Perspective

by Belle Waring on September 28, 2009

I decided just to boost this comment I made in the thread below about Dr. Kealey’s failed attempt at humor. (My sexism. Let me show you it.) I considered removing the bad words, but then decided, fuck it. If Panera bread is banning CT from its wireless for you right now, sorry hypothetical Panera-eating CT readers. Who can’t read this apology.

I’d like to share a little anecdote from my college years. I had a Roman History prof who would frequently make comments on my appearance, in front of the gathering class, as I made my way to my seat in the front row (because I was a very diligent student!). And at a gathering of students and faculty I decided to leave and put on my coat, but then got sidetracked into a discussion with him and said I needed to take my coat off. And he said, you can do that but if you do I’m going to stare at your breasts—but you knew that when you got that tattoo there. (The tattoo is like 3 inches below my clavicle anyway, thank you.) He actually said that to me! And then, when I was applying to graduate school, I had to approach my advisor with a problem, because normally I would ask this prominent scholar who gave me an A+ (which, I may say, I thoroughly deserved) in Roman History to write a recommendation, but I knew from previous experience that I didn’t actually want to be alone with him in his office. And so my advisor had to convince another professor, of equal status, to write me a recommendation that was somewhat fictional, on the assurance that when I did have a class with him that term he would find me everything promised, etc. He kindly did so and didn’t regret his decision. So where I’m going with this is, that fucking sucked and was a terrible experience for me, and Dr. Kealy is a fucking asshat who is even now making the lives of his attractive female students needlessly miserable. And just FYI, dsquared’s reliable, not-making-a-big-deal-out-of-it, stand up feminism makes him infinitely more sexually appealing to the leftist ladies of the world. That shit is like catnip. It is only the strict, sex-hating conventions of Crooked Timber, under which fraternization between co-bloggers is totes banned, which keeps us apart right now. And the happily married thing.

Just adding, it was particularly irritating about the grade, because I really did deserve an A+ in that class, but it was impossible to know whether my grade was influenced by my breasts. My boyfriend at the time, for example, questioned it on this basis. I doggedly went on earning the same grade in other classes until at one point my GPA was above 4.0. But the tarnish never really went away. And all of this fell under the look but don’t touch rubric, while still being humiliating and awful.

Particularly humiliating and awful in light of the fact that a teacher at my middle/high school “fell in love with me” on the first day of 7th grade (when I had just turned 13) , and proceeded to have a protracted—I don’t know what you would call it, affair, maybe—which he carefully avoided consummating until four weeks after I reached the age of consent in Washington D.C. The schmuck wrote a book about me, in addition to taking approximately one billion pictures of me (he was the photography teacher, natch.) I mean really, a whole novel. What a pitiful, yet shitty thing to do. And then I finally told my mom about it, and he got fired from the school in my senior year, and then almost all the girls at my (all-girls) school turned uniformly against me and treated me awfully for “ruining his life.” So think how happy I was to get to college, where there would be real scholarship and adults who behave with minimal decency! Hollow laughs ensue. Now I’m not writing this so you can all say, poor Belle, that’s really awful. I’m fine now and that’s not the point. But there’s a reason all those annoying strident feminists go on about how the personal is the political. Kealy doesn’t know the personal histories of the female students he’s ogling. And they deserve to be treated like human beings, not fresh-faced dollies to use as mental props during masturbation.

{ 114 comments }

1

Belle Waring 09.28.09 at 8:26 am

My husband wondered if I really wanted to tell everyone on the entire internet such a personal thing. I do have a fever right now so maybe my judgment is poor. But look, I didn’t do anything wrong or have any cause to feel shame, and if women always censor themselves on these subjects no one will know what goes on. So fuck it, basically. But do try not to be total dicks in the comments, thanking you in advance, yours truly, etc.

2

alex 09.28.09 at 8:32 am

You’re right, Kealey’s wrong. The other guys you mention were all wrong too, except for the stand-up ones, obviously. That all this might not be immediately obvious to anyone with a pulse is merely evidence of the work still to be done…

3

Helen 09.28.09 at 8:48 am

Great post, Belle. And as for telling your personal story, if it helps kids like Mei-Mei and Zoe in the future… Yes I know, but one can only hope.

4

North 09.28.09 at 9:04 am

But there’s a reason all those annoying strident feminists go on about how the personal is the political.

No kidding. And brilliant illustration of it.

Here’s a question I’ve been turning over for years: what’s your responsibility if you know that someone (say, a faculty member or a boss) has sexually harassed people, but those people don’t want to (or can’t) come forward? What if said harassers make all the right noises about how terrible harassment is, get themselves put on committees to address the issue, write op-eds and newsletter pieces, but continue to do that very same terrible behavior when they can get away with it? I feel really strongly that people like Kealey, that Roman History professor, and Roman Polanski should suffer substantial reputational costs even if they can’t be formally punished – but how, if the victim doesn’t want to do what you just did?

5

John Meredith 09.28.09 at 9:18 am

Kealy’s article isn’t very funny, but, just for perspective, he isn’t joking about sexually predating on students, or ogling them, but about what you should do if a student makes a pass at or tries to flirt with you. And the message is: keep off. I don’t think anyone has suggested (have they?) that female students are made uncomfortable in any way by Kealy in real life.

6

Belle Waring 09.28.09 at 9:24 am

If you think that Kealy’s female students are unable to perceive that he regards their pulchritude as a “perk” of his job, well, there’s some real estate investment opportunities I’d like to talk to you about.

7

magistra 09.28.09 at 9:52 am

Kealey’s article is trying (and failing) for the comedy of complicity: ‘we know we’re not supposed to think this, but we all do, don’t we?’ As if you stood up in a group of historical publishers and said: ‘Haven’t the Nazis been good for us?’ or told a bunch of academics that you’re trying to develop a lecture theatre with a built in device for giving small electric shocks to the seats of the more irritating students. There are some comedians very good at doing this (Ricky Gervais, for example), but it relies on your audience all sharing the same guilty secret.

Kealey’s guilty secret is that he wants (female) students to lust after him and he wrongly assumes that all other lecturers feel the same, or at least all the other lecturers who matter, who are straight men like him. (This is probably because he has read too many novels in which other middle aged men create female characters who lust after middle-aged lecturers).

This in itself just makes him look pathetic. But the problem is when this desire for someone to lust after you makes you interpret any friendly gesture from the people concerned as evidence for that lust. It’s the stalker mentality: ‘they smiled at me, therefore they must really go for me, therefore it’s OK to try and fondle them, because that’s what they really want’. Maybe Kearney is just self-delusional about his capacity for comedy; but if he’s self-delusional about his attractiveness as well, I wouldn’t want to be one of his students.

8

alex 09.28.09 at 10:31 am

“or told a bunch of academics that you’re trying to develop a lecture theatre with a built in device for giving small electric shocks to the seats of the more irritating students.”

What could possibly be wrong with that?

[/proving your point]

9

John Meredith 09.28.09 at 10:37 am

“If you think that Kealy’s female students are unable to perceive that he regards their pulchritude as a “perk” of his job”

I don’t think either of us have anything to base an opinion on one way or another. If a few pop up to say he is a lech, that will be a different. But either way, the article (apart from not being very funny) is not really all that shocking. It is just making the uncontroversial points that if a femail student flirst with a male prof, it is most likely a passing crush that does not reflect on his powers of attraction and he should keep his hands off. The experiences you describe in this blog are of another order altogether.

And all teachers in higher ed that I know, do enjoy the sexually attractive students that they teach, in my experience the women as much or more than the men. I have a lesbian friend who teaches an arts course who is very funny about the pleasures and pains of resisting the flirtations of attractive female students who develop a sudden bi-curious crush. I think she considers it more of a perk than a punishment.

10

dsquared 09.28.09 at 11:08 am

The thing is, it’s a serious issue, and people in positions of authority should leave the joking about that sort of thing to people who aren’t. I have what I regard as a hilarious satirical article about the inability of the investment banking industry to hire women and minorities, but it’s never going to see the light of day because I know how it would look in print – even though I’m actually satirising the ridiculousness of the bankers, it would look like I regarded the whole matter as a joke.

11

Peter S 09.28.09 at 11:09 am

Belle,

Forgive me for being dense, but I’m unsure which point you are trying to make with what is undoubtedly a powerful post:

1. Teachers should not feel X.
2. Teachers should not admit to feeling X.
3. Teachers should not jokingly admit to feeling X (as opposed to regretfully admitting to feeling X).
4. Teachers should not admit to feeling X — jokingly or not — in places where students will hear that admission.
5. Teachers who violate Rules 2-4 are more likely to — perhaps are the kinds of people who are predisposed to — act on feelings of X.

Are there other options? Of course, perhaps your story is mainly a cautionary tale — one that is not designed to produce or to support a general rule. Still, I think the question is worth asking, given the reaction of commenters like John.

I’ll refrain from pointing to the sentences that made me create the above list and simply ask for your thoughts.

