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.