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Naomi Wolf vs Harold Bloom

Mycroft_
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Mycroft_
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I invited him to dinner and he groped me, says Wolf

quote:Prof Harold Bloom, she said, put his hand on the inside of her thigh after she invited him to her home for a candlelit dinner 20 years ago.

Wolf wrote that "he was a vortex of power and intellectual charisma", and she was "sick with excitement" at the prospect of being tutored by him. On her invitation the professor agreed to come to supper at her student house and promised to read her poetry.

When her housemates left she said she believed: "Finally! I thought we could discuss our poetry manuscript. He did not look at it."

She said: "He leaned towards me and put his face inches from mine. 'You have the aura of election upon you,' he breathed. I hoped he was talking about my poetry. The next thing I knew, his heavy, boneless hand was hot on my thigh."

"The whole thing had suddenly taken on the quality of a bad horror film. The floor spun. By now my back was against the sink which was as far away as I could get.

"He came at me. I turned away from him toward the sink and found myself vomiting in shock. He disappeared."

She continued: "When he reemerged - from the bedroom with his coat - a moment later, I was still frozen, my back against the sink. He said, 'You are a deeply troubled girl.' Then he went to the table, took the rest of his sherry, corked the bottle, and left." In the article she went on to claim that she had been approached by students across the United States who had experienced similar incidents.

[ 24 February 2004: Message edited by: Mycroft ]


grrril
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Isn't the Telegraph a Conrad Black paper?
In the link to the story "feminists at war, the author uses "a leading feminist", Camille Paglia, to bolster his argument.
quote:Camille Paglia accused Wolf of launching a witch hunt similar to those that swept New England in the 17th century and, in distinctly unfeminist fashion, of exploiting her looks to advance her career.

"It really smacks of the Salem witch hunts and all the accompanying hysteria," Paglia said.

"It really grates on me that Naomi Wolf for her entire life has been batting her eyes and bobbing her boobs in the face of men and made a profession out of courting male attention by flirting and offering her sexual allure."

Yup, sure looks like the witch hunts to me.


Michelle
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I'm not sure what to think.

I've never invited a male professor over to my house and manoevered my roommates out so that we could be alone over a wine and candlelight dinner in order to discuss school work. I generally made an appointment at professors' offices, or dropped in during office hours.

It's true that just because you invite someone over for a wine and candlelight supper, it doesn't mean you've consented to sex. But I can understand how a man might misread some signals in a situation like this one and think that perhaps she is interested in him romantically. When he realized he had misread, he left. It's true, he wasn't very gracious about it, but I wouldn't consider what happened to be a sexual assault, since he stopped when he realized she wasn't interested.

What concerns me more about this is his lack of professional judgment in the situation. A professor is in a position of authority over his students, so even if a student is willing to start a sexual relationship and is coming on to him, he should probably have the self-control to say no, or if he wants to say yes, then to sever the student-teacher tie first.

But I don't really see this as a case of a professor sexually assaulting a student, from the brief description in the article. I don't think I've ever met any female student who invited their male professor over for an intimate, romantic dinner in order to discuss school work. If a man invited me to his place and cooked me a beautiful supper, complete with wine and candles, I'd also wonder whether he was interested in something romantic. I wouldn't be positive about it, but the thought would cross my mind as a very distinct possibility.

[ 24 February 2004: Message edited by: Michelle ]


grrril
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I don't think Wolf accused the prof of sexual assault. She accused him of sexual harassment. The alleged incident took place 20 years ago, probably before sexual harassment was ever heard of. It was more commonplace for instructors to visit students at home back then. Ya, I could see where she showed poor judgement at inviting the prof over for dinner, and how he read the situation as something else. It was a differnt time and she was likely young and naive.

According to the link, Wolf is writing an article about two decades of sexual harassment at Yale for a New York magazine.

I once put in a complaint against a professor who sexually harassed me-it was closer to a sexual assault.It was quite an eye opener. I was treated like a rape victim gets treated-you get raped once and then again at trial.The profs can access lawyers from their union and the student gets next to nothing.The system is set up to protect the profs. I came away from that endevour with a heavy dose of cynicism.


Michelle
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But is it sexual harassment when someone misreads signals that could reasonably be construed to convey interest? I don't know about you, but if someone cooks me a homemade dinner, with candlelight and wine, and gets rid of their roommates in order to be alone with me over said meal, I might reasonably wonder whether the person was romantically interested in me. Most people, when they're first getting to know someone that they're interested in, don't come out and say, "Hi, would you like to come over for dinner and then neck with me for a while afterwards?"

