It would be so much easier, for all concerned, if we didn’t have to draw a distinction between sexual violence and just garden variety violence. But alas we have to. We have to because a judge would be hard pressed to convict me for giving a teammate a pat on the bum for scoring the winning touchdown, but even harder pressed not to give me at least a slap on the wrist for patting the bum of a complete female stranger.
What makes sexual violence what it is is whatever it is that makes sex what it is. And what’s that? Well, try as you might you won’t be able to tell me. But apparently you know it when you see it. Or certainly when you feel it.
This tension between what you feel, aka the victim’s perspective, and what I intend, aka the mens rea condition, creates a serious problem, not just for judges but for everyone. “Love that tie!” I say to a male student. “Love what you’ve done to your hair!” I say to a female one. I no more want to fuck the latter than the former. What I intend is what any of us intends when we compliment someone, namely to help make his or her day. And in most cases we succeed. But not if she feels she’s been sexualised by the comment. And, of course, resents it. Or at least pretends to resent it.
So to protect my ass from getting a chill, I don’t comment on her hair as I do on his tie. And now I’m culpable of having treated my female students with less camaraderie than I do my male students. Damned if I do and damned if I don’t.
So some professors, myself included, have taken to putting this conundrum to senior Administration, who, having been naturally selected-for for being born invertebrate, retreat to the vacuity for which the language of Admin-Speak is designed.
Now let’s expand this conundrum to racial insensitivity, recently renamed micro-aggression. Student with a thick Spanish accent. “Where are you from?” I ask. Why? Oh, I dunno. Maybe to start a conversation? Maybe she’ll say Columbia, and then I can tell her I was there during the Violencia back in the late Sixties, and then maybe she’ll tell me about her grandfather who fought for the Conservatores and … But no. To ask her where she’s from is to make her feel she doesn’t belong here, notwithstanding that having connected with a professor familiar with the history of her country she now feels she does belong.
And apparently, notwithstanding I teach analytic philosophy, I’m supposed to invite an indigenous elder to tell the class about indigenous ways of knowing, the content of which turns out to be conveniently ineffable. The mind shudders!
I could go on – and elsewhere I have. But my point here is not to whinge about the snowflake culture that’s been taking over the academy, nor to provide counsel as to how to combat it. Silliness begets more silliness, but eventually it has to snigger at itself. So not to worry.
Rather my counsel is about how to survive it. And the way to do that, I counsel, is not to give it uptake. The way not to give it uptake, in turn, is not to understand but reject it, but rather not to understand it in the first place. Which, given that we don’t, shouldn’t be all that difficult.
Don’t defend yourself. Just concede your ignorance. And be sincere, because, well, you are. Just explain to your woke accuser that you’d have thought, apparently wrongly, that surely a tie, being a phallic symbol, is at least as suggestive as hair. That you’d have thought, apparently wrongly, that for the much lauded purposes of perspectival diversity, where somebody comes from is far more significant than her skin colour. That you’d have thought, apparently wrongly, that a different perspective meant at the very least a perspective. And so on.
A concession of ignorance requires your woke accuser to explain what you don’t understand. But since she can’t, just keep pleading your incomprehension, until she gives up and goes looking for a more biddable penitent.
There’s a test psychiatrists use to diagnose autism. They show emoticons and ask the subject to imitate what she sees. Apparently there’s an unmistakable distinction between contempt and incomprehension. If you can’t disguise the one with the other this advice is of no use to you. But if so you have a bigger problem than just being unwoke.