Dankprofessor’s Weblog

A weblog examining sexual politics in higher education and beyond.

On defending Roman Polanski

The blog Shakesville periodically publishes material on the plight of Roman Polanski by guest bloggers or by one of their regular bloggers.  No matter who the blogger is on Shakesville you can be assured that Polanski always represents for them the ultimate societal enemy.  Anyone who deviates from their anti-Polanski party line is considered to be scum, to be a rape apologist.

So it is not surprising that their most recent anti-Polanski rant focuses on Johnny Depp who recently made some very public comments calling for the freeing of Roman Polanski.  And emerging out of the Shakesville closet is a blogger going under the name mschicklet.

mschicklet states-

Johnny Depp wants us all to know that Roman Polanski is no longer a threat. You see, Mr. Depp seems to think that Polanski is no longer capable of raping someone, because he is in his 70s and has a wife and children. So, there you go, nothing to worry about. We can all sit back, relax, and join the “Free Polanski” crowd.

Depp doesn’t say that Polanski is incapable of rape but for some 20 plus years he has been living a pretty sedate life- married with children and engaging in filmmaking and more filmmaking.  Such is the gist of Depp’s comments- that Polanski’s freedom does not represent a risk to society.

mschicklet continues-

Except, wait a minute. The second man who raped me had a wife and children. Every single day, I am blindsided by anxiety attacks brought on by the memory of his scent, his voice, even the sound of his name. Memory is a fickle thing, but I remember what he did to me. He raped me. While he was married. While his two young daughters were sleeping in the next bedroom.

But, Mr. Depp says there’s no way a man with a wife and children would do such a thing. No way someone who’s married for 20+ years, who kisses his daughters goodnight and tucks them into bed, could possibly rape anyone. So, does that mean my experience means nothing? Does that mean it really didn’t happen?

He doesn’t say that no married man with children could do such a thing, but dealing with Roman Polanski in a marital context, Depp says Roman Polanski has not done such a thing.

mschicklet continues-

I take issue with the fact that Johnny Depp is using his privilege to minimize and even deny the horrific events that so many victims have been forced to endure. And, after reading the Survivor Thread and listening to the stories of other rape victims in tear-filled counseling groups, I know my story isn’t all that rare.

Depp is using his privilege?  What privilege?  Speaking out for or against Polanski is not a privilege, it is a right.  He is no more privileged than the dankprofessor, and as far as I know my privileges are quite pesdestrian.  And Johnny Depp has not attempted to deny or minimize the horrors experienced by many victims of rape.

She continues-

Because, as we’ve learned, that’s the thing about rapists. They rape people. A wedding band doesn’t stop them, nor does the fact that they have children. Nor does their age. Denying this, as Mr. Depp is doing, silences rape victims. And, really, haven’t victims already been silenced enough?

Well, mschicklet attributes a whole lot of power to Depp.  He’s just an actor, mschicklet, he has the power to silence no one.  Now, maybe I am missing something, but mschicklet says that Depp is silencing rape victims and mschicklet is a rape victim and she has not been silenced.  OK, I know that victims of violence, rape or otherwise, respond differently to their victimage, but her prior paragraph she indicates that all rape victims respond in the same manner.  Note that I was more restrained, I said “many” rape victims.  But mschicklet stereotypes rape victims.  For example, not all rape victims want Polanski to be imprisoned.

She continues-

In addition to trying to be the final word on what a rapist is or is not, Johnny Depp also wants to know why Polanski was arrested. “Why now?” he asks. Why is this coming up now? Because Polanski fled the country for 30 years and refused to serve his time. By asking “Why now?” Mr. Depp is focusing responsibility on the wrong people – the people who want our justice system to do its job. Instead, he should be holding Polanski accountable. Mr. Depp’s words absolutely scream, “Poor him! Poor guy! Let him go! Leave him alone!” What sort of a society do we live in if so many people feel the need to defend and protect a rapist? If this isn’t rape culture, then I don’t know what is.

