Peripherally related to that last post: There exists a massive difference between academic liberals, and those concerned with the real world. Today’s hypersensitive university environment illustrates this great divide in the Left in gruesome detail, along with differing attitudes on sex work and campus sexual assault.
I’ve located The Nation’s editorial offices.
This article from a professor growing increasingly agitated over her students’ ever-growing obsession with trigger warnings is a good primer on what I’m talking about. Special-snowflake white students telling the writer, an African-American woman, what racism looks like; exploding and fleeing the classroom in tears over any provocation, no matter how small; lecturing this actual expert in sexual assault what sexual assault is. Besides being black, the professor’s liberal creds were unimpeachable (rape crisis center volunteer; feminist; lives in Cambrige, MA), yet it did not matter. The common theme involves highly sheltered, highly privileged, mostly white students at expensive, elite institutions letting their feelz trump real experience.
This is not entirely unrelated to how a columnist’s feelz about high compensation and benefits for domestic workers trump the real-world problem of how to pay for it.
I have taught A&P courses before, and fortunately, “trigger”-happy students were not something I had to deal with. The crucial difference: I was teaching a local community college. No ivory towers on that campus. None of my students were “privileged.” Most worked and went to school part-time in search of a career as nurse or paramedic — not exactly preferred career tracks of Harvard or Oberlin students. Roughly half had children, and roughly half were minority. And though the section on reproductive anatomy and physiology was necessarily graphic, nobody ever ran from the classroom or complained to the administration about being triggered or feeling excluded or feeling “erased” since the division of “male” and “female” body parts and hormones might seem transphobic (an actual worry of mine at the time).
I was not teaching to academic, sheltered, privileged liberal-arts students. I was teaching to real-world students.
This also brings to mind differing attitudes on sex work (specifically, prostitution). Privileged white feminists such as Lena Dunham abhor sex work and support its criminalization. After all, Lena Dunham has never had to experience being poverty-stricken or even middle-class in her life, and therefore does not understand what could possibly motivate a woman to take up that life other than trafficking and forced prostitution by male pimps.
By contrast, here is a post by actual sex-worker Charlotte Shane bristling at the suggestion that she’s being raped or abused by her line of work. Her post is interesting because she does not paint a rosy picture of prostitution whatsoever: her post absolutely drips with the derision she feels for her johns and the physical revulsion she feels and is forced to control. She hates it when men demand she actually enjoy it: “Explicit instructions that I be enthusiastic on top of being willing is one of the worst parts of the job for me,” she writes. And she expresses contempt for men who are able to have sex when the partner clearly is not enjoying it. Rather than embrace the libertarian myth of the happy hooker, she lets us know how disgusting it is in the real world.
And yet she argues powerfully for its decriminalization anyway, in her writing and on Twitter. For a lengthier treatment of the decrim argument, I recommend Melissa Gira Grant’s “Playing the Whore.”
Shane is not a passive victim. She is not forcibly trafficked from one anonymous brothel to the next. There is no male pimp taking her money and plying her with dope. None of the cliches of sex work entertained by Dunham and other ivory-tower feminists are in play here. Sure, she may not exactly love her job, but then again, how many people do? Would she actually be better of as a waitress, or trying to live off of her freelance pieces? Would Dunham hire her to be a writer for Girls? Has Dunham ever even interacted with someone like Shane?
Perpetrators of forced and/or underage prostitution must be prosecuted harshly, more than they are now. We all can agree with that. But when it comes to criminalizing voluntary sex work, well, I have yet to find a single such sex-worker writing online in favor of criminalization, no matter how distasteful her line of work may be.
Sex work, like trigger warnings, represents a schism between academic and real-world feminism. For another, let us turn to campus rape.
That rape is horrifying, under-reported and often downplayed and dismissed by patriarchal society goes without saying. But what gets under my nerves is how campus rape is held up as special, different, and somehow “worse” than off-campus rape. Academic feminists insist that universities must have special rape investigation committees since the regular police are considered insufficient for victims privileged enough to attend university.
I work with a lot of young, female medical assistants. All are black or Hispanic and economically under-privileged. None have attended one of these elite four-year campuses typically featured as a hotbed of rape. If one of them gets sexually assaulted, not one academic feminist will write articles about her for Rolling Stone or carry mattresses on her back on her behalf. Her case would not merit mention by The Nation or Jezebel. And guess who would get her criminal case? That’s right, the regular police, the same people considered unworthy of the privileged students of UVa and Columbia.
The rape of one of the medical assistants here would be literally considered less important than the rape of a Harvard student in the eyes of an academic feminist such as Lena Dunham.
And the most infuriating part? Non-students suffer 1.2 times the rate of sexual assault of students, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
To reform the prosecution of campus rape, how about we reform the prosecution of rape, period? Instead of insisting that Columbia University properly handle sexual assault allegations, maybe Emma Sulkowicz could have insisted the same of the NYPD? Why is she so special compared to a medical assistant in the Bronx?
When it seems like I go off the reservation of conventional, academic liberalism, it’s because I was never on that reservation to begin with. These types don’t give a fig about underprivileged people in the real world, so I don’t give a fig about them.