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August 01, 2006

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Anne

I haven't read the book, but your questions about the relationships between talent, learning and (sexual) desire really make me want to!

One thing though - I don't think pop culture is particularly short on the message that "good" men can be taken advantage of, or abused by, "bad" women. How can you be sure that this isn't just another example of backlash against political correctness - or even feminism - in general?

Jodi

Anne--your point is a good one and I accept it. I can't be sure that this isn't a kind of backlash story--or, even if it isn't, that it can't be used or interpreted that way.

At the same time and at the risk of parroting some of the backlash so-called feminists themselves, I don't think it serves women well to be positioned as victims rather than as sexual agents. In fact, I'm tempted to say that the crime of sexual violence is the way that it deprives another of their sexual agency.

One other thing about the novel (and this could confirm your suggestion about its fit within a larger culture of backlash) involves the way that the campus feminists rally around the student and the way that she uses this to solidify her position against the professor. We could also say that what makes the novel interesting is the way that this dynamic is ambiguous and multifaceted such that any single angle on it becomes highly reductive. On that same score, the professor is caught in his own masochistic fantasy wherein he is the character of the professor in the film The Blue Angel and the student is Lola, Lola--Marlene Dietrich--and not an awkard undergraduate with her own problems and insecurities.

rodkong

I've not read The Blue Angel either, but judging by your comments it appears that the student-professor cliche has taken the place of the patient-therapist cliche we commonly see in literature and on television. What makes this short story unique? It reminds me of the Harrison Ford/Michelle Pfeiffer thriller "What Lies Beneath". I'd be more interested if the gender roles were reversed..Mary Kate Laterno anyone?

Jodi

The Blue Angel is a novel--not a short story. Unique? Well, what I liked was the way it worked with the film The Blue Angel which is really quite gripping: a professor completely loses every bit of his dignity to the point of dressing like a clown/rooster/chicken and crowing to publicize his wife's erotic show. The novel resituates this story of masochistic devotion/degradation in the setting of a small liberal arts college.

I guess I am less taken by the Mary Kate Laterno story, although the tabloids certainly enjoy it and have turned up a series of other stories of women seducing boys. Yet, that isn't all that new either, is it? It's actually as old as Oedipus. So, perhaps the more pressing matter is the way the story connects to and is configured within a larger set of cultural coordinates, how it impacts and is impacted by these coordinates, what it tells us about them, etc. It could also be less interesting to me because I was married to one of my students.

phred


Mamet's Oleanna addressed a lot of this

I do think it's a bit , mm, manipulative to place any book or film on the "backlash" list simply because it dares to portray femmes in a negative or predator-like role; indeed "backlash" itself is hardly unjustified in many cases, unless it does lead to some altercation or worse, of course. Professor -student sex (often female to female as much as anything) is quite expected and not really an issue. However trite the double-standard accusations are, there does seem to be some unconscious forgiveness for women predators (het. or lesbian), and nada for the male variety.....

Jodi

Thanks for the heads up to Oleanna--I've been meaning to read it but kept forgetting to order the book. On manipulative: I don't think there's been any automatic including on the list going on here. It's a possibility. I'll add that I think the backlash is real, that it really occurs and has effects. One of those effects is drawing our attention to ways that feminism can work as a power formation with harms, violations, omissions, justifications, etc; differently put, feminism isn't sacred or immune from its own plays of power.

Finally--I don't buy your bit on female predators: there's a long history of criticism of powerful women, of predatory females, of witches and stepmothers and temptresses.

Dominic Fox

"In fact, I'm tempted to say that the crime of sexual violence is the way that it deprives another of their sexual agency."

I misread this as "the crime of sexual *agency* is that it deprives another of their sexual agency" - something that I always suspected was true. Certainly it was a problem for me for a long time that it *might* be true...

When I was a graduate student teaching occasional undergraduate seminars, it seemed to me that the biggest problem with having sex with one's students would be that it would be *undignified* - not just in the tragicomic arses-in-the-air fashion that *all* sex is undignified, but in the specific sense that it is undignified for a know-it-all grad student in his mid-to-late-twenties to be running around trying to cop off with young women who've only just finished their A-levels. Kind of an admission of failure really.

(*Technically* speaking, when I first met my wife she was just finishing being an undergraduate, and I was just starting being a postgrad. But this was a temporary anomaly - she'd already been accepted onto a postgraduate program...)

Possibly as the age gap widens the perspective changes; maybe you lose your vanity, or maybe your vanity starts to be the kind that's bolstered by the bedding of nubiles (or sleek youths - whatever plumps your pillows) rather than the kind that nurtures itself on painstaking imitations of social viability in grown-up company. In the event, I didn't stick around long enough to find out.

Jodi

Dominic--your misreading is perfect, and better than my original use of 'violence'--it strikes me that the instability in the terms (that is, between agency and violence) is part of the truth of sex or maybe its fragility. This might be linked with Zizek's frequently made point regarding masturbation as the primary mode of sexual expression: here the other person is, in a way, deprived of sexual agency or not a sexual agent insofar as s/he is part of my masturbatory endeavor.

That said, I agree with your point regarding a kind of lack of dignity--it reminds me of a kind of relationship where one person always needs to be the teacher or master, keeping the other person in a subordinate person, needing them to worship him/her in a way, to see them as more knowledgeable and powerful. But, then I wonder, if such a relation 'plumps each person's pillows' is it necessarily a problem?

Adam Kotsko

Does it seem to anyone that the heterosexuality of gender is the only type of heterosexuality (meaning erotic attachment crossing significant difference) that's allowed anymore? Aside from that, we're all basically expected to be homosexuals.

It's also interesting to think out the hidden presupposition that someone older, in authority, etc., would even be an erotic object -- my experience as a substitute teacher (at least when I was at the high school) convinced me that I would probably be more susceptible to seduction than my "students" would be. Of course, there's little to be gained from seducing a substitute teacher -- alas! It might've been good for me to be fired from subbing and then run out of town.

Jodi

Adam--I'm not sure what you mean about the heterosexuality of gender and expectation of homosexuality (homosociality?). Do you mean something like opposite sex attraction/desire is more suspect in academic circles? If that's what you're saying, then this hasn't been my experience.

On desiring the elderly (Harold and Maude aside, I guess), this also doesn't strike me as surprising: older people are often much better lovers, more skilled, more generous, less selfish, more staying power; and, there is the added benefit that they are often much more interesting conversationalists and know how to order a decent bottle of wine.

phred


Consider:

A: male teacher

B: female student (over 18)

B enrolls in A's class. Does OK. A and B have a few chats. Then, one night, they fuck, consensually of course. Nothing is said between them about B's act of consenting to intercourse as having anything to do with A's assessment of her coursework. (let's imagine it is an "objective" type of subject math, chemistry ,etc.) At end of semester A awards B a "B" for her academic work. She complains about her grade, and indeed brings up the fact they had sex. Automatically A is thought to have committed some crime, violated academic ethics, etc. But that is merely supposition: B did earn a B, and the fact they had sex has nothing to do with the grade, especially in some class based on clearly defined standards. It should not be an issue, if A took detailed reports, graded correctly etc.

Moral? If you want to screw the cute coeds make sure you are teaching math.

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