I do not believe that for a second that people who are defending Polanski are defending him because they have a need to protect a rapist.  I defend Polanski not out of some psychological need relating to rape but rather the belief that Polanski has been treated unfairly and he has been punished enough.  Whatever the circumstances were with with Samantha Geimer, Polanski cannot just be reduced to a rapist.  The complexities of this man are immense.  Few people in this world have gone thru the sort of horrific events that Roman Polanski has gone thru- a survivor of the Holocaust whose mother was gassed to death and a survivor of his wife’s mutilation and murder by the Manson gang.  mschicklet is distressed that people cannot open themselves to the horror associated with rape while at the same time she seems clueless as to the horrors experienced by Polanski.

And she continues-

And ever since the arrest of Polanski, that’s what I’ve seen from such a large portion of Hollywood and society in general. I’ve seen some of the most respected actors and filmmakers in Hollywood defend someone who doesn’t deserve it. Either they deny that he is a rapist, deny that he ever was a rapist, or blame us for not letting the rapist go. I wish Johnny Depp realized that by adding his name to the long list of rape apologists, he not helping the situation – he is hurting so many people who are now faced with the cold truth that one less person is on their side.

It must be nice to live in the fantasy world that Johnny Depp lives in. In fact, I remember when I had similar beliefs. Men with children are safe, I would think to myself, in large part because that’s what my mother taught me. It wasn’t until I was raped that I finally realized how wrong I had been. But it shouldn’t take something like that to “wake us up.” We shouldn’t have to wake up in the first place.

Unfortunately, mischicklet lives in a kind of fantasy world.  She rants on about rape victims, but if rape victims are so important to her she engages in a giant psychological feat when she never mentions Polanski’s so-called rape victim.  She must know that Samantha Geimer wants Polanski to go free; she must know at the latest judicial hearing Geimer was represented by an attorney who argued for Polanski’s freedom.  mschicklet chooses not to ACKNOWLEDGE a person she considers to be a rape victim.  What utter callousness!

And as for concern for safety which mschicklet mentions, I share her concern.  But my concern for safety entails being protected from persons such as mschicklet, persons who seem to embrace a form of vigilante justice, persons who give full vent to their anger, persons whose self-righteousness seem to know no limit.  And as for safety and Roman Polanski, I personally believe that those people who believe that Polanski represents a clear and present danger to society are in a state of delusion.

And as for her comment about our culture being a rape culture, such a notion has some merit.  But support for a rape culture has nothing to do with defending or opposing Roman Polanski.  Evidence that we are living in a rape culture is that “we” support sending persons to prison in which rape is often supported not only by inmates but also by prison guards.  The fact we can’t protect persons from rape who we send away to prison so we can be protected from being raped is quite damning!!

As for rape victims, speaking up in support of Polanski, click here and for a detailed account of the circumstances involved in the Geimer statutory rape, click here.

February 5, 2010 Posted by | celebrities, rape, Roman Polanski, sex, sexual politics, victimization, violence | 10 Comments

Saving lives at the University of Iowa

The Chronicle of Higher Education has published a major story today on the suicides of two University of Iowa professors who were charged with sexual harassment and then committed suicide.  The two cases were unrelated to each other.  Both professors committed suicide days after the sexual harassment charges became public.  Professor Mark Weiger committed suicide three months after the suicide of Professor Arthur Miller.

The CHE reported that after Professor Miller was banished from his classroom by the University that UI President, Sally Mason

“issued a statement saying she would not tolerate the kind of conduct Mr. Miller had been accused of. She also said the case had prompted her to make sexual-harassment -awareness training mandatory for all professors. And while she said that “every person is entitled to the presumption of innocence,” she then went on to “applaud the courage of the student victims in coming forward” to charge Mr. Miller.

President Mason declined to answer questions about her statement, but Ms. (Dean) Maxson defends it, saying the president had to take a tough stand because Mr. Miller had been “accused of a very serious infraction of behavioral and legal rules.” To the professor, his wife, and some of his colleagues, however, it felt like the president was pronouncing him guilty before he had even had a chance to defend himself.

Of course, in the dankprofessor’s opinion, President Sally Mason was pronouncing Professor Miller guilty. She not only suspended him from the classroom, but ordered that all faculty go thru sexual harassment training as well as applauding the courage of student victims coming forward.

Maybe Mason should have drawn on some of her own courage to publicly call for the adherence of to the principle of the presumption of innocence.  But such was not the case.  And three months later when Professor Weiger’s situation became public, Weiger knew what to expect and obviously could not deal with this kind of public degradation.

