This gossip is ten years old, but I only recently learned it – through Oso Raro.
“The experience that matters to me most — it’s why I’m an academic — is this enormous pleasure and intensity of working and thinking with people,” she says in an interview here. “And to me that’s pleasurable, it’s sexy, it’s very close.”
Ms. Gallop believes that her brand of teaching came to be viewed as harassment, in part, because of the split she sees between “power feminists,” like herself, who are pro-sex, and “victim feminists” who are not. That split, she argues has helped lead to the perversion of the definition of sexual harassment on campuses, which used to be about sexism but has come to be about anything that’s sexual.
“The investigation revealed that I did not in fact respect the boundary between the sexual and the intellectual, between the professional and the personal,” she writes in her book. “It was as if the university, seeing what kind of relations I did have with students, felt that I must be in some way guilty and was able, through this wrinkle in the policy, to find me slightly guilty of sexual harassment.”
She continues: “I was construed as a sexual harasser because I sexualize the atmosphere in which I work.”
Ms. Gallop details some of her most intimate sexual feelings and experiences in this latest book and in her earlier works. She earned her Ph.D. in French at Cornell University in 1976. Her dissertation was on the works of the Marquis de Sade, whose writings include graphic sexual descriptions of rape and torture. In her 1988 book, Thinking Through the Body, Ms. Gallop writes that Sade’s texts “moved me to masturbate.” In Feminist Accused of Sexual Harassment, she recounts when she first had sex with a woman, when on separate occasions she slept with two male professors on her dissertation committee, and when she first began sleeping with her own students as an assistant professor.
You can read the entire article right here. What do you think of Gallop’s arguments? I find them very poor, and I think the “power feminist” vs. “victim feminist” distinction is entirely bogus – as are the terms themselves. I further submit that it is not natural to want to sleep with someone just because you are working closely with them. I think it is a patriarchally conditioned response. Ask my female students who have slept with their male supervisors. They say, “Well, yes, I just had to feel I had some power over him in some way, and thus gain some sort of feeling of personal power in this discipline. If the whole field were not so hierarchically arranged and so male oriented I would feel differently, but it is as it is and I feel as I do.” And indeed, one of my main disagreements with academic women’s and gender studies experts has to do with the complex ways in which many of them try to relabel gross submission to patriarchal hierarchies, and complicity with these, as “feminist.” (My favorite instance of this is the earnest argument, “I am taking the oppressive side here because it is the self-protective thing to do, and what is self-protective, is feminist.”)
These things having been said, I have far closer relationships with my students than many faculty out of state are comfortable having. Students here are ready and willing to treat you as a friend or a family member, all while maintaining boundaries which are comfortable for everyone and do not impinge on the assigning of grades. I quickly realized that it was fine and even good. My own education might have been better had I actually known the professors. And the only time I have had a problem with a student – about a grade, because we liked each other and I still failed her because, well, she failed the course – it was someone not from here, who made assumptions someone from here would not.
I suppose the bottom line there is, my students and I can handle knowing each other as people, and do not mind. And indeed, it is through work we have bonded. But given the amount of irrationality that sex injects into any situation and the power dynamics which inhere in both sex and school for most Americans and quite a few people of other nationalities as well, I would not trust the average person on an American university campus to handle romantic relationships with their students, their professors or their dissertation committees in any way I would call healthy. You. can. find. other. people. And my money says Gallop and her academic lovers did not really fall in love over books like Paolo and Francesca. My bet is that they just could not find, or did not believe they could find anyone else.
Now, I did once have an affair with a graduate student in another discipline. He was foreign and only slightly younger than I, and he had never heard of sexual harrassment policies. I said, we cannot do this, you are not in my department but I could be called in as an outside reader of your dissertation, or you could decide you want to take my theory class. He said, but I believe in private life. I can handle having one sort of relationship with you on campus and another elsewhere; there is no cognitive dissonance involved in that for me. This turned out to be true, and we did not end up working together or having to work together, and it is not a good parallel to the situations Gallop discusses since the relationship did not arise from intellectual collaboration. And there are exceptions to every rule, but still we both took a chance. I suspect that the university’s policies on sexual harassment would have protected each of us more than they would have harmed us had anything untoward happened.
For example, I also had a romance with a faculty member in another discipline, with whom I was not and would not be required to work. It went badly, and I would have left sooner had I not become afraid of the workplace harrassment which it had become evident would ensue, and which did in fact ensue when at last I left. Partly because we were in unrelated units I did not realize this amounted to sexual harrassment until the university itself said you know, we have policies and procedures we can invoke to stop this. A light went on in my feeble brain and I said: Of course! Sexual harrassment is harrassment precisely because it engulfs and disempowers you, so that you have no name for what is happening and thus remain vulnerable to it!
Then I had a colleague who believed in feminist “transgression” and made a good career writing about it, but enacted it in practice by making out with her male colleagues, in their wives’ presence, at faculty retreats. Nobody said a thing and I think this was because her behavior fit patriarchal expectations so well that, while somewhat remarkable, it was not ultimately problematic. There was also a female acolyte of Derrida, a professor where I went to graduate school. She and her boyfriend liked threesomes with women and would entice bisexual graduate students to join them. These students were fascinated and flattered at the beginning but then discovered – as one of them said later – that the professor and her boyfriend were “on a seduce and destroy mission.” They probably justify all of this by citing Gallop but I find that attitude dilettantish and self-serving. And the behavior is hardly transgressive.