12

John Meredith 09.28.09 at 11:20 am

“The thing is, it’s a serious issue, and people in positions of authority should leave the joking about that sort of thing to people who aren’t. “

Well, yes, I agree with that. And also that it comes over as creepy (as someone said on here somewhere) and a bit off. But I think that is what it is, a bit of a misjudgement. In content it is not really objectionable, for all it is stylistically queasy.

13

dsquared 09.28.09 at 11:28 am

Yehbut, the medium is the message here, isn’t it? The guy’s writing in his trade magazine saying “heheheh, guys, eh, those yummy little coeds? We all want to, don’t we? Don’t we? But you know you shouldn’t! Just have a good old stare and then go back home and shag the wife! We all do it, don’t we?”. Well no we don’t. If I was an academic, I’d be quite angry at the insinuation. The content of it is that male academics fantasise about their students while having sex with their wives. That’s actually quite objectionable in about a dozen different ways.

14

Belle Waring 09.28.09 at 11:31 am

The funny thing is, I have a similarly bad story from grad school but it would be too obvious whom I was talking about and I don’t want to lose his general good will, so…
Peter: I’m not telling anyone what to think, I’m just relating that having your professors regard you primarily in terms of your sexual attractiveness rather than as an actual student can be very unpleasant.

15

John Meredith 09.28.09 at 11:37 am

The tone is a bit snickery but, no, I think it is pretty clear that the intention was to satirise the ‘casaubons’ who imagine that undergrads with a crush have fallen for their enormous sexual charsima, and to underscore the message that you shouldn’t be deluded into going anywhere with it. He is explicit that the subject are those undergrads who make passes at profs, not the general population. He was asked to do a funny piece on lust and it looks like he lost control of the style to me.

16

DivGuy 09.28.09 at 11:59 am

Here’s what Kealey actually said:

The fault lies with the females. The myth is that an affair between a student and her academic lover represents an abuse of his power. What power? Thanks to the accountability imposed by the Quality Assurance Agency and other intrusive bodies, the days are gone when a scholar could trade sex for upgrades. I know of two girls who, in 1982, got firsts in biochemistry from a south-coast university in exchange for favours to a professor, but I know of no later scandals.

“What power?” What an asshole.

Kealey is going with not merely the “she was asking for it” defense, but universalizing that defense – “they are all asking for it”. Poor male professors, no longer having any power over female students.

17

chris y 09.28.09 at 12:02 pm

Here’s a question I’ve been turning over for years: what’s your responsibility if you know that someone (say, a faculty member or a boss) has sexually harassed people, but those people don’t want to (or can’t) come forward?

This is incredibly difficult. I know of a case where a Senior Lecturer and minor celeb. was widely known among thhe student body to be a serial sexual exploiter of undergrads. In this instance it was not only that none of the students affected complained, but the man vermin’s wife (who was emotionally abused in various ways) was aware of what was going on and lived in terror of it blowing up.

My informant here was a friend of the wife, and kept quiet because she was asked to, and feels badly about doing so, but what can you do?

18

Glen Tomkins 09.28.09 at 12:10 pm

Wired for both

We’re neurally wired to use sexuality for both affection and aggression/dominance, just like our close relatives the chimpanzees. Unlike the chimpanzees, we have consciences, and the latter use obviously needs to be repressed as thoroughly as possible. But repression of sexuality is in bad odor at the moment. Which is understandable, since when we institutionalize any sort of repression, somehow it’s always the humane aspects of the thing that end up repressed, rather than the original, legitimate, target; and the repression of sexuality in human society has not been an exception. Perhaps that’s because institutionalizing repression utilizes our aggression/dominance faculty, which finds its strength in the taproot of our sexuality.

19

John Meredith 09.28.09 at 12:16 pm

“Kealey is going with not merely the “she was asking for it” defense, but universalizing that defense – “they are all asking for it”. “

This is what is odd about this particular hoo-ha. How on earth can anyone read that into an article urging professors not to have sex with undergraduates?

20

Maurice Meilleur 09.28.09 at 12:23 pm

John Meredith: ‘Hoo-ha’? I do not think it means what you think it means.

21

JoB 09.28.09 at 12:27 pm

John, if you permit me: “Oh, b*ll*cks!”, this isn’t about finding the view of the opposite or same sex pleasing, this is about mixing your perspectives & then being able to hide under complexity of real life. It’s not because you’re friend is lesbian that she’s not able of being at risk of crossing an abundantly clear line – the pleasure and pain of resisting flirtation IS flirtation.

22

DivGuy 09.28.09 at 12:31 pm

This is what is odd about this particular hoo-ha. How on earth can anyone read that into an article urging professors not to have sex with undergraduates?

It’s pretty simple. The poor professors are the victims here, with no power and all these hot chicks around throwing themselves at them. The only response professors have is to not sleep with them – because, again, they have no power – and just lech at the girls and think about hate-sex.

What’s ugly about the article is that it places all fault on the women, then tells the men to refrain. One thing I think is going on with this post is showing how incredibly bad a theory of student-professor relationships Kealey has presented, and how fundamentally offensive that is, in regard to actual things that actual male professors have done.

23

Jacob T. Levy 09.28.09 at 12:34 pm

If you think that Kealy’s female students are unable to perceive that he regards their pulchritude as a “perk” of his job,

Suppose that they hadn’t. Suppose that he’s the model of propriety and discretion, who actually does look away as soon as he can, though not before what he calls the “flash of appreciation” has, apparently, burned itself into his retinas. [It’s a hypothetical. He presumably thinks this about himself, at least.]

They sure know *now*, don’t they? Moreover, they know what that image will be doing on his retinas later.

He seems to have believed ex ante that he could just have these unspoken charged moments with some subset of his female students who were [in his mind] deliberately flirting with him. Again, suppose that he’s right. In writing this piece he took them out of the privacy of his mind and made them accessible to *every* female student who has to go into his office.

Belle’s almost certainly right that what he thought he kept to himself, he didn’t successfully– but in the act of writing this piece, he’s guaranteed that. And so the writing of it was an added, unteacherly, thing to do, harmful to his current and future students, above and beyond his underlying attitudes.

24

John Meredith 09.28.09 at 12:45 pm

“What’s ugly about the article is that it places all fault on the women”

I think you should (re)read the article. It does not place ‘fault’ at all. It just recommends that male profs do not delude themseolves into thinking it is OK to sleep with undergrads.

“They sure know now, don’t they? Moreover, they know what that image will be doing on his retinas later.”

But Jacob, who are these undergrads who do not already know that profs (of both sexes) are sexual?

“John, if you permit me: “Oh, b*ll*cks!”, this isn’t about finding the view of the opposite or same sex pleasing, this is about mixing your perspectives “

JoB, but it is about not mixing them (if I have understood you). That is my point. If this had been an article urging profs to go for it with their undergrads, I would see what the fuss was about. But it isn’t; it is the opposite.

25

John Emerson 09.28.09 at 12:48 pm

This issue is fraught but I can testify at least that in the period 1964-1980 or so, at the height of the sexual revolution so-called, questions about age and power differentials between partners, the question of defining “underage”, and the question of faculty-student relationships were obscured by a battle between two absolute positions: the old conservative, mostly christian definition of chastity, and the new position of “anything goes, and anyone who objects to any kind of sexual activity is a puritan”. The people in between with a more nuanced view were swamped.

I have lots of anecdata. A friend of mine said her parents’ friends started hitting on her when she was about 14. A single parent of a 15 year old girl basically doubledated with her daughter. Famous cases from Oregon are Sen. Packwood and Gov. Goldschmidt, both of whom hit on their HS age babysitters, with long term harm in the latter case. (Packwood’s babysitter was disgusted and repelled the advance. She actually had a boyfriend already, a college student about 22 years old.) A HS principal who fondled his student aides. A HS football coach who married a girl right after she graduated.

In college both gay and straight faculty student relationships were common, and two couples married upon the woman’s graduation. It was all don’t ask don’t tell keep it out of the papers and police docket, but I knew about a lot of it and I wasn’t all that tuned into the gossip. One of these marriages seems to have been ideally happy — I still meet them occasionally. One was unhappy in the normal range, according to report. The couple married out of HS is reportedly still married, and the wife is a lawyer now.

As an instance of the older pattern, my brother-in-law-to-be was jailed in small town Minnesota when his girlfriend’s mother found them in bed together. It was a knagaroo court and I don’t know what the charge was — he was actually younger than her.

Around that time I also met a Hollywood girl about 13-14 who’d been sent to Oregon to get her out of the orgy scene she’d been in, all with boys only slightly older than her. But in Oregon she picked up a boyfriend in his 20s.

It was really like a validation of the slippery-slope argument that if you don’t have absolute and somewhat arbitrary rules, chaos ensues. As I’ve noted many times elsewhere, there was a nationwide correction consisting of the change of the age of consent, which had been as low as 12 in some states ( and not just the ones you’d expect, it was very low in Hawaii and Iowa. ) Basically the old rule was replaced by a new rule, showing that chaos doesn’t last forever. The age now is 18 in most states and 16 in some, and there are little adapters for cases when one partner is not too much older than the other (say 21 and 17).

