Seeing the Kipnis articles distributed worldwide makes me wonder if I won’t face a similar backlash as the Northwestern undergraduate. . . . that “chilling effect” the Northwestern graduate student spoke of is real, I can feel that. I read through everything I could to catch up with the Northwestern case, and everything written by or supporting Kipnis. The details of the undergraduate’s case who accused Ludlow are like my case, and I find some silver lining in that, because at least I can take those articles and show people what happened to her is like what happened to me. [Read more…]
My last post illustrated the work of a good editor, whom I’d define as someone so attuned to your writing that she can help you say what you mean more clearly and more eloquently than you’ve so far been able to do for yourself. I often tell my students that a good editor will make you want to propose marriage. [Read more…]
As if to fulfill my need to demonstrate an especially nit-picky, real-life instance of revision, an editor with whom I’ll soon be publishing an essay (on the modest topic of love in Shakespeare’s plays) has been working with me for weeks on a single sentence from a 5000-word piece. The assistant editor first emailed me about the sentence, which occurs late in the essay and concerns the protagonist of Shakespeare’s play Cymbeline:
The ultimate point, though, isn’t Posthumus’s failure, any more than is his failure to act out of compassion, rather than in defense of his male honor, the end of the story.
On June 12, The Washington Post published a survey-based article about sexual assault on campuses nationwide. More than 1,000 people were polled for information and feelings about “the prevalence of sexual assault among college students and the factors that play a role in those assaults.” Several themes emerged in the article that also run throughout accounts of professor-on-student sexual assault.
One of those surfaces in survivor Alexandra Le Blanc’s narration of her experience. When she and her date both became “pretty intoxicated” and wound up at his house, they began kissing. What started as a consensual interlude went farther than Le Blanc wanted. “I had zero intentions of having sex that night,” she says. “It’s not what I wanted to happen.” But when it did, “I didn’t really know what to do,” she remembers. “I just kind of froze. I was visibly crying during the experience.” That someone wouldn’t object or fight to get away seems counter-intuitive. If sexual engagement is really unwanted, why would someone give in to paralysis and allow herself to be assaulted?
While no single answer to that question is clear, the behavior is very common. In most cases I’m familiar with, the victim’s passivity seems to trace to her confusion at the time, her disbelief that such a thing could be happening to her. The assault is so unwanted, so repugnant, that she tends to grit her teeth, close her eyes, and wait for it to be over. Such is especially the case if the aggressor is someone she admired and trusted.
Another recurring theme in the article is related to that of becoming “frozen” when under assault: the reluctance to report an incident because the victim worries that she shares responsibility for what happened. Over and again in cases of professorial sexual misconduct, student survivors express fear that they led on a professor or somehow signaled that they’d welcome an advance. One survivor has told me that she had a crush on the professor who molested her and, in retrospect, often worried that she had thus invited him to assault her.
But such is not the case. If, as is now being increasingly believed, intoxication (of either party or both) is no defense against sexual assault, and if a woman’s dress, no matter how provocative, is not a license to touch her, then a student’s crush on a professor is no excuse for sexual misconduct. The same can be said of a student who becomes deeply intellectually engaged with a professor. That student’s attentions neither constitute sexual consent nor justify sexual overtures from faculty. As difficult as that truth may be to embrace, embracing it is freeing to survivors who have been blaming themselves for what happened to them.