From a good article on Jezebel – which is usually just ideologically awful, more on the letter trying to defend the bisexual pig Avital Ronell regarding her sexual harassment:

The letter lays out a series of defenses for Ronell similar to the arguments used to justify sexual misconduct committed by powerful men: “We wish to communicate first in the clearest terms our profound an enduring admiration for Professor Ronell whose mentorship of students has been no less than remarkable over many years. We deplore the damage that this legal proceeding causes her, and seek to register in clear terms our objection to any judgment against her,” the letter states.

Lauding her “brilliant scholarship” and “intellectual generosity” and noting that the French government recently bestowed a prestigious award upon her, the writers continue, “We testify to the grace, the keen wit, and the intellectual commitment of Professor Ronell and ask that she be accorded the dignity rightly deserved by someone of her international standing and reputation.”

If she were to be fired or “relieved of her duties,” they continue, “the injustice would be widely recognized and opposed.”

The insular world of academia, like many other industries in which a hierarchical power structure offers rewards and protection to those at the top and enacts a steep price on those with little institutional clout, is beginning to reckon with the rampant sexual harassment and abuses of power that are endemic within its walls. In October of last year, The Atlantic posed the question, “When will the ‘Harvey effect’ reach academia?” Two months later, a crowdsourced project asked people to submit stories of sexual harassment they had experienced while in academia; to date, it has collected more than 2,400 entries.

More students—almost always women—are beginning to speak out about the harassment they face from professors and those in power—almost always men. The institutional response has been unsurprisingly uneven, often determined by the value of individual faculty to a university.

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And, more on Ronell’s defense:

In a statement to the Times, she described the email exchanges as mutual conversations between two consenting adults. (It’s worth noting that she doesn’t dispute the content of their emails, but rather Reitman’s framing of them as harassment): “Our communications — which Reitman now claims constituted sexual harassment — were between two adults, a gay man and a queer woman, who share an Israeli heritage, as well as a penchant for florid and campy communications arising from our common academic backgrounds and sensibilities. These communications were repeatedly invited, responded to and encouraged by him over a period of three years.”

She doubled down on those claims in a response published in the German publication Welt, describing the emails they exchanged as “hyperbolic gay dialect.”

“I never touched or hurt Reitman,” she told Welt, before labeling him “miserable” and “needy.” As for their student-mentor relationship, Ronell claims that Reitman asked her to help turn his dissertation into a book. In rough translation, she said: “He was incredibly angry because I did not have time for that.” She added, “I did not expect the unstoppable attacks that came then.”

Ronell has continued to go on the offense. On Thursday, she released a statement through her attorney that detailed her interactions with Reitman and the language he used in email communications with her. In the emails, Reitman purportedly called her “beloved and special one,” “baby,” “sweet beloved.” Her statement questions why he waited until graduating to file his complaint and notes that he was unable to find a tenure-track position before concluding that “[t]he inability of Reitman to find a job and not any actual or perceived, sexual harassment of him by email, is what this case is about.”

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There are lots of very good comments to the article. Here are some:

Ugh. Enough already with the damn “this person has done a lot of good, therefore they could never have done anything wrong” letters. I can understand it’s hard to accept that a friend or idol might not be who you thought they were but keep yourthoughts to yourself.

Anyway, even if it were true that it was all consensual, there was a clear power imbalance.

Yup. I’m also v tired of the “—of Jewish heritage—” shit casually thrown in there. Like, who gives a flying fuck about your heritage, not sure how it’s germane to possible sexual harassment, etc.

Yup. This line really says it all to me: ‘“People know that she is very friendly and open and crosses traditional boundaries in relationships with her students,””

WHY DID YOU FUCKING LET THAT GO, UNIVERSITY. THAT IS NOT OK.

I found it a bit eerie that you could just search-and-replace the names in this article with those of any of the recent powerful-man-harasses-woman-at-work stories and have it be pretty much identical, right down to the “but he/she is really good at their job!” defenses.  Yay equality?  Also:  yuck.

Also, let’s retire the “This is how she is!  You just don’t GET her!” argument. Nope, sorry— being wacky is not a good excuse to sexually assault your graduate student.

Yeah, what does that even mean? She’s more communicative than other profs?Cool. More handsy? Ew.

The things she said to him are NOT ok to say to a student let alone an advisee. Those things alone without taking into account her intentions or his consent makes her in the wrong here.

Yep. If your personality is built around whackiness and lack of boundaries you probably shouldn’t be in a supervisory role.

DON’T CROSS BOUNDARIES!! That’s a blatant act of aggression, Ronell.

Exactly. How do you solve a problem like Avital? Fucking fire her.