Belle’s case was compounded by the apparent fact that the guy was either inept or mean or both. I was briefly checked out by my piano teacher, who I’d been warned about, but after a brief uncomfortable period he became my best teacher ever. He was a very gentlemanly and considerate guy, but if the student was interested, as I wasn’t, the guy did date students.

To my knowledge none of the above cases involved date rape but many involved power differentials. Date rape is usually anything goes compounded by gross sexism and in Polanski’s case, abuse of power.

Pro forma: I have no skeletons in my closet and no doog in this fight, but this has struck me for a long time as an instance of an actual, observable change, after a period of chaos, from one system of rules to a different one which is laxer in one sense (toleration of “fornication”) and stricter in another (attention to power differentials, sexism, and age differences) .

But you still have worst-of-all-possible-worlds attitudes, which is Las Vegas/Texas high-roller social conservatives who are indulgent of straight male excess but strict about female and gay excess, and likewise tolerant of dominant white male excess and harsh on lumpen excess.

26

chris y 09.28.09 at 12:51 pm

What on earth did I say to get moderated?

27

dsquared 09.28.09 at 12:52 pm

It just recommends that male profs do not delude themseolves into thinking it is OK to sleep with undergrads

it also recommends that they fantasise about having sex with undergrads while doing so with their wives; am I just some sort of old-fashioned type or is this really not much of a way to behave?

I have a certain amount of sympathy for John M’s point of view – he’s not actually advocating anything horrendous, it’s just a bunch of really ill-advised and crass humour. But it is really crass and unpleasant, and there does have to be some recognition and social sanction for that. Jacob is exactly right; this sort of coarse, laddish humour isn’t harmless or victimless and a bit of scolding and shaming is totally appropriate. Kealey shouldn’t lose his job over this, but he ought to lose a sufficient proportion of his bonus to make him think twice about doing anything similar ever again.

28

John Meredith 09.28.09 at 12:55 pm

“it also recommends that they fantasise about having sex with undergrads while doing so with their wives; am I just some sort of old-fashioned type or is this really not much of a way to behave?”

You mean the recommendation ofr the fantasising? I don’t know whether it is old-fashioned or not but you are on to a loser if you want to set yourself up against illicit sexual fantasy, that’s for sure.

29

Maurice Meilleur 09.28.09 at 12:57 pm

I hate to pile on here … well, okay, no, I don’t. Sorry to repeat the obvious, but Belle is exactly right that Kealy’s piece is boorishly insulting, humiliating, and awful to his female students. And John Meredith’s argument that the piece is simply an awkward lame-humor cautionary nudge to Kealy’s colleagues is false by omission. Yes, John, he’s literally saying, don’t fuck your students. But the reason why Kealy thinks you shouldn’t fuck your students is that you can’t get away with exchanging sex for grades any longer, because the fools in the administration have stripped you of that privilege. Kealy is telling his colleagues of a certain age that the nature of the ‘perk’ that students are for their professors has changed. You may now look but you can’t touch, no matter how you may miss the days when you could. And the extra trouble is that all those sluts will abuse their new power over you by continuing to try to get you to fuck them, so you have to be strong in the face of temptation, and don’t let them trick you into thinking they really find you attractive.

30

John Meredith 09.28.09 at 12:57 pm

“What on earth did I say to get moderated?”

Whatever it was, you should feel thoroughly ashamed.

31

mathpants 09.28.09 at 1:01 pm

John Meredith,

in re “placing fault:”

Kealey has a notion in his odd brain that female students (and lots of them!) want to sleep with him. He places the fault for this notion on the female students.Even more, he decides that he knows why they want to sleep with him, decides it’s not a good enough reason, and so resigns himself to masturbating furiously (with his wife, poor soul) about the whole affair.

Now perhaps the fault for this notion rests in Kealey and his poor grasp of social signals. My theory is that the fraction {students who actually wish to sleep with Kealy}/{students perceived by Kealy as wishing to sleep with him} is quite small.
Certainly his choice to write such an article makes me doubt his ability to read social situations well.

32

John Meredith 09.28.09 at 1:03 pm

“Yes, John, he’s literally saying, don’t fuck your students. But the reason why Kealy thinks you shouldn’t fuck your students is that you can’t get away with exchanging sex for grades any longer”

Wow, that is a fantastically perverse reading. First of all, this was not a think-piece that was attemptining to make any sort of exrended, coherent argument about sex between undergrads and profs, it was one part of a multi-authored humourous article in the THES (and, admit it, how many of you would ever bother reading those in normal circs?), and second of all, the accusation makes no sense: why would profs refrain from having sex just because the girls do not get any material advantage from it? If I applied that rule. I would still be a virgin.

33

John Meredith 09.28.09 at 1:06 pm

“Kealey has a notion in his odd brain that female students (and lots of them!) want to sleep with him. “

Look, I am not Kealy’s mother and I have no interest in defending him from all comers, but really you should read the article again. If Kealy has this odd notion it is not deducible from what he writes here.

34

Jacob T. Levy 09.28.09 at 1:06 pm

By the way, since no one’s said this: Belle, very, very good for you for getting that teacher fired.

35

Salient 09.28.09 at 1:06 pm

Belle, thanks for sharing this. Hopefully this anecdote will help others to understand that yes, leching is itself a damaging practice, and that it’s incorrect to call “look but don’t touch” a passive policy (not to mention how “look but don’t touch” becomes “look and maybe comment a little” which becomes “look and comment and test the waters a little but don’t touch unless the waters give way” as a matter of course).

And I’ll second that D^2^ has posted pitch-perfect comments all throughout, especially #10 and #13 above.

36

mathpants 09.28.09 at 1:08 pm

Gosh, John, that fantastically perverse reading was pretty much the same one I made.

Maurice, great minds and all that. Maybe we might could get ripped and do some fantsically perverse reading together? Our safe word can be “heteronormativity.”

37

Witt 09.28.09 at 1:22 pm

In addition to this guy’s female students, I wonder at the impact of this article on women who work with him.

I certainly would find it awkward and unpleasant to sit in a business meeting with a colleague who had seen fit to put such an essay into print. It can be hard enough to work productively with people who hold those beliefs; when they unashamedly promote them in public it gets even more challenging.

(And that’s not to mention the impact on his wife, if he has one.)

38

Witt 09.28.09 at 1:26 pm

(Whoops, although I said “female students” I did actually mean “students.” Obviously men are affected by these kinds of things too, although the social context may be different. Ditto for colleagues.)

39

cod3fr3ak 09.28.09 at 1:44 pm

Sorry for those bad experiences. That really sucks.

40

Mitchell Rowe 09.28.09 at 1:46 pm

“it also recommends that they fantasise about having sex with undergrads while doing so with their wives; am I just some sort of old-fashioned type or is this really not much of a way to behave?”
Oh come off it dsquared. While I find the article deplorable I have a hard time believing that everyone posting here does not have some sort of fantasy life. Get off your high horse.

41

Janice 09.28.09 at 1:49 pm

For every woman who’s sat in a classroom or a professor’s office, knowing that her breasts have been more of a draw than her words, I thank you for sharing this. For every woman who’s been told that it’s her sex or her sexuality that got her that good grade or the good job and not her hard work, I thank you for sharing this. For every woman who’s handed over fistfuls of tissues to a sobbing undergraduate who got in over her head at another professor’s pass, I thank you for sharing this.

The Kealey article was tin-eared, creepy and really not funny. If some readers found it amusing, they haven’t spent time in shoes like mine or Belle’s.

42

Maurice Meilleur 09.28.09 at 1:53 pm

‘Wow, that is a fantastically perverse reading …’

By association with its object, maybe. In the sense of willfully misrepresenting its object, not at all. It’s pretty much exactly what he’s saying, peppered with a few ‘fuck’s here and there because I’m feeling grouchy this morning.

And Witt reminds me that I would amend my original (and yet oh-so-not-original) assessment of Kealy’s droll little essay to say that while it may not be ‘insulting’ and ‘humiliating’ to his male students, it’s certainly boorish and awful to them, or at least it should be if they’re as stand-up awesome as dsquared’s reputation.

Mathpants: I won’t pretend to know from first-hand experience, but I’m relatively certain that ‘heteronormativity’ has too many syllables to be a good safe word. How about, in honor of Kealy, ‘loutish prick’?

43

John Meredith 09.28.09 at 2:07 pm

“In the sense of willfully misrepresenting its object, not at all. “

It may not be wilful, but it does misrepresent him. If you believe that Kealy is advising against sex with undergraduates simply because it is not possible to reward the sex act with better grades, you have not read carefully enough. What would be the sense in that?

44

chris y 09.28.09 at 2:14 pm

Oh come off it dsquared. While I find the article deplorable I have a hard time believing that everyone posting here does not have some sort of fantasy life. Get off your high horse.

Of course they do, but if you don’t understand the difference between fantasising about Louise Brookes or Steve McQueen and some fresh faced eighteen year old student sitting in front of you, you need to get out more.