I did say above that as a professor, he shouldn't respond to advances from students in any case. But I can see where a person could come to a reasonable conclusion that this WAS an advance, and not just a student looking for information. How many times in university did you cook candlelight dinners to eat alone at your home with your male professors?

And even if she is using her own case as one example in a paper about decades of sexual harassment at Yale, I think she's doing the subject a disservice by using it, because as a feminist, if I'm sympathizing with the professor and thinking he's been smeared, you can bet the "establishment" is thinking so too. That certainly doesn't help other women, like yourself, with legitimate harassment or assault claims against professors or other students.

[ 24 February 2004: Message edited by: Michelle ]


terra1st
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here is another article about it... from the Globe and Mail.

It's not a great article, but it does include this passage:

quote:It's ironic that not so long ago, female students were objecting that the university administration had no business being sex police. My girlfriends would have been insulted by the notion that they couldn't make such decisions for themselves.

edited to add... [img]rolleyes.gif" border="0[/img]

[ 24 February 2004: Message edited by: terra1st ]


skdadl
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The zero-tolerance policies that were put in place in many (most?) NAmerican universities from the early eighties on tended to proceed from the assumption that the power imbalance between prof and student meant that a prof would automatically be exploiting a student he became involved with personally, no matter the provocation, or even the genuine attraction.

I've never felt entirely comfortable with such an absolute position, but there is no question that in the decades preceding, it was common enough for profs to think of students as perks of the job, and there really were no effective sanctions because everyone just smirked at such situations -- and if a student complained, faculty typically closed ranks around the offender, even when they knew he was a jerk. I saw that happen, more than once, although not often, since it would have occurred to so few students to bother complaining.

Maybe it's unfair to take this sentence out of context --

quote:Wolf wrote that "he was a vortex of power and intellectual charisma", and she was "sick with excitement" at the prospect of being tutored by him.

-- but I snurfled my apple juice when I first read it. Forgive me, but -- have you ever seen or heard or read Harold Bloom? I met him in the late 1970s and sat through a couple of his lectures, and I would have snurfled at that description then. To be fair, Wolf is openly casting herself as naive in the second part of the sentence, but all I can think is, Man oh man, That Is Naive. To me, Bloom was then and still is a vortex of celebrity and ego and privilege and not a hell of a lot more.

If Wolf is feeling meditative, she might do well to wonder about her own earlier self, why she responded to self-satisfied "stars" the way she did back then if the glories of world literature were supposed to be what she really cared about. I'm not criticizing her behaviour then so much as I'm wondering what she thinks she's accomplishing now.

[ 24 February 2004: Message edited by: skdadl ]


skdadl
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PS to Mycroft: You should correct the thread title. Wolf is writing about Harold Bloom, the literary critic/theorist, not Alan/Allan (?) Bloom.

Hinterland
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quote:...because everyone just smirked at such situations

That's pretty much what Wente was doing this morning, eh? I mean, why else would she have treated us to an entire, banal paragraph recounting her futile efforts to nail her professors during her undergrad? I knew people like that in Univesity (men and women). They were distracting jerks.


Michelle
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I agree with skdadl about the necessity for there to be professional sanction against professors who sleep with students as "perks". And yet, I also share her discomfort with the absolutism of such a position.

Although there is definitely a power imbalance inherent in a professor-student relationship, generally by university everyone involved is an adult, and adult students are as responsible for their behaviour as professors are. In which case, if a female student makes advances on her professor, certainly he would be wrong to accept those advances and would have to take responsibility for his behaviour were he to accept. But if this case of what happened to Wolf is as presented in the article, then she is just as responsible for her inappropriate behaviour (creating a romanticized atmosphere in a relationship that is supposed to be professional) as he was for his.

And I think it's pretty disingenuous of her to cry sexual harassment after sending signals that anyone could be forgiven for misreading. If he hadn't stopped when she made it clear she wasn't interested, that would obviously be a problem. But that doesn't appear to be the case from the article we read - he left.

I think both of them had pretty bad judgment in this case. Both were in the wrong.


lagatta
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I'm not surprised to hear this kind of stuff from Naomi Wolf, a very derivative, uninspired thinker who has rehashed other feminists' work (starting out with "The Beauty Myth") and deprived feminism of any radical, life-changing implications.