What boggles the mind of the dankprofessor is that President Mason instead of calling for mandating suicide prevention training after these two suicides, she mandates sexual harassment training.  Certainly this gives insight into the values of the President.   Sexual harassment trumps suicide in her hierarchy of values.  The lethality of suicide simply is not as weighty as the effects of being sexually harassed.

In the CHE article, the UI administration stated that UI stays neutral in these sorts of cases.  I guess neutrality means giving short shrift to having any sort of reaching out to the charged professors that would help them psychologically get thru these travails.  I guess this would be considered to be coddling the sexual predator professor.  Of course, one does not coddle the guilty, only the innocent.  And it is obvious that the UI administration did not honor the presumption of innocence.

Helping those who are held to be victimized is expected.  The UI is not neutral in such matters, they  attempt to psychologically help the student victim but not the professor who they de facto treat as an offender.

For example, in December the Daily Iowan reported on the programs that were being implemented at the UI to help student victims of sexual misconduct-

To establish one point of contact for victims, the UI hired Monique DiCarlo from the Women’s Resource Action Center to act as the school’s coordinator for sexual-misconduct response.

Each school would also establish new victim-advocate positions. DiCarlo will assign a victim-advocate to each sexual-assault report.

“Having an advocate on hand at all times is crucial for any victim,” said Cathlene Argento, a Women’s Resource and Action Center volunteer. “It’s great that victims can form a relationship with someone to help them through that event in their lives.”

The mother of the alleged UI sexual-assault victim complained in a letter to UI President Sally Mason that she felt there were too few UI officials looking out for her daughter.

Parrott said the UI will now strongly encourage victims to take their sexual-assault allegations to the police as well as the UI.

Employing the rhetoric of Cathlene Agento, the Women’s Resources and Action Center volunteer, wouldn’t it be great if faculty and others so charged be able to “…form a relationship with someone to help them through that event in their lives.”  And if such a policy had been applied to the charged faculty at UI during the past year, maybe, just maybe, two faculty lives could have been saved.

February 16, 2009 Posted by | ethics, higher education, sex, sex offenders, sexual harassment, sexual politics, suicide, University of Iowa, victimization | Leave a comment

Shame on the University of Iowa

The Daily Iowan, the student newspaper of the University of Iowa, reported on Monday that new policy recommendations relating to sexual assault and sexual harassment have been unveiled by all three University of Iowa campuses and have been forwarded to the Board of Regents for their consideration at tomorrow’s meeting of the Board.

UI representative Steve Parrott said there are key elements to the UI’s new policy that will change the way officials handle all cases.

The elements that peaked the dankprofessor’s attention follow.

To establish one point of contact for victims, the UI hired Monique DiCarlo from the Women’s Resource Action Center to act as the school’s coordinator for sexual-misconduct response.

Each school would also establish new victim-advocate positions. DiCarlo will assign a victim-advocate to each sexual-assault report.

“Having an advocate on hand at all times is crucial for any victim,” said Cathlene Argento, a Women’s Resource and Action Center volunteer. “It’s great that victims can form a relationship with someone to help them through that event in their lives.”

The mother of the alleged UI sexual-assault victim complained in a letter to UI President Sally Mason that she felt there were too few UI officials looking out for her daughter.

Parrott said the UI will now strongly encourage victims to take their sexual-assault allegations to the police as well as the UI.

Now the dankprofessor is not adverse to universities developing resources for alleged victims of sexual assault and sexual harassment.  But given that there have been two recent suicides at the University of Iowa by faculty members charged with sexual harassment, one would hope that there would be some consideration given to the well being and rights of those charged with sexual offenses on campus.

Employing the rhetoric of Cathlene Agento, the Women’s Resources and Action Center volunteer, wouldn’t it be great that faculty and others so charged be able to “…form a relationship with someone to help them through that event in their lives.”  And if such a policy had been applied to charged faculty at UI during the past year, maybe, just maybe, two faculty lives could have been saved.

The fact that the UI ignored these recent events in the promulgation of these policies is indicative of an utter callousness of the UI administration.  Maybe the callousness is part and parcel of an avoidance and denial syndrome by the UI administration. Or might it represent a revenge mentality that has been prevalent among too many campus feminists in the area of sexual harassment. 