45

Phil 09.28.09 at 2:19 pm

all of this fell under the look but don’t touch rubric, while still being humiliating and awful

I think this is the key point. It’s what Daniel said to begin with – “leer at ’em all you like, but keep your hands to yourself you naughty boy!” is bad advice on both levels; it despises the women it’s talking about and demeans the men it’s aimed at.

46

Chris Bertram 09.28.09 at 2:23 pm

#44 chris y. I suspect an ever diminishing proportion of the population have Louise Brooks fantasies.

47

Nick Barnes 09.28.09 at 2:26 pm

John Meredith @ 24:

“What’s ugly about the article is that it places all fault on the women”
I think you should (re)read the article. It does not place ‘fault’ at all.

From the article:

The fault lies with the females.

When I saw this post, I thought “Hmm, the article seemed crass, but was it really that bad?” So I went and re-read it. Yes, it is that bad. In Kealey’s world, academics are male, women are girls, academics have no power over their students, and “girls” who admire their teachers, or seek their advice, want sex with them. And “The days are gone when a scholar could trade sex for upgrades”.

I think there’s some common-sense middle ground here, in which it is acknowledged that some students develop crushes on some teachers, and vice versa, and that it is a perk of academic life to be surrounded by the energy and vitality of youth, and that many people will fantasize sexually about people they meet in the work-place, and that none of this is a Bad Thing. And that teachers are in a position of power which they must not abuse, and uninvited leching is rude.

Of course academia is more-or-less a continuum, from fresher to reader, and so there are transgressive grey areas. I am aware of at least one post-grad student who seduced a post-doc.

My father was an academic for thirty-odd years, and often remarked that being around young people was a perk. I am certain that he meant it in a positive way.

48

dsquared 09.28.09 at 2:26 pm

good god. apparently I will be played by Gregory Peck in “Crooked Timber: The Movie”, and not Johnny Vegas as I had previously assumed. Is it really so ubiquitous to fantasise about students and co-workers while in the act of love with one’s spouse, or is there just something funny about CT commenters (perhaps, of course, I am just restrained here by posting under my own name rather than a pseudonym, but I think not). Do we need a blogger ethics panel on this one?

49

chris y 09.28.09 at 2:27 pm

Then they don’t know what they’re missing. The same probably applies to McQueen. I thought of saying Rudolf Valentino, but that might have been too obscure.

50

Mitchell Rowe 09.28.09 at 2:28 pm

chris y:
So you have never fantasised about someone who you met in the course of your daily life? No high school crushes? No attractive coworkers? Furthermore there are now only certain ages of adults about whom it is okay to fantasize about? Would you be so kind as to fill me in on the correct ages please?

Also I would love for you to explain the moral difference between “fantasising about Louise Brookes or Steve McQueen and some fresh faced eighteen year old student “. Remember actions are immoral not thoughts.

51

LizardBreath 09.28.09 at 2:33 pm

48: Not, of course, to impugn your impeccable reputation for gentlemanly virtue, but is it possible that your restraint in fantasizing about co-workers may be explained in part by your comment 10 above: “I have what I regard as a hilarious satirical article about the inability of the investment banking industry to hire women”?

(No, seriously, you and chris y are making sense on this one. Except for the bit about Steve McQueen, who I can’t see as all that appealing.)

52

alex 09.28.09 at 2:43 pm

It remains the case that if you can’t understand that what K wrote was repellent in the context of the ethics of everyday student/teacher interactions, then I hope you [whoever you may be] aren’t involved in those kind of situations. At all. Ever. Anyone can think what they like in the dark space between their own ears, but have some decency in public, at least.

53

chris y 09.28.09 at 2:48 pm

Mitchell, don’t be silly. Of course people crush on other people they encounter in everyday life – there wouldn’t be many people around if we didn’t. I put my hand up to having met my wife in trades union meetings. But most of us try not to crush on our direct subordinates at work, our students, earnest young sopranos in our church choir, or in the case of your typical CT reader, our serving wenches. You exercise a bit of control in these situations, you don’t luxuriate in them.

54

Maurice Meilleur 09.28.09 at 2:51 pm

John:

Let’s not lose sight of Belle’s original and very powerful point that leering–and telling someone you’re going to leer at them, and making a photo book out of someone you’ve leered at–are pretty damaging in their own right, and that Kealy probably has a pretty inaccurate understanding of his discretion.

But in answer to your question:
1. Kealy starts by asking why higher education institutions are ‘pullulating’ with transgressive sex. (Yuck.)
2. He blames ‘the females’ because
(a) all of them fantasize about having sex with heroes (because they have power); and
(b) in an academic setting, their professors can be heroes (because they have the appearance of power, in the form of giving grades).
3. It’s true, ‘normal girls’ are ‘more interested in abs than labs’ and hence more likely to emulate Tom Wolfe’s Beverly and chase after football players’ power, but some will conclude that professors are the heroes whose power they want.
4. So what should the professor do? Well, ‘[t]hanks to the accountability imposed by the Quality Assurance Agency and other intrusive bodies, the days are gone when a scholar could trade sex for upgrades’, so he (Kealy means ‘he’) no longer has the power to offer a ‘normal girl’ the incentive of a higher grade to get her to consummate her attraction with said hero-scholar without regret.
5. But it’s also the case that this ‘normal girl’ is kind of clueless and doesn’t know that you can’t make this exchange, that you are ‘only Casaubon to her Dorothea, Howard Kirk to her Felicity Phee’, and ‘she will flaunt you her curves’ all the same, because you are a hero and she wants what she thinks you have.
6. So you have to be careful: don’t let that little ‘normal girl’ trick you into touching her, because if you do, she’ll quickly learn that you’re not so heroic after all, since you can’t give her a better grade for her attentions, and why would she allow you to touch her otherwise? (And why should she complain if she did get what she wanted?) You’ll pay for your innocent mistake when she finds out who really has the power (she does).
7. Instead, you should just ‘enjoy the views’, furiously and in private (with your wife, perhaps).
8. But all bets are off if you’re a younger scholar-hero, since ‘normal girls’ will find your heroism irresistible, because
(a) they think you have the power to give grades, and
(b) you’re young and, presumably by definition, good-looking.
So they won’t complain after you ‘sow your oats’, when they find out you can’t come through with a higher grade, because you’re like, so hott.

So I guess I stand corrected. It’s older leches (?) like Kealy that have to look but not touch. Younger leches apparently can plunge right in.

55

Mitchell Rowe 09.28.09 at 2:51 pm

chis y
So it is okay sometimes? I would really appreciate a more detailed explanation.

56

John Emerson 09.28.09 at 2:53 pm

Where do transgressivity and the polymorphous perverse fit into this?

57

Alison P 09.28.09 at 2:55 pm

Female students must be able to ask for help from the people who are employed to teach them, without having that behaviour interpreted as a sexual advance. The ‘humour’ of this article rests on the premise that ‘asking for help with an essay’ is a sexual come-on, which he must virtuously resist, ho ho.

58

Mitchell Rowe 09.28.09 at 2:56 pm

alex:
I will repeat what I stated earlier: Thoughts are not immoral, actions are. Is this article deplorable? Yes of course it is. I was responding to dsquared’s comment that fantasising is not a way to “behave”. We are all sexual beings and we will all have little fantasies from time to time that we would never act on and that is not immoral.

59

JoB 09.28.09 at 3:06 pm

John-23, I wouldn’t have wrote if I knew others were writing at the same time but I do think it’s not a good argument from general pleasantness to specific pleasantness and further to uttering, or playing with that pleasantness. It”ll be awful hard to draw a line, but it will not be too hard to judge on cases (like the one in the post). And as the article in point goes, the line drawn is wrong as it kinda says it’s acceptable to ‘play with the thought’ which it’s not unless you’re superhuman and you can play with your thoughts without it affecting your behaviour. And if and when it gets to the point (as, presumably, in the case of your friend) where you can’t avoid it, no need to self-inflict pain or whatever; just seek therapy, or another occupation and leave the students alone.

If this were about therapists and not teachers, would you react the same way?

If this were about bad teachers (for instance because of burn-out), would you ask all of us to go and live with the fact they’re bad?

60

chris y 09.28.09 at 3:13 pm

Mitchell, no it is not OK sometimes. If you are in an unequal power relation with somebody you are morally obliged to use extreme discretion in any action which might open to sexual interpretation. Power, responsibility, self-awareness, discretion, appropriate behaviour seem to be concepts which you need to have explained to you, and I’m not interested enough in your education to do it.

I encountered my wife in circumstances where we met as equal members of the TGWU. Had she been working for me I would have taken care to keep our relationship on a strictly professional basis to avoid distressing her. If you don’t understand the difference, tough luck.

61

Maria 09.28.09 at 3:19 pm

Good for you, Belle, for reporting the high school teacher and ultimately having him fired. The response of your classmates (blaming you) and a fair amount of the thread and other discussions on Polanski show very clearly that ‘reputational harm’ is often not much of a punishment at all.