I don't know about Harold Bloom - is he the one who wrote the right-wing rant about the loss of the Canon, or a different Bloom? but between Naomi Wolf, Camille Paglia, the London Telegraph and Margaret Wente, this sounds like a rogues gallery of those who have done the least to advance women's emancipation and the most to profit from the efforts of committed feminists ....


faith
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Just a note on Camille Paglia the 'feminist' that is refuting the articles that Naomi is writing- she has been written off as a sell out by just about every serious writer ,teacher,lecturer and publisher on feminist issues.
I clearly remember her years ago on the front page of Time or Newsweek or something similar being celebrated as one of very few female covers . She was being supported in midair by 2 very muscle bound young men in t- shirts with her low cut top exposing as much cleavage as she could squeeze into the photograph. Camille has always gotten what she wants from the male dominated world of publishing and academia by telling the boys what they want to hear.

Michelle
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The article I was going by is the one that started the thread, not Paglia's.

I actually quite enjoyed The Beauty Myth.


Mycroft_
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I think Wolf was expecting a bit much from Yale by filing a complaint twenty years after the incident.

Jingles
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Professor Bloom might want to stay away from the University of Alberta.

quote: Statistics that indicate one in four University of Alberta students currently have a sexually transmitted disease are "dreadful," says a doctor at the institution. "About a quarter of young people," said health education co-ordinator Judy Hancock, with the University Health Centre. "If you put our population at 30,000, that would come to about 7,500."

Sharon
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quote:... but between Naomi Wolf, Camille Paglia, the London Telegraph and Margaret Wente, this sounds like a rogues gallery of those who have done the least to advance women's emancipation and the most to profit from the efforts of committed feminists ....

Hear! Hear!


Mr. Magoo
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I might see this differently if I had reason to believe that Wolf treated her female professors to private dinners by candlelight as well.

vickyinottawa
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doesn't matter. If a person in a position of authority takes advantage (or attempts to take advantage) of a person over whom they wield authority, it's harassment. Even if she invited him to dinner, he should have recognized the power imbalance and politely refused. The naivete of the victim does not make them any less a victim. What's next? Women shouldn't wear short skirts to class? Did I fall asleep and wake up back in the 80s, when we were fighting this crap on campuses across Canada?

Albireo
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I know that this is quite tangential to this discussion, but
quote:'You have the aura of election upon you,' he breathed.
[img]confused.gif" border="0[/img] [img]confused.gif" border="0[/img] [img]confused.gif" border="0[/img]

Scott Piatkowski
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He was slurring his words. He actually said: "You have the aura of my erection upon you."

skdadl
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quote:I don't know about Harold Bloom - is he the one who wrote the right-wing rant about the loss of the Canon

That's him. He does the most conservative, Great Books, Great Men kind of criticism, dressed up a bit in more recent rhetoric but seriously slanted towards personality worship -- see his best-selling book about Shakespeare, where he froths about how important it is that we return to thinking of a genius like Shakespeare as A Genius [img]rolleyes.gif" border="0[/img] , and where he also emphasizes character-creation as Shakespeare's and the plays greatest strength.

vickyinottawa, I mostly agree with you, mostly ... There is something coercive about some of the zero-tolerance policies, though, that continues to bother me. Even if I had been exploited, I'm not sure I would want an extrajudicial body to come clomping into my private life and insisting on making it public, and I think a nineteen- or twenty-year-old should be free to say that, respected enough to make that decision. I also know that the flesh is weak ...

Plus: in most liaisons, is there not a power imbalance? Those of us who are not power-hungry like to try to work against such imbalances, but who is to judge someone else's relationship from the outside? I've seen some that looked pretty strange to me but seemed to make the participants happy.


al-Qa'bong
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quote:Even if she invited him to dinner, he should have recognized the power imbalance and politely refused.

There were, initially, other people there, so perhaps Bloom didn't realize he was entering a situation with power imbalance.

What's a "boneless" hand, by the way? Is she saying Bloom's fat? That's a coup de gras if I've ever heard one.


skdadl
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quote:That's a coup de gras if I've ever heard one.

[img]biggrin.gif" border="0[/img]

Hey! Today is Mardi Gras, no? lagatta: do your duty! Where is our pancake/crepe thread?

/drift


Mycroft_
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I think Bloom acted inappropriately -even if Wolf had a youthful crush on him and even if she might have responded more positively had Bloom acted flirtatiously rather than boorishly (say, recite some poetry instead of trying to cop a feel) - I don't think it's appropriate for a prof to be in a romantic relationship with a student regardless of who initiates it (and I'm not saying Wolf initiated anything).

But I also don't think it's reasonable for Wolf to file a formal complaint with Yale *twenty years after the fact* and expect them to do anything (they dismissed it saying they have a two year statute of limitations on sexual harassment cases). I mean how are you supposed to conduct an investigation on this twenty years later?