Of course, in the larger society and criminal justice system, it is the desire for revenge particularly at in the context of a police state mentality that has led to the implementation of due process which puts restraints on police and civilians seeking quick “justice”.  Due process protections are not put forth to facilitate efficient police work; due process reflects barriers which police should have to handle with care.

At the University of Iowa, and I expect many others Americans universities, the response to due process concerns reflects a feeling that universities may end up coddling male sex offenders, and rather the coddling should be directed toward their student victims (always the victims not the alleged victims).  But in the dankprofessor’s opinion these policies may help to save the lives of accused faculty.  If  this is considered to be coddling, the dankprofessor believes that such is a necessary coddling.

Shame on the University of Iowa administration for its callousness and avoidance and denial.

December 10, 2008 Posted by | ethics, higher education, sex, sex offenders, sexual harassment, sexual policing, sexual politics, sexual rights, shame, suicide, University of Iowa, victimization | Leave a comment

University of Iowa avoidance and denial in faculty suicides

The University of Iowa is attempting to come up with some new ideas as to how to prevent faculty suicides which occur in the context of sexual harassment charges lodged against faculty members.

One idea that is being emphasized is the involvement of the UI Ombudsman Office.  The following was reported on the Ombuds Blog-

A UI professor accused of sexual harassment apparently committed suicide Wednesday afternoon, prompting university officials to reiterate the availability of resources to avoid such incidents. UI spokesperson Steve Parrott said faculty accused of misconduct can go to the Office of the Ombudsperson and have confidential conversations to determine how to protect their reputation and resolve the problem. Coincidentally, the UI Ombuds Office made a presentation to the Graduate Student Senate the same afternoon as the professor’s death.

The dankprofessor considers this proposal to be surreal and leads to avoidance and denial when it comes to basic and elementary steps that UI could have taken and can still take in cases such as that of Professor Mark Weiger.

Simply stated the UI can do the same things they do for professors that they already do for students and others who allege sexual harassment.  In the case of the accuser, the accuser’s identity is confidential and is shielded from public view.  If such was applied to the accused, the reputation of the accused is protected and the accused is not subject to a public stigmatization.  Such does not mean that the accused cannot be suspended with pay.  But what this does mean is that the university attempts to minimize punishment without trial and honor the presumption of innocence.

As a result of the Duke University lacrosse team fiasco, university administrations throughout the nation know of the possible dangerous consequences of  the rush to judgment.  By not rushing to judgment and protecting the confidentiality of the accused, universities such as the University of Iowa could save lives.  But universities such as UI are unlikely to implement these sorts of polices.  The dankprofessor asks why is this the case.

November 16, 2008 Posted by | ethics, higher education, rape, secrecy, sex, sexual harassment, sexual politics, suicide, University of Iowa, victimization | Leave a comment

Victims and victimization at the University of Iowa

The University of Iowa student newspaper the Daily Iowan reported on the campus reaction on the suicide of Professor Weiger.  One of the more bizarre and insensitive reactions was by Karla Miller, director of the Rape-Victim Advocacy Program.

Karla Miller…declined to comment specifically about Weiger, but she said after such apparent suicides, it could emotionally affect the victim who reported the harassment.

“It would be only natural to wonder why an individual would do this,” she said. “Unfortunately, what can happen is the response that some people make is to blame the victims, and that’s inappropriate.

“The victims are never to blame.”

A right-on response to this comment was by the False Rape Society blog; their letter to the editor of the Daily Iowan follows-

In your story, “Accused U. Iowa music professor victim of apparent suicide” (Nov. 13), you report on the tragic death of Professor Mark Weiger from an apparent suicide following an accusation of sexual harassment. One of the persons you interviewed properly noted that “sexual-harassment lawsuits frequently result from false accusations.”

However, you also quote Karla Miller, the director of the Rape-Victim Advocacy Program, who refused to speak about Prof. Weiger specifically but used the occasion of his tragic death to implicitly assume the guilt of every person accused of sexual harassment. Specifically, she said that the suicide of a person so accused “could emotionally affect the victim who reported the harassment.” She makes sure to add that after such a suicide, “some people . . . blame the victims, and that’s inappropriate. The victims are never to blame.”

Did you get that? Before a single scrap of evidence is admitted at trial, the person who reported the sex offense is declared the “victim” who is “never” to blame for a tragedy such as Prof. Weiger’s suicide — the facts, the evidence, and due process itself be damned. While Ms. Miller’s comments were not directed specifically at Prof. Weiger, it is difficult to see how he could not be included in her rush to judgment that improperly assumes the guilt of every person accused of a sex offense.