62

bianca steele 09.28.09 at 3:26 pm

chris y @ 60: any action which might open to sexual interpretation

Obviously. But we are not talking about mild friendly overtures that could be misinterpreted. Staring at a woman’s chest when she is wearing a sweater (a bulky, sexless sweater), and using sexual innuendo repeatedly in communications about neutral subjects is not merely “open to sexual interpretation.” It is discussion of sex–in a context where this is inappropriate.

63

Mitchell Rowe 09.28.09 at 3:26 pm

chrs y:
“ny ctn..”
Thghts r nt ctns chrs nd f y dn’t ndrstnd th dffrnc, tgh lck.

wll stt gn tht fnd th rtcl dplrbl. ddtnlly, fnd sxl hrssmnt nd th xplttn f pwr rltnshps t b dplrbl bhvr s wll. Hwvr, th mr ct f fntszng bt smn s nt wrng nr ds t rs t th lvl f sxl hrssmnt. Ppl r sxl bngs nd wll fntsz bt whvr thy chs. Th bttl gnst “lstfl thghts” s dffclt n, jst sk th Cthlc Chrch.

Fnlly frnd, wld jst lk t sy tht yr ngr nd vhmnc n ths ss rmnds m f rpblcns wh rl gnst hmsxls nd thn nd p n 60 Mnts ftr bng cght hvng sx wth mn n n rprt bthrm. n shrt “m thnks th ldy dth prtst t mch.”

64

will 09.28.09 at 3:28 pm

Thanks for the post, Belle.

65

bianca steele 09.28.09 at 3:33 pm

One question some might ask themselves: would you want this to happen if it were your daughter?

66

Mitchell Rowe 09.28.09 at 3:36 pm

Hmm.. Did I offend a moderator?

67

Henry 09.28.09 at 3:36 pm

Since Belle is likely asleep and unable to moderate her comments at the moment, I have taken the liberty of disemvowelling a comment with nastypersonal insinuations by Mitchell Rowe above. Mitchell – knock it off or face the consequences.

68

JoB 09.28.09 at 3:59 pm

Henry, that’s an oddly appropriate thing to do.

69

ejh 09.28.09 at 4:11 pm

Who’s Louise Brookes?

70

chris y 09.28.09 at 4:29 pm

71

Doctor Science 09.28.09 at 4:44 pm

I agree whole-heartedly with Nick Barnes @47. Kealey clearly does not see his female students as *students*, not really — they are “girls”, not actual or potential scholars. He advocates “look, but don’t touch”; he does not advocate “teach them”. The real humans he is addressing are heterosexual men, who are or might become part of the academic community; he is being quite clear while that he might have to — for reasons of “political correctness” — *pretend* that women are human beings, “we” know that isn’t true.

Since Belle started this post by re-posting a comment from the previous discussion, I will too:

Kealey’s article … is not satire but a joke, along the lines of Dr Johnson’s A woman’s preaching is like a dog’s walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all.

Kealey, like Johnson, is using humour for one of its core purposes: to emphasize the lines between ingroup and outgroup, and make the ingroup feel good about it. Kealey’s article, like Johnson’s quip, functions to reassure men about an apparent blurring of the lines between “what men can do” and “what women can do”. Johnson said, “don’t worry, such women are just like performing animals”; Kealey says, “don’t worry, such women are masturbation aids”.

Both Kealey and Johnson reassure men that women need not be taken seriously as, you know, real human beings or anything. This is a relief for those on the inside, they “get the joke” and laugh. You can see why feminists would get the reputation of being humourless.

Kealey is joking — as Johnson was joking — but that doesn’t make it satire. I don’t actually think it’s possible for someone in Kealey’s position of power to be satiric in the way John Meredith etc want to read him: he invariably ends up comforting the comfortable (=himself) and afflicting the afflicted (=any women at his University with an actual interest in education).

72

Doctor Science 09.28.09 at 4:45 pm

arrgh, the blockquote was supposed to go down to “reputation of being humourless.” Preview is your *friend*!

73

George W 09.28.09 at 4:53 pm

Criminy, that was an icky little essay. I had a high school teacher like that, but had no idea until years later when a former (female) classmate clued me in. That’s the sort of thing that makes me distrust conclusions based on social statistics (eg, women must not be as interested in, or as good at, doing X because fewer of them choose to do it). Must be some kind of academic word for that (I’d say phantom variable but that just displays my ignorance I’m sure).

74

Glen Tomkins 09.28.09 at 4:54 pm

Did Samuel Johnson think that preaching, whoever was doing it, was anything but a joke? I ask not having read much of his work, and none of Boswell’s, but it strikes me that a gentleman of his time and station in life would not necessarily have thought of preaching as being anywhere near the pinnacle of human achievement. Perhaps he was suggesting that women shouldn’t want to misuse their capacities on what he regarded as a peculiarly male foible, if not worse then foible, anymore than a dog would want to walk on two legs when it has four perfectly good ones, with which it manages better at ambulation than mankind and its strange limitation to two.

75

mcmc 09.28.09 at 5:34 pm

Look! Someone who doesn’t know anything about Samuel Johnson!

76

mcmc 09.28.09 at 5:41 pm

Oh, that didn’t add any value, did it?
Try here.

77

Doctor Science 09.28.09 at 5:56 pm

The context of the Johnson quip is in Boswell: Next day, Sunday, July 31, I told him I had been that morning at a
meeting of the people called Quakers, where I had heard a woman preach.
As the cite mcmc provides suggests, Johnson had a deep respect for the conservative preaching of the Established Church. He is suggesting that Boswell went to the Quaker meeting as one might go to watch trained animals: for amusement and as a wonder, but not for actual edification or spiritual direction.

Glen’s reading is plausible, but not, I think, accurate.

78

roger 09.28.09 at 7:09 pm

I don’t really understand John Meredith’s problem. It is pretty clear that at issue is not the censoring of any professorial erotic fantasies, but their composition into a sexist attitude. It is pretty easy to trace that attitude, from desire to resentment of those who “made” the prof desire to the the projection upon the class of those who made the prof desire of a certain non-serious status (more interested in abs than labs) and then, in the smashing finale, wrapping this all up in the passive aggression of a joke. This is the standard stuff out of which sexism is made – wheels are round, sexists systematically undermine the status of women. And after all the bits of this structure are put in place, then you simply watch for the unconscious gestures that affirm your supposition that this is going on. For instance, the assumption that any lecturer or prof will be male, which is not a statistical given – even at Thatcher university, Kealey could probably figure out that there are, indeed, a number of female profs and lecturers, and from all reports they often outnumber males nowadays – but the empirical data is subsumed to the psychopathological mindset.

At least he has done people a favor by showing exactly the type of attitude that goes into making the glass ceiling. Yes, sexism is alive and well, even in academic institutions, Virginia. Thanks, Dr. Kealey!

79

BrendanH 09.28.09 at 7:18 pm

Doctor Science exclaimed:

arrgh, the blockquote was supposed to go down to “reputation of being humourless.” Preview is your friend!

Preview lies.

80

Glen Tomkins 09.28.09 at 8:02 pm

@mcmc and Doctor Science,

The topics about which I am even more woefully ignorant than I am about Samuel Johnson are as countless as the sands of the shore.

As to the passage you were so kind as to refer me too, it is about what my ignorant, stereotyped view of the man would have predicted. While not dismissive of some of the questions the conventional religion of his day posed, he doesn’t really seem like someone who is much impressed with the answers it provided, and certainly not to the answers it provided as pitched to the general congregation. If I were a preacher in his day, even a preacher of the sane and sober CofE, I suspect that I would not have been really eager to question him too closely about his opinion of my sermon of Sunday last.

I don’t get the impression that this Dr. Adams in the passage got off very well in the face of the level of seriousness that Johnson was willing to apply to Adams’ calling. He sounds typically Middle Church (as in the ditty, High and crazy, Low and lazy, Middle and hazy), willing to throw off the doctrine of damnation at the merest hint that someone might find it personally offensive or problematic. In the end, Johnson has to duck further discussion to avoid further embarrassing the Adamses with the contradictions of their social trimming of what is supposed to be eternal verity. So, yes, the mention of Johnson’s melancholic reaction to the Church doctrine of eternal damnation shows that he took this question seriously, but the dialogue as reported makes it equally clear that the CoE answer was something he found deeply inadequate at best, and perhaps nothing more than an impertinent distraction from the seriousness of the question.

The question of his attitude towards Quaker preaching, as opposed to Middle Church CoE, is even more fraught, because we add in questions of social class, and political religious strife that was still fresh in memory at the time. Swift, for example, of the generation before Johnson, did not have his Tale of a Tub well-received in its day largely because even the CoE types whose beliefs it seemed to support, were suspicious of a skepticism even of the Catholics or the enthusiastic preachers on the Calvinist/Congregationalist/Quaker end of the spectrum. One of the reasons that the Middle Church was so hazy in Johnson’s day was that contempt such as Swift expressed for enthusiastic preachers was felt to be part and parcel of the reason that confessional differences led to violence in that era. To have been contemptuous of enthusiastic preachers, as you interpret Boswell and Johnson to have been, may indeed have had its share of conventional snobbery behind it, but it wasn’t the most conventionally religious position for its day, as the Middle Church was above all, above even doctrinal purity, concerned to not provoke or participate in any revival of the unpleasantness of the persecutions of the recent past. Folks who were able to snicker at Quakers were, like Swift, under some suspicion of thereby snickereing also at the CoE, and probably being Deists or worse.