Thank you. The messages exchanged are horrendously inappropriate for any advisor to send to any advisee under any circumstances. That said, the awful victim-blaming responses by her colleagues are embarrassing, but not surprising. I work in academia and it regularly closes ranks around abusers, particularly tenured ones with power. The reason they’re so quiet about #MeToo is because they’re terrified of what will happen if it ever hits their institutions.

I don’t care how great you are, if you call your student your “cock-er spaniel” there is something fucked up going on

I cannot understand how anyone past the age of 20 can still cling to the notion that outer appearances mirror the inner person. You simply don’t know what a person get up to in their personal life, and you take that as a given and go from there. If anything, the more a person tries to perfect their outer persona the more their actual person is rotted out.

And what someone may actually think matters very little. LBJ was pretty racist, and yet he still passed the Civil Rights Act. The idea that someone’s “inner beliefs” matter more than their actions is the usual bullshit version of “enlightenment” that gets passed off as some sort of deep insight.

Actions matter, the rest is totally meaningless.

Lauding her “brilliant scholarship” and “intellectual generosity” and noting that the French government recently bestowed a prestigious award upon her,

Roman Polanski won an Oscar.

Bill Cosby had multiple honourary degrees.

Kevin Spacey was knighted.

That prestigious award doesn’t mean shit.

“Everything I say is queer hyperbole”…. FU lady. Your student felt pressured to engage with you and get sexually harasssed bc you held their future in your hands and then you say he resents you bc he didn’t get a job or any gains from being harassed by you for years…. yeah no shit he’s angry and feels violated, no shit he feels used and hurt, what victims will deal with in order to get through life is absolutely horrifying. When scumbags say “ Well, how come they put up with it for so long if they felt violated?” Or “How come they didn’t need report what happened right away? How scared could they have truly been?”….. I just want to burn it allllll down bc to me it’s common sense, we will do anything to keep our abusers at bay, we will nod, we will laugh at their dumb jokes, we will pretend to be ok with their behavoir if it means we can eventually make a safe exit, knowing what an abuser can do to you once you tell another person (the police, a friend, a neighbor etc) is terrifying.

Right? There is nothing to “make”of this beyond another sexual harasser protected by their shitty friends. Being female, queer, feminist or Jewish doesn’t preclude anyone from being an abuser. And any person of any gender is entitled to file a Title IX claim. This isn’t rocket science. I am also annoyedthe article gives SO much editorial space to said shitty friends’ victim blaming nonsense, and buries the victim’s actual testimony (the most compelling part of the article) way down near the bottom. This is no anomaly, it’s classic abuse of power.

I don’t know if anyone outside academia understands how uniquely terrifying it is to go up against the machines of institutional power there, especially as a grad student. You pour your entire life’s work into your degree and (if your advisors are unscrupulous) put up with all types of abuse because you know these people are the gatekeepers of your entire professional future. It doesn’t matter if your complaints are justified; the minute you raise your voice, you’re done. His career was over the second he filed that Title IX claim. The fact that such high-ranking intellectuals have chosen to pile on further is disappointing but not surprising.

All of this. I had no idea academia was so fucked up until I started working in it. So much is excused by “But they’re brilliant at their research!” Or even worse, “They were so brilliant 20 years ago. Saying/doing something now would tarnish their legacy.”

I was a graduate student around the same time with the alleged victim, in a different department. I cannot give you much detail, because I would like to stay anonymous. I took Avital’s classes, but she was not in my diss committee. I’m commenting on an article for the first time, but I felt like what I know should be part of the conversation. Avital loves power games, she has groupies, she adores male students, and many other things I can list here on this academic whose power went into her head. BUT, the alleged victim, man, he was also something. He enjoyed every bit of power and privilege of being Avital’s pet. He thought he had a right to treat his peers like sh*t, while hanging out with the super famous theory bunch, whose one word would make careers. He blamed people for being antisemitic, when someone called him out on his actions. He demanded special treatment, because he was Avital’s pet. They are both miserable pieces of humanity. But we need to remember, in such cases of power abuse, there are always others down the ladder that suffer the consequences.

They both sound like utter assholes, but the onus is on the person with power not to initiate inappropriate communications and relationships.

 

But it’s interesting to hear the inside scoop. And yes, I’m sure being shat on by both of them was a nightmare for the other students in the vicinity.

Very true, but let’s play devil’s advocate and assume Honeyfoot’s account of this guy is spot on, and he’s just a creep. So what? Not all abuse victims are pleasant people. It isn’t just the saintly who get abused. Even bullies can be assaulted.

I think, as a society, we have a tendency to dismiss abuse claims made by anyone who hasn’t led a perfectly spotless, middle class, upwardly mobile existence. That’s a real problem.

We certainly see this attitude directed at female accusers.

Oh, she sleeps around. She couldn’t have been abused.”

“She’s done drugs at some point. We can’t trust her.”