The dankprofessor gets it.  The dankprofessor also gets the fact that the sexual harassment training ordered by UI in response to these so-called harassment suicide cases probably does not communicate anything about due process and presumption of innocence.  And if such material is included in their training, it apparently has had no effect on Karla Miller.  Unquestionably Miller is in need of some training, and it is in the areas of sensitivity and legal due process training.

November 14, 2008 Posted by | ethics, higher education, rape, sex, sexual harassment, sexual politics, suicide, University of Iowa, victimization | Leave a comment

Framing Duke University

A Science Blog article, “Framing Technique Can Be Used as a Public Relations Strategy in Cases of Sexual Assault” reports on a new study published in the journal Communication, Culture & Critique.  Researcher Barbara Barnett of Kansas University reports on her qualitative textual analysis of public relations materials published by Duke from March 24, 2006 through June 18, 2007 relating to the three white Duke University lacrosse players who were charged with rape.  Professor Barnett found that “Duke University officials framed the crisis in terms of institutional reputation rather than the rape issue at hand.”

The Science Blog reported the following

Allowing for the examination of emphasis and meaning, Barnett’s analysis revealed that the University carefully crafted its response to allegations of rape, presenting itself as a voice of reason in an emotionally charged atmosphere, and as a victim of a rogue prosecutor, whose case relied on rumor rather than solid evidence. In a case that involved allegations of rape, there was surprisingly little discussion on the issue of rape itself.
Duke University proved adept at speaking about its own image and integrity, but failed to address the larger issues in the case, including sexual objectification of women, the risks of sexual violence on college campuses, and the perceptions of privilege in U.S. college athletics.

“In the end, the charges against the Duke athletes turned out not to be true, but for nearly nine months, Duke lived with allegations that three student athletes might have raped a student at a nearby university. Duke focused on its own reputation but missed an opportunity to talk about the larger issue of rape” Barnett notes. “Sexual violence is a serious matter, and organizations that find themselves confronting such charges, even charges they suspect may not be true, need to speak clearly and strongly to the issue of rape.

The dankprofessor finds Professor Barnett’s conclusions to be surreal.  The fact of the matter is that ultimately the Duke lacrosse imbroglio did not deal with rape but with false charges of rape.  What Duke proved adept at was never considering such a possibility but employed a frame which presumed the lacrosse players to be guilty.  Such a framing functioned to encompass the suspension of the players from class, the termination of the lacrosse coach, the termination of the lacrosse playing season, the acceptance of faculty and student stigmatizing of the players and a refusal to confront the flagrant racial objectification of the Duke lacrosse players.

Clearly a due process frame was an alien frame to the Duke University administration.  Ultimately Duke in some way could have employed what happened as a means of educating about the importance of the presumption of innocence, the personal devastation that can result from false charges, and the importance of holding those responsibility who directly and indirectly promulgate such charges.

And now we have Kansas University professor Barnett who avoids dealing with the irresponsible “framing” employed by Duke University.  Such represents another academic engaging in avoidance and denial.

August 27, 2008 Posted by | Duke University, ethics, higher education, political correctness, rape, sex, sexual politics, sexual rights, victimization, violence | Leave a comment

Feminist bell hooks on erotic student/faculty relationships

Following are key excerpts from an article by feminist author Bell Hooks, “Passionate Pedagogy; erotic student/faculty relationships,” Z MAGAZINE, March 1996, 45-51. This is one of the best articles written on this subject and I urge readers to savor and critically scrutinize this article.

————————————————————-

When I became a professor I was amazed at the extent to which students, male and female, approached me for romantic and/or sexual encounters. Like many unattached female professors in the academy, I was constantly the subject of student gossip. Often the students I loved the most did the most talking. When I complained to them about their obsession with my sex life, they simply responded by telling me to get a grip and accept that it goes with the turf. They wanted to understand female sexual agency. They wanted to know how women professors are coping with working in patriarchal institutions, and how we were juggling issues of sexual desirability, agency, and careerism. They saw us as charting the path they will follow. Many of these students were more than hip to the dangers of getting involved with someone older and more powerful.