To continue my shameless exploitation of the fount of knowledge on all subjects that flows so freely here at CT, does anyone out there know about Johnson’s stance on Deism?

81

Universal Pony 09.28.09 at 8:23 pm

Belle rocks.

82

Chris Dornan 09.28.09 at 9:02 pm

I have been thinking about the discussion and find it a bit unsatisfactory. Some people are trying to make defence for Kieley but the comments seem to be mostly reaffirmation. Nobody as far as I can tell has made a serious effort to engage with Mary Beard’s argument in the THES that Kieley was using irony to satirize the kind of locker-room mentality that gives rise to the abuses we all deplore. In Beard’s view we are humourless prigs unable to recognise satire when it slaps us over the face with a wet fish.

Now as it happens I am writing an essay on Mansfield Park which poses some interesting problems for the reader in its apparently unironic morality, the reader having to sort out just what Austen was about—and to the extent they do make these enquiries they get to engage in some sharp moral philosophy.

Here we seem to have a similar kind of problem. As Beard says, having taken ‘several more, careful looks at the Kealey piece’, Kieley is clearly spicing up his article with his self-consciously boorish tone; when a VC says females are ‘perks of the job’ klaxons should go off in our heads warning us that this is a satirical piece and to read it with care before rushing to judgement. In Beard’s view (and this kind of analysis is what she does) we should understand the piece as a satire on the whole boorish attitude, that this is a Swiftian demolition job and opines that most of the THES commenters have ‘no ability to read or understand satire AT ALL’.

As the outcome has shown, it was badly misjudged from Kieley’s perspective, but the issue we are discussing here is what Kieley meant by his piece, which was after all published in the THES not the Sun. Kieley has become the target of considerable invective and scorn, but is it fair?

My problem with Beard’s analysis is this. While it is reasonable to assume from the context that the satire of the locker room is being used to reinforce the taboo of student-staff sexual relations, as has been observed above, nowhere is it clear (in the original article, or the apology) that Kealey isn’t in deadly earnestness when he says you ‘should look but not touch’. Kieley may have been using a boorish tone as an amusing prop to illustrate the temptations of lust for middle-aged academics in constant, often intimate, proximity to young students, with all the complications that the power relationship brings—this is a perfectly plausible reading to my mind, yet it leaves the boorish culture untouched. Beard’s reading may be valid, but so could the reading given here (the boorish attitude is fine as long as it doesn’t lead to sex) and we are given no reasons in either the context or the text to believe that the boorishness itself is being attacked. Looking at Kieley’s clear bald statement in the first two sentences of his clarification article I am inclined to the narrower interpretation, that he is only interested in the sex (though his last sentence throws some doubt on this).

I think this analysis should be provided before offering Kealey a pass (or denegrating our analytical skills). But in its absence I think Kealey should decide whether he wants to stand accused of perpetrating bad ethics or bad art on us (or better, provide a clearer account of his ethics). I can’t see how he can have it both ways.

Krugman’s June post on the difference between the sexual ethics on each side of the boomer schism comes to mind.

First of all, there’s a difference in what bothers them. When a liberal politician engages in sexual betrayal, what bothers his erstwhile supporters is the betrayal. When a conservative politician does it, what bothers the supporters is the sex.

This I think was the subtext of Daniel’s and this post. Kealey and others should be giving us reason to dispel these kinds of caricatures, or at least take care that they don’t get reinforced, however accidentally.

I have tried to compress this final discussion from an article on my blog and I am not sure how well it has travelled.

83

Colin Danby 09.28.09 at 9:04 pm

Thanks Belle for writing this. The point I try to remember is that these stories are not all that uncommon, and shape the experience of many students, especially women, with older people in authority.

Arguments like Kealey’s ignore context and approach a teacher’s duty in negative terms — don’t do this or that. But the teacher has a positive responsibility to establish rapport and a setting in which students feel taken seriously as learners and thinkers. So yes, Kealey’s projection of his own fantasies onto young women undermines that. In addition to being kind of pathetic.

Interesting to think across this and the Polanski business. Not that they’re morally equivalent, but certain common background assumptions emerge.

84

Tom West 09.28.09 at 9:16 pm

First, let me add my thanks to Belle for providing a very illuminating anecdote.

#11, Peter S:

1. Teachers should not feel X.
2. Teachers should not admit to feeling X.

I’d go with (1), and failing (1), then definitely (2).

#58, Mitchell Rowe

Thoughts are not immoral, actions are.

And by writing the article, Kealey transformed thought into action (writing the article) with quite harmful consequences that Belle so nicely illustrated.

I suspect that Magistra’s first paragraph in #7 is true. Kealey probably believes that almost all (male) professors feel the same way. Even so, I don’t think “it’s the truth” (which like many, I doubt) is an adequate defense for the harm that the article causes to female students.

85

Chris Dornan 09.28.09 at 9:44 pm

PS: I see that our Doctor Science (who hadn’t commented on the article when I started my own comment) has with others taken up Mary Beard on her claim that Kealey’s piece was satirical in a comment on her blog, and of course I agree that I fail to see how it can correspond in any way with the Swiftian Gold standard for satire.

86

dsquared 09.28.09 at 10:03 pm

I’m sure it was satirical – it was just satire of a very crude and coarse kind that shouldn’t have been printed in the THES and which reflects very badly on the author and editor.

87

Colin Danby 09.28.09 at 11:37 pm

Re #84-86, this is an ancient anti-ethical trope, isn’t it — ha ha, we’re all scoundrels but only some of us are honest enough to admit it. E.g. Mandeville. It’s a matter of self-positioning (see examples on the previous thread) via the preemptive accusation that everyone interested in ethics is naive or hypocritical. While this mode entails deliberate (one might even say performative) broadness and coarseness and routinely defends itself by saying ha ha aren’t we humorous, it’s satire in the older sense of extended mockery, as with the _Fable of the Bees_.

88

politicalfootball 09.29.09 at 12:34 am

I wanted to join others in thanking Belle for writing this. Because a lot of this stuff takes place in private settings, it’s pretty easy to be ignorant of how routine poor treatment of women is. I’m grateful for the women in my life (and on blogs!) who have helped me understand it.

89

Emma 09.29.09 at 2:06 am

I’m someone who routinely fell in love with lecturers while I was studying, and was probably quite stupid enough as a 19-year-old to get myself in way too deep, but I was lucky enough to have teachers who were professionals, and who were unfailingly generous with their advice and their time, while keeping an entirely appropriate distance, even if it wasn’t what I thought I wanted. I look back with gratitude, that those particular teachers understood that I was young and silly, and understood their own power and responsibility to manage the situation, and yes, remembered that I was both a student and a (young, female) human being. How lucky was I? I can imagine that all of my teachers would be rightly insulted at Kealy’s insinuations. What happened to Belle sucked, and no one deserves it. It is the teacher’s responsibility to be the grownup in the room. Some of them find it in themselves to live up to it.

90

geo 09.29.09 at 3:49 am

Would it help reduce sexual tension in the classroom if, once or a few times a year, separately or together, students and faculty, men and women, were told simply and directly by the president or dean or whoever that, great as sex is, it often overwhelms judgment; that a lot of experience goes to show that student-teacher sex is just too liable to coercion, manipulation, and self-deception, so that, notwithstanding Susan Sontag/Philip Rieff, Hannah Arendt/Martin Heidegger and a few other examples, we don’t allow it on campus; that intense, even passionate friendship need not be expressed sexually; that not-fully-mature women are particularly vulnerable to emotional/sexual pressure and so, even apart from the abuse of power, it’s damned unsporting for older, presumably more mature men — or any men — to put them in what may very well be or become a horribly awkward situation; and that the university will be understanding and try to treat each case individually, but that, depending on the apparent degree of insensitivity or callousness by the older person, penalties — both academic and legal — for that person may be very severe indeed?

But ALSO that, while no woman should allow herself to be imposed on in the slightest, her older sisters on the faculty can assure her that male sexual aggression is a very old, very sad story, and while it is very unpleasant, it is also eminently survivable, and that she should respond to it firmly, without embarrassment, and without panic, because the school is ON HER SIDE?

But maybe this is already standard procedure on most campuses; I don’t know.

91

ckc (not kc) 09.29.09 at 4:05 am

…the teacher’s responsibility to be the grownup in the room

you got it, kid!

92

Emma 09.29.09 at 4:45 am

Geo, I think that would be a great idea, and it would frighten the living shit out of most of the harassers (who aren’t all male, by the way — my comment was quite carefully gender-neutral, except about myself). Unfortunately, my experience is that it is not standard, at least on Australian campuses, and the only people who talk about this problem in this way are teh scary feminists! in the Women’s Group.
Mind you, at the university I went to all those years ago, us scary feminists in the Women’s group did deal with one serial harasser by placing a sticker on his door saying ‘Women are Watching You’. He took it off every time he saw it — by the time he came out again there was another one. For months. We all carried them, and just replaced it when necessary.