“She’s a bitch. She’s probably just trying to cause trouble.”

yeeeeeeeah, nothing I’ve seen makes me think this is a “well what should we do” handwringing type situation. she was shitty and abusive, she should lose her job

Well, she did get suspended for a year, aka what every academic wants so they have time to write another book that they can assign to their students as required reading. She’ll learn her lesson, I’m sure.

In this case the people who wrote the letter in support of her clearly hadn’t seen any of the evidence that we’ve now been privy to, and they didn’t expect their letter to go public. I would like to think that if they’d had that information, they may have refrained from making any statement, however private.

How is that different than any other shitty defense-of-abuser letter?

“I have no idea what happened here, but I know my friend would never do anything bad so I support her 100%!”

“I would never have supported this awful person in writing if I knew people would find out!”

It’s only now, with the language around the MeToo movement, that I’ve been able to look back at what happened to me in graduate school and recognize that it was sexual harassment. Because my advisor was a woman (as am I) everyone just said “she’s hard to work with.” Without a doubt, that experience changed my career trajectory (I ended up have to drop out of a top-rated PhD program) and while I’m very happy with where I’ve ended up, I am still kind of angry that *that* is the thing that made those decisions for me. And I’m angry that even I didn’t have the words at the time to call her out as a sexual harasser.

Women do not get a pass on this because they’re women. Certain kinds of people will abuse their power when their victims have no recourse. Maybe men are more likely to take advantage of that situation, or maybe it’s just that men have traditionally, and currently, occupy almost all positions of power. Either way, we need to hold women to the same standard of professionalism and consent as we are starting to do with men.

I don’t know why it’s so hard for people to believe the victims. People with power can abuse that power – regardless of gender or sexual identity.

I understand that it’s difficult for people to reconcile seemingly disparate sensibilities – scholarly feminist and sexual abuser – but how many times have we looked at murderers, rapists, and other criminals and said, “But they come from such a good family! / There were no warning signs! / They were always kind and gentle!”

None of these cases are easy or clear-cut.

Oh, she was clearly trying to fuck him. Also, she’s not a lesbian – she identifies as queer. Not the same.

Intriguing that Zizek says he knows male professors who do much worse, but appears to have little inclination to condemn, intervene or protest THEIR behavior. “Well, men are much nastier, so Avital Ronel gets a pass.”

There is a real danger the right could use harassment cases to intimidate leftist thinkers, but there is little evidence offered of that here (one way or the other); in fact, without knowing the full particulars of the case, it is impossible to make anyjudgment. One thing is absolutely true in academia, however: if your rock-starthesis advisor is not supporting your search for a faculty position, you’re pretty much toast in the field for which you just earned a PhD.

1. Believe victims. He was a victim.

2. Women in power abuse their power, just like men. Why? Because PEOPLE with power, if they are weak or fucked up, always abuse their power.

3. I love my dissertation advisor. LOVE him. Ours is perhaps the most intellectually stimulating relationship I’ve ever had. He has never touched me. He has never said anything inappropriate or remotely sexual to me. He does not even know where I live or have my home phone number. I genuinely don’t know what he thinks of me personally, but I know he genuinely wants me to succeed. And that is all. That is how it should be for EVERYONE. I am so, so sorry for anyone who experiences harassment during the most precious and formative experience of their academic lives.

I’m reading this article thinking “Okay, but did she harass him or not? Who cares if she was a good teacher or not.” Then I get about halfway through and read the actual behavior and messages, which she doesn’t deny, and think “What the holy fuck where those people doing trying to defend her?”

Academia is one of the most fucked up work environments on the planet. I’d be very happy if a shipload of the biggest offenders were removed. And you can bet that some of the people who came to her defense are also harassers and abusers. I saw the same thing happen in a religious institution involving rape and molestation. They always stand up for each other.

Professor here. There are several rules we cannot break without jeopardizing everything. On this list is “Don’t do anything with students that can be misconstrued as a sexual advance” or whatever formulation you’d like. I’ve had students drunk email me, stop by my office to give me gifts and then want to study there, etc. Once, when I had a tiny little office with all my books everywhere, barely room to turn around, a young woman seemingly intentionally dropped a pencil and very slowly picked it up (this is long ago, when I was young and not so droopy). I’ve never tried to reprimand a student for this (although perhaps I should), but I definitely run away. It’s not just losing your job, it’s also realizing that any such behavior is always misguided, either through motive or the power of the relationship. I’m not necessarily attractive or unattractive, but sometimes professors who are introducing people to exciting material can be powerfully attractive. It’s not me, it’s the role I’m playing in their lives. I suppose you could confuse the two, but you’d have to stupid, high, or extremely vain. I mean, this pertains to all my work. Sitting around talking I’m just me, but when I start talking about my studies I feel like a spiritual medium, connected to all my teachers, the scholars I’ve read, and the artists I’ve studied.

Here endeth the lecture.

 

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