Contemporary feminist movement has usefully interrogated the way men in power within patriarchal culture often use that power to abuse and sexually coerce females. That necessary critical intervention is undermined when it obscures recognition of the way in which desire can be acknowledged in relationships between individuals where there is unequal power without being abusive. It is undermined when any individual who is in a less powerful position is represented as being absolutely without choice, as having no agency to act on their own behalf. As long as young females are socialized to see themselves as incapable of choosing those situations of erotic engagement which would be most constructive for their lives, they will always be more vulnerable to victimization. This does not mean that they will not make mistakes, as countless female students did when they chose to have disappointing nonproductive romantic liaisons with professors. Everyone I interviewed for this piece had no regret about these liaisons. We all knew they did not have to be negative. The point is that we were not embracing a psychology of female victimization that would have been utterly disempowering. There is clearly a connection between submitting to abuse and the extent to which any of us already feel that we are destined to be victimized.

The vast majority of women who are heterosexual in this society are likely to be in intimate relations with men at some point in their lives who have greater status and power, however relative, given the nature of capitalism and patriarchy. Clearly, it is more important to learn ways to be “just” in situations where there is a power imbalance, rather than to
assume that exploitation and abuse are the “natural” outcome of all such encounters. Notice how such logic fixes those in power in ways that deny their accountability and choice by assuming that they act on behalf of their interests exclusively. And that their interests will always be antithetical to the interests of those who are less powerful.

Contemporary focus on victimization tends to leave very little cultural space for recognition of the erotic as a space of transgression that can undermine politics of domination. Rather than perceiving desire between faculty and students as always dangerous, negative and destructive, what does it mean for us to consider the positive uses of that desire, the way the erotic can serve to enhance self-actualization and growth. We hear much more about the way in which individuals have abused power in faculty/students relations where there is erotic engagement. We rarely hear anything about the ways erotic desire between teacher and student enhances individual growth. We do not hear about the affectionate bonds that spring from erotic encounters which challenge conventional notions of what is appropriate behavior.

Most professors, even the ones who are guilty, would acknowledge that it is highly problematic and usually unproductive to be romantically involved with students you are directly working with, either in the classroom or on a more individual basis. Yet, prohibitions, rules and regulations, will not keep these relationships from happening. The place of vigilance is not in forbidding such encounters but having a system that effectively prevents harassment and abuse. At every college campus in this country there are individual male professors who repeatedly harass and coerce students to engage in sexual relations. For the most part, even when there have been ongoing complaints, college administrators have not confronted these individuals or used the already institutionalized procedures governing harassment to compel them to stop abusive behavior. Even though everyone seems to be quite capable of recognizing the difference between those professors who abuse their power and those who may have a romantic relationship with a student that is consensual, by imposing rules and regulations that would effect all faculty and students they deny this difference. Some folks want to argue there is no difference that the student is always more vulnerable. It is true that relationships where there are serious power  imbalances  can be  a  breeding ground for victimization. They can begin with mutual consent yet this does not ensure that they may not become conflictual in ways that lead  the more powerful party to become coercive or abusive. This is true in all relationships in life.  Power must be negotiated.   Part  of maturing is learning how to cope with conflict. Many of the cases where students cite serious exploitation on the part of  professors involve graduate students and professors. It is difficult to believe that any graduate student is not fully aware of the risks when they become erotically involved with a professor who has some control over their career.  Concurrently,  sexism and misogyny have to be seen as factors at   work, when individual powerful male professors direct their attention at exceptionally smart female graduate students who  could easily become their competitors.  If campuses really want to effectively address the problems of abuse in faculty-student relations then we should be socializing undergraduates to be realistic about the problems that can arise in such encounters.

The Time magazine story on romantic relations between students and faculty begins with this confession: “During the three months in 1993 when she was sleeping with her English professor, Lisa Topol lost 18 pounds. She lost interest in her classes at the University of Pennsylvania, lost her reputation as an honor student and wondered if she was losing her mind. If she tried to break up, she thought, he could ruin her academic career. Then she made some phone calls and learned a bit more about the professor she had come to view as a predator.” If one took out the words academic and professor this would read like the troubled narrative of anyone involved with someone on the job who is their supervisor. The problem with this story is not that it does not tell the truth but rather that it tells a partial truth. We have no idea why Lisa Topol entered this relationship. We do not know if it was consensual. We do not know how or why the male involved became abusive. We do know that he did not become abusive simply because he was her professor. The problem here does not lie with faculty-student relations but with this individual male, and the large numbers of men like him who prey upon females.  The cultural context that condones this abuse is patriarchy and male domination. Yet most men and women in the academy, like society as a whole, are not engaged in activism that would target patriarchy. There are many faculty-student romances that end in friendship, some that lead to marriage and/or partnership. The professors in these relationships are able to conduct themselves in a way that is not exploitative despite the imbalance of power. There are many more male professors involved with students who are not abusive than those that are.