93

Belle waring 09.29.09 at 5:35 am

Emma, that is awesome. Geo: I tend, like you, to take a harder line against teacher/student romance, moreso than dsquared for example. I know some perfectly happy couples who got together under these circumstances, and have heard some awful stories, and know professors who serially date their students as the age gap grows wider and wider. I tend to regard this last group as assholes. I will say that I have never seen this with female prof and a male student, which increases my negative feeling about the power dynamics of the whole thing. Obviously my personal experiences inform my judgment here, and as I mentioned above I did have a similar problem as a grad student which was also annoying and retarded my progress toward my degree. Maybe it could all go swimmingly, I don’t know. I just doubt it, and if persnickety rules prevent a few destined-to-be-happy couples to put off the sex for four years, well, worse things have happened.

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chris y 09.29.09 at 7:50 am

93. Nice summary, Belle. I have to confess that this discussion causes me mild regret in obliging me to re-evaluate Peter Abelard, but them’s the breaks.

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Chris Dornan 09.29.09 at 10:15 am

dsquared: my point wasn’t that it was satire, but that it wasn’t satire. I found the whole thing clumsy and very, very distasteful. But my dislike of the author and his philosophy shouldn’t get in the way of making an effort to give him a fair hearing. But equally importantly, it is worth taking the time to look at what he was trying to say, and what he and his defenders were trying to say in his defence, rather than going staright to a final judgement (a judgement that I agree with). Otherwise there is a tendency for two closed group to echo opinions between each other without anyone getting any wiser.

Belle @ 93: I wholly agree with everything you say. Interestingly, I think you are outlining a wise but structurally conservative ethic.

This seems to have been the case generally in this discussion, with progressives arguing for a conservative ethic with conservatives for a liberal one. This is just a tendency, of course, Daniel’s original post arguing for a quite liberal approach, which I also think contains much insight.

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Harry 09.29.09 at 11:16 am

Thanks Belle, for writing this and thanks, too, Emma, for writing that (#89).

Maybe geo’s suggestion could be combined with a suggestion that professors etc read this post, and then ask three female friends whether they have ever experienced any kind of discomfort from the wrong sort of attention by a teacher/professor. Or is that suggestion too much of a promotion of CT?

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Graydon 09.29.09 at 2:06 pm

Primate band status, or, rather, high primate band status, comes down to “I can hit who I want; I can fuck who I want”.

Humans, who are really smart primates, have the option of constructing social groups through culture, which gets into a set of cultures able to support being civilized, which deprecates/suppresses/devalues primate band status because the biggest group you can get to work through primate band status mechanisms is quite small; about 250 individuals. If you can be civilized, you can get vastly larger groups to work, and have things like division of labour, task specialization, and universities.

Lots of people fail to get this distinction. They want, for whatever reasons of failure of imagination, visceral reassurance, upbringing, or failure of forethought and planning, to have high primate band status. Tons of rationalizations exist for why that status is legitimate, noble, socially valuable, and so on; pretty much anything that ever advocated a fixed social hierarchy is advocating for some people getting civilized conduct, and some other people being appropriate persons to exercise primate band status demands upon.

The whole “everybody’s human, women are people, interactions should be to mutual benefit, informed consent is required” principles of civilization thing is, severally and together, necessary for the accumulation of real power by enabling large-group co-operation, a mechanism that permits of mutual sexual enthusiasm (which is a thing not to be disdained), and something many people simply do not get.

Kealey’s attempt at satire, to my mind, puts him in the firmly in the “does not get” group; he does not understand the point to civilization, or why he should not have the primate band status he feels he deserves, nor why the stupid, stupid hierarchy makes the rules it does. That this is a very common failing doesn’t start to excuse it.

He especially appears not to understand the point that Belle made so well, that even an appearance of switching an ostensibly civilized environment to one that works on primate band status rules is justly and accurately regarded as threatening by anyone you’d be claiming to be of higher status than in such an environment. (I think Daniel’s point about the ickiness of the fantasy recommendation lies not in the “fantasy” part, but in the “exercise of primate band status through mental gymnastics and proxies” part, notably the “wife as appliance”, “entitlement of gratification”, and “inappropriate subject of regard remains inappropriate despite lack of touching” elements thereof.)

It’s really not all that complicated a thing, if you keep the traditional rationalizations out of it.

98

monboddo 09.29.09 at 2:47 pm

When I was a TA, I still remember the head of graduate studies talking to us, and saying (I think I quote, even though it was a few years back) “If you sleep with your students, we will take away your money.” Doesn’t get clearer than that.

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roac 09.29.09 at 4:37 pm

The Kealey article is lame, but no lamer than the Beard defense of it; I wonder why no one has wondered whether Beard is being satirical when she says Kealey is obviously being satirical. (To cut off any infinite regress, let me say that this post is entirely free of satirical intent.)

As a footnote to no. 93, I do know, tangentially but reliably, of an instance where a female law professor married a student, while he was still a student. Not disagreeing about the relative rarity of the situation, however.

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engels 09.29.09 at 6:39 pm

Giles Coren in the Times (posted without comment)…

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Doctor Science 09.29.09 at 7:32 pm

roac:
I wonder why no one has wondered whether Beard is being satirical when she says Kealey is obviously being satirical.

I definitely wondered. The need for a sarcasm font has never been clearer …

Serious, I did and do wonder why a woman who has been in academe for many years could say: Come on everyone, NO VICE-CHANCELLOR (not even of Buckingham) calls women students a “perk” unless satirically (and aiming a dart at precisely those assumptions). Honest.

No-one on any side of this debate has denied that some senior male academics *think* of women students as a “perk”. The only question is whether such a man would be willing to say it in public, under the veneer of “satire”. IMHO, no woman of Beard’s academic experience can doubt that some men are, yes, just that full of their own privilege. I have heard no indication whatsoever, from any side, that Kealey is one of the male academics who is aware and thoughtful about male privilege and about the dance women have to do to be taken seriously in the academy.

I know a number of young, academic women whose reaction to Kealey saying “She’s a perk” has been to feel that they’ve been slapped. They did not for a moment doubt that a powerful male academic would say — and mean — such a thing. It is more plausible that Beard is being satiric in turn than that she is so naive.

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mike livingston 09.30.09 at 2:16 am

I think it was courageous of you to write these thoughts down. Professors can sometimes forget the humanity of students in what is after all an unequal relationship. Your post will help the to do so.

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Doctor Science 09.30.09 at 3:01 am

Chris:
progressives arguing for a conservative ethic with conservatives for a liberal one

No, I think we’re seeing the real conservatism (and liberalism) coming out.

The question is POWER, not sex. Conservatives wants power to stay where it is, i.e. with the powerful — that’s what they are *conserving*, here. Liberals or progressives want power to be equalized, to be moved away from the powerful. The conservatives aren’t in favor of “liberal” sexuality, but of a consistent power dynamic in sex. The liberals aren’t in favor of “conservative” sexuality, but of consensual relationships between equals.

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Mike C 09.30.09 at 8:20 pm

I’d like to preface by briefly stating my understanding of what Kealey is trying to say.

“If you’re a male professor, female students will come on to you. However, they aren’t into you, they’re just going for ‘The Professor’. So don’t take it too seriously, but enjoy it whenever it comes along.”

My interpretation is that Belle’s disgust comes from that last sentence, particularly “don’t take it too seriously”. Kealey’s assumption is that the students who flirt with him are just doing it for fun, maybe for grades, and because they think smart men are sexy. What he’s ignored is the potential danger of playing along and sending mixed signals. Maybe a girl is attracted to you because she lacks a solid emotional support structure, you’ve been an attentive professor, and she extrapolated beyond that because she wanted so badly to believe that someone cared about her. Maybe she has some other lingering issue, and this is how she’s expressing it.

The point is, don’t just “enjoy it”; eliminate false pretenses as soon as possible. If it was just harmless flirting, all you lose is a some creepy ogling opportunities. But if it’s more, and you let it go on, the damage you can do by letting a vulnerable girl build you up is far more dangerous. Be explicit, and not implicit, about the boundaries in your relationship.

105

LizardBreath 09.30.09 at 8:29 pm

I think you’re missing an implicit assumption in what Kealey is saying:

“If you’re a male professor, female students will come on to you. That is, when they seek out your attention in any way, that’s probably what they’re doing. However, they aren’t into you, they’re just going for ‘The Professor’. So don’t take it too seriously, but enjoy it whenever it comes along.”

And I think Belle’s disgust comes largely from that — from having been unable to talk to her Roman History professor about Roman History without having it turn into a discussion of whether she wanted him to look at her breasts. It’s hard to get an education if you can’t interact with your professors on an academic level.

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Mike C 09.30.09 at 8:43 pm

That is a good point. His whole “pecs for specs” thing also implies that he doesn’t really seperate a student’s interest in his class from their interest in him, since college girls obviously can’t be interested in academics and attractive guys at the same time.

