Not Unwanted Advances

Here, for people who are looking for teachable and well-researched work on campus sexual politics, I recommend some alternatives to Kipnis’s work. It’s important to know that, where Title IX is concerned, Unwanted Advances is not well-researched — among its many problems, the book reproduces some popular myths about IX and the 2011 “Dear Colleague Letter.” Nearly all articles on this book do the same. (These problems have been taken up by a few folks — here, and here, for example.) I’ve got my own criticism of the administration of Title IX and the general handling of sexual harassment, sexual violence and discrimination/bias on college campuses. But Campus Sex/Campus Security is really different from Unwanted Advances and from the texts I list here — it’s performative, creative non-fiction. It is useful to conversations about Title IX and sexual harassment, but only if you read its (extensive) endnotes.

Plenty of feminists have written tough, provocative and well-researched essays and books about these things — works which one can trust on the history of the administration of Title IX, on debates about the law, and which examine the problems at the core of popular ideas about sexual violation and the law. Here are a few of my favorites. (I’ll add more as they occur to me.)

**Personal favorites.

**Sarah Deer, “Towards an Indigenous Jurisprudence of Rape.” 2010.

An excellent point of entry into the exploration of different models for justice where sexual violence is concerned. Among the many things this essay offers its reader is an overview of the limits of the criminal justice system’s model — especially as it is disconnected from the project of tending to the harm that sexual violence inflicts not only on the victim, but on the victim’s community. This is intensely relevant to campus processes — sexual violence is so overdetermined, so challenging for colleges because this form of harm goes right to the bonds which organize and consolidate a campus’s sense of itself as a community. Models of conflict and injury which take up sexual violence and harassment as forms of harm staged only between individual actors will fail — they will often, in fact, make things worse for the victim and for the accused.

Jennifer Freyd, June 2017 lecture on institutional betrayal. Archived here, start at 1:56

Freyd leads a research team based at the University of Oregon. They explore the impact of harassment, abuse, bullying within institutional settings — focusing specifically on how these experience shape the victim’s relationship to the institution. This could not be more important to conversations about Title IX administration — to conversations about not only students’ relationships to the campus, but to the state. This lecture gives a broad overview of their work and their findings and includes recommendations for minimizing harm. Dealing with harassment in your academic community? Trying to figure out why your experience with a complaint was so debilitating? WATCH THIS.

Jane Gallop, Feminist Accused of Sexual Harassment. 2006.

This book grated on me when I read this as a graduate student: my identification was too close to the student in her narrative. It might be hard to teach: can students really speak openly and freely about the erotics of pedagogy in a class — can a teacher lead a discussion about this without subordinating the students to her narrative about these things? — and what happens when boundaries between student and teacher are crossed? How does one go about restoring trust?  The power dynamics which structure professorial authority are very hard to dismantle in a way that would allow such a thing — all that said, as a scholar who teaches sex/sexuality-centered material, I know that it is totally possible to address these things, and work these issues through. How one does this is actually part of one’s expertise as a scholar working on sex/sexuality.

Gallop’s knowledge of psychoanalytic practice vis a vis transference etc. is deep enough to inform the book and her perspective on what happened to her. In any case, I found it challenging to read as a student but looked at the book differently when I read it later, as a professor accused of harassment. Like Kipnis, Gallop glories in her own seduction, as a student, of male faculty, as if this were some sort of badge of honor. That’s the part that grated on me — still does! for all sorts of reasons. For me, as a student, sexual attention or at least very gendered attention from faculty was a lot easier to win than, say, recognition of my work as a scholar — one thing felt like it came at the cost of the other — but my erotic and romantic life isn’t organized so much around men, even if I do have sex with them! I think what bugs me is when people turn their preferences, the architecture of their erotic life into a moral high ground.  Lots of us have that impulse (to moralize) but there are lots really good reasons to fight it.


When I was stalked and suffered through a really abusive disciplinary process (in which my work was treated as evidence of sexual misconduct), Gallop’s book helped me understand not only the contradictions shaping the handling of my case — it helped me anticipate the moment when it all went south. It has a lot in common w/ Kipnis’s work — it’s a clear antecedent. If you are going to teach Unwanted Advances, you really should read this. I find it meatier, somehow — that I’ve written this much about it indicates how much it has, over the years, mattered to me.

This is a good book to read alongside Janey Halley’s essay “Sexuality Harassment” which is anthologized in Directions in Sexual Harassment Law.

