.
Third wave feminism, and all of it’s requisite political correctness and social justice warriors, is a progressive liberal cancer. Pretty soon anytime you hurt someone’s feelz on the internet you will be jailed. Free speech in Canada is gone, and the left has shown us what happens when people are complacent in the face of growing fascism: dissenting opinions *can* and *will* be silenced. F*ck feminism. It’s not about equality, it’s a hate movement using historical abuses of women as an excuse for a modern-day political power grab. All this because “gender studies” degrees don’t pay sh1t, and never will because feminists don’t contribute anything to society – they just erode away it’s very fabric, like the progressive liberal cancer they are.
Boohoohoo! I hope someone changes your diaper soon.
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