Sunday, May 22, 2011

Et tu?

It seems my comments have caused a stir elsewhere. I have a long post reacting to comments made here; I'm not sure I have either time or energy to address the comments in the blogosphere. Or if more heat will be generated by doing so than light. Here today I will make but a few comments and reserve the most of my comments for that other post already in process.

First, the list form is nothing other than I think in lists. It's the way my mind works. Nothing more is meant.

Second, each of the items in the list refers to a specific event from which a general lesson is drawn. Only one of those listed happened to me, the rest happened to graduate students of my acquaintance and who were quite disturbed at the time of the event. Most have now made legends of the event and find it all very humorous. The fault may be mine for trying to generalize enough that even some of those involved will not recognize themselves in my comments.

Third, I discovered through someone else's comments that another discussion on all this has been occurring elseweb without my knowledge or awareness. This blog post elseweb and the following commentary is....well, I am so nonplussed by it that I haven't an appropriate word. I've had these folks' back many times before, defended them in private and public, applauded their efforts, lent a hand where ever and whenever I could to aid their efforts in my own small way, I stuck my neck out AS A GRADUATE STUDENT WITH NO STANDING ANYWHERE WHATSOEVER to defend their right to speak at the table, to insist that disagreements with them take the form of valid discourse rather than snide asides, that what they do has value even for those in other disciplines...perhaps especially for those...and they don't have the decency to let me know of this conversation? to invite me to explain myself? To address me directly? Not even a quick email to say this was going on? No. Now some of the commenters there have commented here, and I am very appreciative that they did...but even they did not mention the other blog post and its lengthy comments. I don't know what to say about that, I guess I haven't processed it all.

Fourth, the attention paid to MA students is because of the specific situations on which the comments are based involved MA students as the performers of those behaviors.

Fifth, I was accused of being bored a lot. There is only a single point that addresses that topic or uses that word.

Sixth, I was also accused of making a lot of highly sexualized comments. A) I think that less than careful reading has made more of this than there actually is and more importantly B) Sexual violence even in the context of a conference is still sexual violence; intellectual rape is still a form of rape, and even more so when a male student or professor is forcing himself both intellectually and physically on a female colleague of whatever standing; sexual harassment is still sexual harassment even if it happens at the dance or a wine hour. Now as above I recognize that my descriptions and efforts at anonymizing and making the situations somewhat generic may have disguised too well the gravity of what my young colleagues experienced; at the same time it worries me no end that otherwise intelligent colleagues are far less concerned about the kinds of sexual politics that a certain sector of congress attendees and academics practiced making victims out of other colleagues. Yes, that disturbs me very much. And I say shame on you. While you are so concerned with how students might feel at my "litany" you've swallowed the camel to strain at the gnat.

Seventh, I was implicitly accused of being a killjoy. I should perhaps be less concerned with what people wear to the dance etc, or perhaps not even attend. Apparently you people don't know me very well. Perhaps you could try. Always much easier I suppose to take pot shots in comments on a blog about the matter if there is no concern that I'll actually see them. Perhaps you'd like to consider that one of the reasons the current dance is so damn tame is a direct result of the kinds of behavior that I outlined. It used to be so much more! I miss those wilder, woolier days of the dance. But there are consequences to one's actions, no matter how fun they were in the doing. Now I'm fully aware I'm not one of the cool kids, never will be. I'm just an old ruminate chewing on things as I can and occasionally spitting them out on a blog or two. But I do go to the dance, have done so longer than many of those commenting, and have seen a thing or two, and the fallout behind the scenes of things at the dance since I also once upon a time worked behind the scenes of the Congress. You see, my erstwhile friends, out here in the real world, many of us struggle damned hard to get where we are. Not being cool or a hot commodity with the socio-economic connections means a bit more struggle for those of us little people. And out here in the real world, what you wear even to something like the K'zoo dance has an effect; it shouldn't, it isn't right, it isn't good, and we should do all we can to minimize and eradicate such reactions. But I'm not on every hiring committee and I know of interviewees who have been asked by hiring committees about something said or done by interviewee at some conference or hiring committees who have rejected a candidate because of dress, not at the interview, but elsewhere at a major conference. Whether you head in the sand "live and let live" altrustic idealists like it or not, realize it or not, want it to happen or does happen, and how very sad for talented people to lose out on a job because of something that can be easily addressed WITHOUT restricting self expression. I'm not saying don't wear tight dresses or a see through shirt showing that six pack, I am saying that if your clothing isn't up to keeping your body in check during a dance and you are sharing more of that body than you intended, perhaps rethinking your attire beforehand might be a good idea. Go nude to the dance for all I care. Paint your face woad and wear leather armor. Wear whatever you like. But there ain't no such thing as a free lunch. Likely no one will care. That's good. But just in case....