Realistically, our pedagogy is failing both inside and outside the classroom if students have no awareness of their agency when it comes to choosing a relationship of intimacy with a faculty member. Some folks oppose faculty/student erotic bonding because they say it creates a climate of favoritism that can be deeply disruptive. In actuality, any intimate bonding between a professor and a student is a potential context for favoritism, whether or not that intimacy is erotic. Favoritism often surfaces in the classroom and has nothing to do with desire. For example: Most professors are especially partial to students that do assigned work with rigor and intellectual enthusiasm. This is as much a context for favoritism but no one is seeking to either eliminate, question, or police it. Young females and males entering college are in the process of claiming and asserting adult status. Sexuality is as much a site where that evolution and maturation is registered as is the classroom.

A college environment should strengthen a student’s ability to make responsible mature decisions and choices. Those faculty members who become involved in romantic relationships with a student (whether they initiated it or responded to an overture by the student) who are not exploitative or dominating will nurture this maturation process. In my teaching career I have had a relationship with one student. Although he was a student in my class, I did not approach him during the time that he studied with me because I did not want to bring that dynamic into the classroom or into my evaluation of his work. He was not an exceptional student in my class. When the course ended, we became intimate. From the start we had conflicts about power. The relationship did not work yet we became friends. Recently, I shared with him that I was writing this piece. I wanted to know if he thought I had taken advantage of him. He reminded me of how shocked he was that I desired him because he primarily thought of me as this teacher that he admired and looked up to. He shared his perspective: “I did not feel in any way coerced. I found it intriguing that I would be able to talk to you one on one about issues raised in the class. I was happy to have a chance to get to know you better because I knew you were this smart and gifted professor. We all thought you were special. I was young and inexperienced and even though it was exciting that you desired me, it was also frightening.” Our romance failed. We had our share of miserable conflictual moments. Our friendship has deepened over the years and is grounded in respect and care.

Student devotion to a teacher can easily be a context where erotic longings emerge. Passionate pedagogy in any setting is likely to spark erotic energy. It cannot be policed or outlawed. This erotic energy can be used in constructive ways both in individual relationships and in the classroom setting. Just as it is important that we be vigilant in challenging abuses of power wherein the erotic becomes a terrain of exploitation, it is equally important to recognize that space where erotic interaction is enabling and positively transforming. Desire in the context of relations where hierarchy and unequal power separate individuals is always potentially disruptive and simultaneously potentially transformative. Desire can be a democratic equalizing force—the fierce reminder of the limitations of hierarchy and status—as much as it can be a context for abuse and exploitation. The erotic is always present, always with us. When we deny that erotic feelings will emerge between teachers and students, this denial precludes the recognition of accountability and responsibility. The implications of entering intimate relations where there is an imbalance of power cannot be understood, or those relations handled with care in a cultural context where desire that disrupts is seen as so taboo that it cannot be spoken, acknowledged, and addressed. Banning relations between faculty and students would create a climate of silence and taboo that would only intensify dynamics of coercion and exploitation. The moment power differences are articulated in a dialogue where erotic desire surfaces, a space is created where choice is possible, where accountability can be clearly assessed.

June 1, 2008 Posted by | consensual relationships, ethics, feminism, fraternization, higher education, passion, secrecy, sex, sexual harassment, sexual politics, student professor dating, Uncategorized, victimization | 6 Comments

Victimization and the rape rhetoric

Heather Mac Donald has come under a scathing attack for her LA Times and City Journal piece on “the campus rape crisis myth”. I doubt that no response was more intemperate than the one which appeared on the LawandLetters blog entitled “Take Back the Rhetoric on Rape” by Belle Lettre.