**Jessica Luther, Unsportsmanlike Conduct: College Football and the Politics of Rape. 2016.

This is a well-researched analysis of the big political issues structuring the reproduction of rape culture — including its racist dimensions — as a defining feature of college football. Accessible and VERY teachable. Want to get your students talking by reading a book that doesn’t sneer at them? Writing about sexual harassment and sexual violence centered on sports culture has the unique feature of being of inherent interest to a broad range of students. Most students, including students who do not identify as feminists, care a lot about these issues. Luther writes, as a journalist, from a victim-centered position for a general audience: this makes a big difference — this work is hard-hitting and yet anti-sensationalist. Which is, of course, why it’s not the engine of lots of complaints and lawsuits and doesn’t end up making weekly headlines in the Daily Beast and Inside Higher Ed.

Katherine A. MacKinnon and Reva B. Seigel eds., Directions in Sexual Harassment Law. 2004.

Still useful anthology compiling scholarship on sexual harassment law regarding the classroom and in the workplace. This includes important intersectional analyses drawing from critical race theory to consider the relationship between discourse on rape and racism. Wonderfully, it features feminist scholarship written from quite distinct political perspectives (e.g. Andrea Dworkin and Janet Halley). Expensive as all get out, but you can read bits and pieces on google books, and any decent campus library should have it.

**Vanessa Place, The Guilt Project: Rape, Morality and the Law. 2010.

A hard-core critique of the exceptional status given to sex crimes. A deep read of the criminal justice system written by a public defender representing sex offenders in the appellate court system. Even given the book’s non-engagement with race/racism (implied here is that many of the people Place is representing are people of color, the book’s title suggests lynch-logics to me), this is, to my mind, one of the most important books written on the subject of (as the book promises), rape, morality and the law. Read this and then ask yourself why Kipnis’s book is popular, and this one isn’t. Answer that question, and you’ll look at media discourse about these issues differently. The fact is, issues like the indeterminate sentencing reserved for people convicted of certain kinds of sex crimes is far, far more distressing than anything going on a college campus (not to rank miseries, but it’s really and truly frightening to think of people locked away forever not because forever was their sentence but because they are marked as unthinkable — as disposable — and just, well, erased) — but that doesn’t make for a juicy headline and good clickbait. I see the endless sensationalist writing about the important issue of SVSH on campus as a distraction from the fuckedupness of abusive public discourse and law regarding SVSH —  this book shows that it is possible to care very deeply for victims, and for the accused. That doing so does not require disavowing the offense — but, instead, a top to bottom overhaul of what we think we know about sexual violation, and what we want from the law and from our institutions. Check out this review. And this recent NYT article about the junk science supporting popular ideas about the sex offender and legal decisions upholding “indeterminate preventative detention.” This shit will keep you up at night. And students need to confront this — it is the material expression of sexist/racist ideology vis a vis sexual safety/security.

Avgi Saketopoulou, “Trauma Lives Us: Affective Excess, Safe Spaces, and the Erasure of Subjectivity” 2014

Read this essay on trauma and affect, written by a psychoanalyst who works with trauma. Here, we have a grounded, compassionate take on what trauma is — very helpful for a teacher trying to understand what it is that students look for when they ask for something like a trigger warning.

And, for “fun” —

Octavia Butler, Lilith’s Brood. 1987-2000.

This devastatingly beautiful trilogy explores the question of consent and coercion across three novels describing the plight of the last surviving humans — who are being kept alive and managed by an alien species which specializes in seduction and collection. I can’t recommend this series enough.

**Rosamund Smith, Nemesis. 1999.

Fantastic novel by Joyce Carol Oats (published under a nom-de-plume), loosely based on an infamous case in Princeton’s English Department. You can read about that case here.  Nothing I’ve read captures the intensity of the sexual dynamics of academic life, except for…

Zoë Heller, Notes on a Scandal. 2003.

A very different kind of novel, more of a stalker text. An underappreciated aspect of academic sexual politics: the sometimes toxic dynamics which unfold between women within rigidly hierarchal and deeply sexist structures. This novel centers on one woman’s obsession with and manipulation of another — so many different forms of boundary violations! This might be a misogynist novel. This might be a portrait of the ugliness of women’s desires for and identifications with each other, as they unfold in a space in which women are always moving towards a specific form of sexual abjection and nothingness. Jury on that is still out, for me.



Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s