Oh, and by the way....I still have that kind of fun and I'm nearly 50, and I do it more than at Congress. If you applied even a modicum of the skills you profess to what I wrote, you wouldn't have missed some key information like "have fun." Nowhere did I decry having fun, being silly, enjoying yourself. Read carefully people. Where did it say a thing about not going barefoot? Nowhere I can see. Is our discipline in such trouble that basic, basic reading skills are lacking?

Eighth, while the slight majority of my comments were addressed to students, the problems and issues addressed to professors were to my mind far more serious. These have largely been overlooked.

Ninth, the hypocrisy is palpable. While on the one hand claiming to be such a wonderful community, the posters in question exclude. They certainly haven't included me in their discussion or made comments here (with some exceptions)...that's community building? Really? And while claiming that "hierarchizing" is wrong, they hierachize....after all, is it not explicitly stated (yes, it is) that their way is better? Is that not a hierarchy? And of course while doing so not one of them has bothered to comment on how I treat my grad students much less other grad students. They can only speak for themselves.....perhaps they will.

Enough. For now. If the folks over at the other blog want to take me to task for speaking out against intellectual violence, power politics based on gender, to defend sexual harrassment in the name of not hierarchizing and everyone having fun, well that's up to them. But I'll be happy to help young students out by helping them avoid bad behavior and learn how to see themselves as others see them and speaking out for victims and intended victims of such behavior. And if they don't like it...oh well. One can only hope for further dialogue, but with few exceptions I am not hopeful.

Among those exceptions are Myra Seaman, whose comments I appreciate though she has grossly misunderstood my comments (we'll see about clarifying that), Holly Crocker whose comments here and elseweb I appreciate, and Eileen Joy, though I wish she'd made her comments here too rather than only elseweb.

On a final note, I'm still happy to say that the victims of the worst behavior are strong people, have already turned the events into story, story told humorously and creating laughter, the great healer. Still, those who might be tempted to commit such behavior should be made aware of it and that it isn't cricket. And if that makes a banker on what if it helps someone?


Jeffrey J. Cohen said...

Hi Larry, I am sorry that I didn't link to the ITM discussion here. I thought that since you subscribe via RSS (I can see our feed when I read your blog) that you'd read it and that would be enough ... but you are right, I should have linked. It was far from my intention to have a discussion unfold behind your back.

You've been a passionate defender of ITM in the past and I appreciate that, as well as your good presence in the field. I disagree profoundly with your recent post for the reasons I've stated, and my mind hasn't changed on that ... but what does bother me is that my post came across to you as a kind of assassination (hence your title here I assume) and THAT WAS NOT MY INTENTION AT ALL. For that indeed I am *very* sorry.


Another Damned Medievalist said...

Just noticed that you'd posted (trying to get overdue paper written). One of the things I think it's important to mention is that many of the things commenters here and elsewhere were upset about were not actually things you had said, but instead things that were mentioned by others in comments.

I am also surprised in retrospect that there was little discussion of the professorial behavior. I have apparently got to the age where I'm undesirable (or, I'd like to think, intimidating) enough that I haven't felt unsure about attention from senior colleagues. Or perhaps I simply assume that they are harmless even when they flirt, because no one has ever crossed the line. Although it could be argued that flirting is unprofessional, too -- but the I have a job and I'm pushing 50 and divorced, and have the privileges that come with such things, like feeling no compunction about getting up in someone's face and telling them to behave themselves. Not that I've had to, mind. But I can think of colleagues whose behavior, were I a grad student, I might find intimidating and threatening.

note to self: be more aware.

theswain said...

Thanks for the comment. As you know, predation isn't about desirability, but about power, whether an MA student using his research as a sexual weapon (shocking I know) or a professor committing sexual harassment at a conference. As a strong, accomplished, intelligent female academic, not many such will be to try attack you verbally. That has nothing to do with desirability.

Eileen Joy said...

Larry: I idiotically ASSUMED that there was a pingback/link in Jeffrey's original post that went back to YOUR post, so that you would automatically know of the conversation spurred by your post. In the past, I have always dropped in to the original post, if I have commented on it elsewhere, and said, "btw, I have some comments on this over in this other place." So I DO apologize. Please note that I mentioned repeatedly in my comments how important your support has been to BABEL when BOTH of us had no real academic appointments. But we can disagree every now and then; at least, I hope so.