Posted at 02:08 PM in TODAY | Permalink | Comments (0)
There's been a bit of a scandal at one of the universities, involving teachers behaving inappropriately with students. A fun experiment is to ask people what they think, whereby you learn some things they might not otherwise volunteer. If I were a better experimenter I'd keep my own thoughts to myself but it's hard. Finally I guess I'll just write them down here.
I think that there is an emerging perception of women as helpless victims with little to no agency, and I am not a fan of this perception. I think that while men tend to have more power (physically, if nothing else), it's disingenuous to pretend like women do not have access to the tools, including vocabulary, to get out of doing things that they do not want to do, when the playing field is otherwise fairly level. That is, when a man and a woman are at the same approximate social level and a man tries to behave inappropriately, I believe that a woman can usually reject the attempt with minimal repercussions. I don't say always, but usually. I've definitely done things because it was easier to do than to deal with the fallout of not doing them, and I've regretted those choices, the choice of ease in the moment over my own preference, but I perceive it as a choice. I don't think it's helpful to see women as always at the mercy of men, unable to speak up for themselves, but I recognize that not everyone agrees. I'm talking here about relations outside of the workplace/ school, where there is always a power imbalance between bosses/employees and teachers/students.
I also think that there is a view, possibly more prevalent in Europe than in the US, that people in positions of (real or perceived) power are also human beings who want and deserve to be treated as such. That they may be in positions of power in one area but fallible, imperfect, equal or even weaker, in other areas. I think there is a greater tendency here for bosses to socialize with their employees, teachers with their students, etc., outside of the workplace, in an effort to make that imbalance of power in one arena somewhat less crushing. I don't think the intention is to bring the power into the social relationship, but to humanize the powerful.
Finally, I want to acknowledge that some of my oldest and dearest friendships were born when there was a power differential (my boss, my student, etc.). So this may affect my view of things somewhat, because I see the lines between power and non-power as blurry and mutable.
THAT SAID: Comments on appearance, particularly the aspects of appearance that are not chosen, have no business in the workplace or amongst people who are not otherwise friends (and "socializing" does not make you "friends" and if you are not sure, assume you are not friends). Sex should not be transactional except for sex workers. Extra credit can be earned by doing tasks related to the field, not to sexual favors or even friendship. Friendship can happen, but it can't be traded for advancement in the field; nor can sexual attraction. Power can feel sexual, if you're tilted that way, but using power to get sex is something people do when they can't get it any other way, and that's at minimum distasteful, and offers of sex in exchange for power need to be politely rebuffed. When you are in a position of power, the people who have to defer to that power should be as attractive to you as when my friend's dog was humping my leg last night: they're cute as heck, but they're a different species. Everyone honestly knows this and sentences like "Oh, we can't even say hello anymore?" are the kinds of things a predator says and you know that, so knock it off.
THAT SAID: I reject on principle the idea that someone who complains some time after an event is somehow culpable for not complaining at the time. I had very bad things happen to me that I thought I had caused and was too embarrassed to talk about for a long time because I would have had to acknowledge that I caused them (I did not). I had men in positions of power tell me secrets that I thought I had to keep. I know better now, but they were (correctly) counting on my not knowing. I felt vaguely sorry for them, or vaguely uncertain about what to do, or vaguely special for drawing their attention. There was nothing vague about it for them.
Are there gray areas? Of course there are. But I want some people to stop advancing a premise that implies that women never want sex, never want power, never have power, never consider using what power they have, and I really, really want people to stop acting like they don't see lines where the lines very much are, or that they're not in a position to stop things that cross those lines. "We're all adults" they said, in their defense. Excellent: act like that, then.
Posted at 07:50 AM in BRNO, TODAY | Permalink | Comments (0)
Posted at 08:43 AM in TODAY | Permalink | Comments (0)
I tried to read Don DeLillo's "White Noise" at some point in the late 80s or early 90s, I don't remember. It was published in 1985 and it wasn't then but not too long after. There were a lot of clever post-modernist books floating around my periphery then, and some I liked and some I just didn't. John and I would go rounds on them and I wanted to like what he liked or know why I didn't, so I'd try. Bret Easton Ellis. Mark Leyner. I liked more the older stuff - Vonnegut, Stoppard. Not a lot of women on the list in either direction. Anyway. I read "White Noise" and that was, as I remember now, the beginning of my quitting that kind of writing, the spectacular warp of a sentence that served no purpose other than to marvel at its own warp. There's a scene when two men are circling each other and talking about Elvis and Hitler and it is very quotable, and also very meaningful because it's a commentary on the blurring of pop culture and human history or something equally important and I just felt tired.
One July day in 1993 I was driving to a job, this was when I was working in the Bay Area and going around to elementary schools giving speeches about multicultural education which seemed very meaningful but were really just the foot in the door for the sales company I worked for. That is, I was doing a good thing, maybe a very good thing, but for a fairly weak or even bad reason. On the way to work I drove through Richmond, the town next to mine, where there was a train yard and there was an explosion, and I drove through a cloud of toxic smoke. I went and gave my presentation with tears streaming down my face, and then I went out to the parking lot of the school and threw up, and then I drove home, and they'd closed the freeway so I took surface streets because I didn't somehow grasp the situation. I drove through a cloud of poisonous gas that was engulfing the place where I live. Twenty-four thousand people were affected, there were lawsuits, but I didn't think that way; I thought: this is very unpleasant. By the time I got home I'd caught up with things on the news and I understood that it was more than just a cloud but I didn't know what I could do. I didn't have health insurance so it didn't seem like I could go to the hospital. I took a cool shower and went to bed and I guess I was okay, because I don't remember much else other than a sense of vague embarrassment for having thrown up in the parking lot.
And then later when I was talking to John I called it an "airborne toxic event", which is what it's called in the book when a train crash releases toxins into the air, and we laughed because it was in a book and then it was real and I thought about re-reading the book to learn more about the future but I didn't because it didn't feel like a wry commentary on the possible state of things or whatever, it felt too close to home. And of course now we know, if we didn't know then, that such things happen and happen again, past present and future.
Noah Baumbach directed a film version of "White Noise" and I have to tell you the internal dialogue on whether to watch it was exhausting even for me. I have complicated feelings about Noah Baumbach because I think he's clever in the same self-congratulatory way that yes yes it's wonderful but I'm tired of it. On the other hand, Greta Gerwig is with him and she seems like someone who wouldn't be with a bore. On the other hand, he seems to have left Jennifer Jason Leigh for her and I like Jennifer Jason Leigh. I can't ignore the whole "younger woman" thing either which I'm sure is a very unique and special circumstance for each person but you do see it piling up behind all the dudes who are sooner or later problematic. And I didn't love "Marriage Story". And I don't really like Adam Driver, I understand that you might but I don't; don't take it personally. But I like Greta Gerwig. And Andre Benjamin bonus (though he isn't in it very much, it turns out). Plus Danny Elfman on the soundtrack.
Friends, I fell asleep four times and had to wake up and go back and try again. I can see how well done it was etc and there were certainly parts I enjoyed very much and I even forgive them for leaving out the barn, which was one of the parts in the book I liked. My takeaway is that I do really like listening about death and dying but to a much lesser extent listening about fear of death and dying, and basically this was two hours of that fear, even more that than the "we're wasting our lives looking at things instead of living" that I got from the book. I'd recommend it for insomnia. That's about that.
Posted at 03:20 PM in BOOKS | Permalink | Comments (0)