Belle Lettre in the first sentence of her post sets the tone of what was to follow- “I do not believe in this stupid article by conservative Heather Mac Donald arguing that the statistics on campus rape are overblown.”

After this “informative” intro sentence, she states the following-

I do share in the views of Tracy Clark-Flory, who disputes the main “arguments” made by Mac Donald, and attacking the main tenet of Mac Donald’s article: that girls are getting wasted and laid, not raped, and so it’s their own damn fault, and that sexual restraint is the problem!
Mac Donald explains that the statistic originated from a survey by Mary Koss, a University of Arizona professor of public health. It found that 15 percent of women had been raped, 12 percent had experienced an attempted rape; therefore 27 percent had either experienced a rape or attempted rape. Koss attempted to strip her questions of the word “rape,” so as to lessen the social stigma facing her respondents; she didn’t ask them whether they had been raped but whether they had experienced a range of incidents that are, by definition, rape. For instance, she asked: “Have you had sexual intercourse when you didn’t want to because a man gave you alcohol or drugs?” Understandably enough, some have criticized her approach, noting that the question could be misinterpreted to mean, “Have you had sex under the influence and regretted it the next morning?”

But, these concerns have already been invalidated! In 1999, researchers set out to test whether Koss’ question was actually getting at the rape question. They asked: “Have you engaged in sexual intercourse when you didn’t want to but were so intoxicated under the influence of alcohol or drugs that you could not stop it orobject?” And, what do you know, this much more precise question yielded similar results; 17 percent of female students responded “yes.” Not to mention, these findings have been duplicated by a number of other studies — look here, here and here, just for starters.)

Mac Donald ignores these inconvenient facts and simply notes that subsequent studies show a “divergence between the victims’ and the researchers’ point of view.” Consistently, researchers are far more likely than the respondents themselves to define nonconsensual sex as rape. No! You mean there’s a widespread resistance among rape victims to labeling such a traumatic experience by its culturally loaded name? Next, Mac Donald will argue that a woman isn’t abused, isn’t a victim of domestic violence if she doesn’t personally choose that label — regardless of whether her experiences define her as such. (Apply that to any number of abuses, illnesses or crimes.)

It’s a pity Mac Donald went through all this trouble to explain why so many women are resistant to calling a forced, nonconsensual sex act “rape,” when researcher are not. She need only look at the prevalence of victim-blaming attitudes like her own.

And this, my friends, is why sociological studies that demonstrate empirically when and generate theories as to why victims report/underreport, leading to a study of victimology really matter.

The dankprofessor believes that neither Tracy Clark-Flory nor Ms. Lettre invalidate Heather Mac Donald’s basic thesis- “Believing in the campus rape epidemic, it turns out, requires ignoring women’s own interpretations of their experiences.”

It is axiomatic that in social science research that researchers do not obscure or attempt to invalidate the reality, the meanings, the interpretations of their research subjects. As a professional sociologist, I know that such is a cardinal rule for all social scientists, whether they be qualitative or statistically orientated. Of course, no such rule is relevant to the ideologically committed. No one who takes sociology seriously, and Ms. Lettres professes to take the discipline seriously, starts out by labeling the article one is critiquing as stupid.

The bottom line is that Lettre and Clark-Flory insist on labeling women as rape victims even when these women do not apply the label to themselves. In other words, they know these women better than the women know themselves. One of the worst forms of degradation is when persons simply ignore the reality of others, when the ideologically orthodox ignore the rights of others to identify themselves as they wish to be identified. Such in my opinion is a basic human right, the right to answer the question “Who Am I?” “How do I identify myself to myself?” Such is a basic right whether it be applied to religious identity or ethnic identity or political identity and even to the identity of rape victim.

Ms. Lettre and Clark-Flory may be doing good work in their attempt to help victims of rape which represents a crime of both sex and power. The irony is that they end up engaging in a form of power abuse when they attempt to apply a rape identity to those women who reject this identity.

—–
If you wish, you can write to me directly at dankprofessor@msn.com
Guest commentaries should also be submitted for consideration
to the same email address.

Barry M. Dank aka the dankprofessor™
© Copyright 2008

February 26, 2008 Posted by | consensual relationships, ethics, feminism, Heather Mac Donald, higher education, rape, sexual politics, sexual rights, victimization | 5 Comments

   

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 48 other followers

%d bloggers like this: