Unwanted Advances: Sexual Paranoia Comes to Campus

Brilliant book by the smart, funny, honest and intensely brave Laura Kipnis. It changed my perspective on automatically assuming that sexual assault reports were to be believed by exposing the grotesque practice of kangaroo courts of Title IX investigations on campus. Kipnis lands a goldmine of evidence from Peter Ludlow who was railroaded out of his star tenure position in philosophy by two somewhat disturbing accusations from female students that disintegrate under serious study. Kipnis encourages us to view women not just as the passive objects that we’ve become, needing to be protected by overzealous university administrators with consent rules. She even touches on that taboo subject of excessive drinking on campus and its role in attacks. Wisely, she counsels women to take self-defense classes and learn how to vehemently say NO!, unraveling the socialization of being female that has taught us to be pleasing and placid.

Kipnis gets caught in the maw of this Title IX beast when charges are brought against her by people upset about an essay she wrote, claiming that it created a chilling environment on campus. “I knew next to nothing about Title IX, but we were still living in America (or so I thought) and either the place turned into a police state without my noticing, or using a federal law against gender discrimination to punish a professor for writing an essay was something other people were likely to find outrageous too.”

It’s fierce, intelligent writing that takes an unpopular view, sprinkled with bits of Kipnis’s wit throughout. “During our interview, Ludlow tried to interest me in My Little Pony, too, insisting at one point that I watch a video clip of a bunch of winsome animated ponies cavorting in a candy-colored field, which was the longest three minutes of my life.”

Let’s teach women how to say “Get your fucking hand off my knee” instead of setting up bizarre secret courts which allow them to hogtie men for their actions with very little evidence.

Men: Notes from an Ongoing Investigation

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I discovered the pithy and entertaining writing of Laura Kipnis via Dissent Magazine’s review of this book which was so excellent I’m unable to add anything else to the mix. Beyond what’s in the Dissent review, I enjoyed the inclusion of her “debate” with Harvey Mansfield (author of the “deeply offensive and deeply anxious book,” Manliness); she shows of her wit and smarts, pinning him as he backtracks on the question of happy marriages and his slippage to include all women as feminists. There’s also a great essay, Men Who Hate Hillary, “You could recognize them by the flecks of foam in the corners of their mouths when the subject of her candidacy arose.” Overall an intensely readable collection of essays by yet another non-strident feminist (YANSF).

I find it hard to get that worked up about dumb expressions of unreconstructed sexism. For one thing, in my experience it’s the subtle forms that are most insidious (these are not practiced exclusively by men). Also, I’m just lazy: I don’t like having to rise to the bait like some sort of earnest marionette. It’s too exhausting. I prefer to just spread a thick layer of irony over the situation and hope my opponents smother in it.

On Andrea Dworkin’s Intercourse, her “one-woman Nuremberg trial on injustices of heterosexual sex”:

Note the passive construction – “is taken to be” – a hallmark of the Dworkin style. Elsewhere: “The normal fuck by a normal man is taken to be an act of invasion and ownership undertaken in a mode of predation.” Taken… by whom? The passive voice combined with the punch-you-in-the-face argument, the vacillation between victimization and militancy: this is Dworkin distilled to her essence.