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Mike C 09.30.09 at 8:44 pm

To clarify, I suppose I was extrapolating from this sentence: “Kealy doesn’t know the personal histories of the female students he’s ogling.”

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Chris 09.30.09 at 9:28 pm

The liberals aren’t in favor of “conservative” sexuality, but of consensual relationships between equals.

This is true as far as it goes, but there also seems to be a thread here insinuating that consensual relationships cannot arise between nonequals, or aren’t deserving of respect when they do. (Maybe I’m misinterpreting or something. If nobody wants to defend that thesis, then fine.)

While it’s certainly true that it’s difficult for third parties to judge the consensuality of a relationship between nonequals, I think that such an absolute statement is too absolute. IMO the right to enter into a consensual sexual relationship is a fundamental human right that should not be interfered with absent some *really* compelling reason for doing so. The fact that the relationship falls into a general category with some other relationships that are coercive, or that therefore outsiders may mistake it for a coercive one, doesn’t even come close to being enough.

a lot of experience goes to show that student-teacher sex is just too liable to coercion, manipulation, and self-deception, so that, notwithstanding Susan Sontag/Philip Rieff, Hannah Arendt/Martin Heidegger and a few other examples, we don’t allow it on campus

Well, what if they go off campus then? Snark aside, I think this is a serious issue: exactly where does the university get off dictating the personal lives of either its employees or its students?

This policy could easily lead to a situation where the principals of the relationship conspire to conceal it from the administration. (Which superficially resembles, but is IMO very morally different from, one party coercing the other to both engage in the relationship and conceal it.) What good is done to anyone if the administration finds them out? Let alone acts to enforce the policy, as it would surely feel obligated to do — never mind the potential for self-righteous fury on the part of people who toed the line by obediently repressing their own desires, only to find that someone else was actually eating the forbidden fruit. (And speaking of forbidden fruit, simply branding the relationship or potential relationship as illicit will turn some people on.)

Looking at the issue through the lens of nonconsensual abuses and forging absolute rules on that basis seems like it has the potential to result in serious injustice to people in consensual relationships. The line between consent and nonconsent may be difficult to discern at times, but crossing it is the only thing that justifies third-party intervention in the relationship at all, so throwing up your hands and refusing to look is abdication of a moral responsibility.

Shorter me: people certainly have a right to avoid unwanted “relationships”, but also have a right to participate in wanted ones. Policy that doesn’t respect both of these rights is bad policy.

P.S. In the list “coercion, manipulation, and self-deception”, one of those things is not like the others. If you attempt to protect people from self-deception, IMO you will both anger them and fail.

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Emma 09.30.09 at 10:48 pm

Well, I haven’t read this Kealey’s article and and I’m not going to. I’ve heard it all too long ago. I am profoundly struck by Belle Waring’s experience and how little sexual social-politics has changed in forty years. Reading this was painful.

Dsquared #10 — “I have what I regard as a hilarious satirical article about the inability of the investment banking industry to hire women and minorities …” —

I wish you would publish it. My brother, bless his heart, recently resigned his decades-long senior position with a major investment banking firm in the South because his new boss was a woman from New York. I don’t believe he’s ever worked with a woman before except as a secretary. Can’t see him working either with a person deemed other-than-white.

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magistra 10.01.09 at 6:50 am

there also seems to be a thread here insinuating that consensual relationships cannot arise between nonequals, or aren’t deserving of respect when they do.

It’s not so much about non-equals, because many relationships outside the university are between non-equals and aren’t problematic. The trouble is in universities (and in the workplace) if one of the partners is in a position of authority over the other one. I don’t think anyone is actually too worried if physics lecturers and history students are fooling around together.

The problem with relationships with someone in authority is that it inevitably gives the appearance of favouritism to other students (even if there isn’t unconscious favouritism) and it is also very likely to be distracting during teaching. My take would be not to prohibit relationships, but to say that you cannot be formally taught by/teach someone you are sleeping with. (There’s nothing to stop informal education with your pillow talk being on the topic of quantum mechanics or the current state of cultural studies). The student would need to choose a differect class/section, find a different supervisor etc.

I think this would be useful because it would make staff and students think about why they really wanted the relationship. Particularly when you’re young, it’s all too easy to end up sleeping with someone because you desire emotional and mental intimacy with them and that’s the only way you can think of achieving it. There aren’t enough models around of how you can love someone’s mind but not necessarily their body.

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Chris 10.01.09 at 3:30 pm

My take would be not to prohibit relationships, but to say that you cannot be formally taught by/teach someone you are sleeping with.

That seems like a good middle ground — provided there’s more than one section of everything. If that’s really the only faculty member qualified to teach that particular course (which is hopefully rare), then I think they just have to be extra aware of their responsibility to be professional and impartial in the classroom.

Particularly when you’re young, it’s all too easy to end up sleeping with someone because you desire emotional and mental intimacy with them and that’s the only way you can think of achieving it. There aren’t enough models around of how you can love someone’s mind but not necessarily their body.

Friendship?

I think our culture is just too distrustful of the idea of friendships between people of opposite sexes (and *especially* older/higher status men with younger/lower status women; not that there isn’t some good reason to suspect some such men of a sexual agenda, but it shouldn’t be the kind of blanket assumption that it is).

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roy belmont 10.01.09 at 8:37 pm

Belle W:
“I’m fine now and that’s not the point…”
One of the more hidden aspects of damage in this, in these kinds of pathological dynamics, is being forced to that position, of having to be either “fine” or “harmed”, outraged but intact, or wounded and confused. And having to say publicly that you’re damaged is a biologically dangerous thing for social animals like humans, it can easily amplify the initial harm.
Of course you’re not “fine”, none of us are. Functional, sometimes heroically so in spite of what could easily be devastation or crippling. And let’s not forget the untold lost who couldn’t take it, didn’t recover, whose lives were destroyed or harmed into cycles of destruction and never got to testify. It’s a sensitive time, those years.
Too often that damage festers and becomes the agency of further harm, to other, younger versions of the self, the “cycle of abuse”.
“I will say that I have never seen this with female prof and a male student…”
And gays? Already marginal even without the added taboo, probably not a real representative weight of testimony from that quarter.
So much of this seems like just desperate crawling, dragging ourselves out of the muck.
What it’s finally about is power, though, not sex. The dynamics of economic/social status in mating display.
Shifting the patriarchy toward gender neutral dominance strategies isn’t the goal, though, is it?
How free can we get before we have to jettison, or pretend to, the whole biological identity thing? How honest can we be about our own drives toward power before we begin excusing obvious slimy opportunism?
What it is, I think, is the disregard of the well-being of the other. Always.

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Emma (the first one) 10.02.09 at 1:06 pm

Roy, you mention gays, and I have to say that the female professors I have known who were dodgy in this department were hitting on their female students, and not their male ones. Patriarchy protects its own. But all the talk of emotionally vulnerable women students and so on, while true, also neglects to make explicit what I think used to be called the erotics of pedagogy — teachers of adults need to be very aware that a kind of transference takes place sometimes, something that feels very like love to the student and may be mistaken for same, even by both parties. It can even work out, though I think that’s rare enough to be discounted, or at least delayed. The best teachers manage something like the friendship that Chris mentions, but that’s hard — and often disappointing to the student — and needs conscious and explicit and patient work. Psychiatrists are warned and taught about it, and they still sometimes succumb. Teachers are not, as far as I know, and only the best of them work it out.

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roy belmont 10.06.09 at 11:39 pm

Emma, yes. Well said.
The Polanski thread’s comments being closed, this is here mostly for “cathartic purposes”. I only get to the online world about once a week these days so wasn’t able to comment further there.
Amongst lots of other blatantly obvious symptomology Laurie says “the protection of the innocent” repeatedly in one form or other.
And at the same time all this is happening there’s a little kid, a girl, only ten instead of thirteen, in Afghanistan, killed by a box of leaflets dropped from a plane.
And Laurie I’m sure could be pressured into saying she cares about that, but she doesn’t, not like she cares when there’s sex and children in the same picture.
Because she’s acting out her own unresolved pathologies.
Instead of a fetishized compulsion to violate the innocent young, she has a fetishized compulsion to violate the violaters.
It’s less damaging to the species in the long run, and far more socially acceptable, but it’s still pathology, sickness, unhealthy behavior, and shouldn’t be legitimized or allowed to dominate social morality by the strength of its unresolved tension.
Calling Polanski a “child rapist” blurs the distinction and trivializes the horrific crime of actual child rape.
Pretending the only two positions available are black and white condemnation or support of Polanski is just more masking for the hidden sickness.
Not only was what Polanski did with that girl when she was 13 wrong, what her mother did, and probably her father as well, reaching far back into their own pasts, was wrong, and everyone involved in creating the social milieu of Hollywood in the late 20th c. bears guilt for that. Which extends right out to the entire culture, including the bizarre sexual taboos and hypocrisies of organized religion and public law.
None of which makes the nastily violent and uncompassionate behavior of militant neurotics acceptable.

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