She may be correct about Yale not taking sexual harassment seriously but filing a complaint two decades after an incident and then saying *see, Yale doesn't take sexual harassment seriously* when they dismiss the complaint sounds like a bit of a set up.

[ 24 February 2004: Message edited by: Mycroft ]


Hinterland
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What's wrong with coup de gras? Since a lot of people are pronouncing it "koo de grah" anyway, I admire the consistency. [img]smile.gif" border="0[/img]

Mycroft_
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I think Bloom acted inappropriately but I also don't think it's reasonable for Wolf to file a formal complaint with Yale *twenty years after the fact* and expect them to do anything (they dismissed it saying they have a two year statute of limitations on sexual harassment cases). I mean how are you supposed to conduct an investigation on this twenty years later?

She may be correct about Yale not taking sexual harassment seriously but filing a complaint two decades after an incident and then saying *see, Yale doesn't take sexual harassment seriously* when they dismiss the complaint sounds like a bit of a set up.


lagatta
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Personally, Janet Jackson's exhibit comes to mind. I admit my prejudice, I can't stand Naomi Wolf and the yuppie brand of feminism she represents. Even the Beauty Myth, as I recall, was silent on race and class.

In Italian there is the expression "gattopardismo" as in the leopard changing his spots and the famous book Il Gattopardo (translated as the Leopard) about changing everything (superficial) so nothing changes. Remember, this is the woman who set out to relook Al Gore.

As for crкpes, latkes, tortillas, blini and other pancakes, skdadl, I've been very busy working, so I've just been looking in in a most cursory manner ... No time to look anything up.

Sexual harassment is a serious problem, but Naomi Wolf has a gift of reducing everything to her personal existential crises ...


Mr. Magoo
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quote: doesn't matter. If a person in a position of authority takes advantage (or attempts to take advantage) of a person over whom they wield authority, it's harassment.

This is certainly 100% true in situations where one participant is underage, or where the power balance is overwhelming (such as a guard/prisoner), but universities don't necessarily have a policy with regard to adult students and instructors socializing or dating. The university I work at has had some noteworthy student/instructor romances, both Male/female and Female/male.

Interestingly enough, we also have two senior staff members who are married, even though He is subordinate to She. She's his direct manager. If what you say is universally true, they'd either have to divorce, or one of them resign. And yet despite the obvious power imbalance of a spouse who could fire you, they seem to make out OK.

I don't know why, other than opportunism, Wolf decided she needed to "seek justice", but I think if I were Bloom I'd be tempted to say "prove your allegations or see me in court, with your wallet". This smacks far less of a victim seeking justice than it does of an author, grandstanding to make (some) point.


grrril
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In this article, weirdly put in the showbiz section

http://makeashorterlink.com/?R2B232387


quote:Wolf said she had been asked by Yale to help raise money and said "I felt I had to tell them why I was reluctant to do so."
"I then had many conversations with Yale authorities over a period of recent months, telling my story, hoping for an off-the-record meeting to address my concerns about the school's grievance procedures. I got nowhere," Wolf said.
"Several distinguished women have come forward in my piece to attest to the fact that there is a systemic problem at Yale University," she said.
Wolf said she had been asked by Yale to help raise money and said "I felt I had to tell them why I was reluctant to do so."
"I then had many conversations with Yale authorities over a period of recent months, telling my story, hoping for an off-the-record meeting to address my concerns about the school's grievance procedures. I got nowhere," Wolf said.
"Several distinguished women have come forward in my piece to attest to the fact that there is a systemic problem at Yale University," she said.

Let's see... Yale asks Wolf for help in raising money for them. They in turn refuse an off the record meeting regarding Yale's greivance procedure. I know I'd be telling the university where to go after that treatment. To turn a blind eye to abuses at Yale is the old boy's club way.
There's many ways to receive the short end of the stick in University, especially if you're in an area that is subjective such as the arts. If Wolf sleeps with the prof, she gets an A. A lay for an A. A low grade for refusing the sexual advance. This still goes on. Does it discredit the University when they ignore such allegations? Absolutely. Sexual harassment policies at Universities are no more than a bad joke.

Margaret Wente is talking out her ass, as usual. This was my experience and anyone that had a different experience is obviously moronic is her attitude.


Michelle
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Vicky, I would agree with you if the power balance consisted of the student being in a position of vulnerability, or if the professor had made the first move.

But in this case, the student made what could arguably be considered "the first move" by creating a completely inappropriately intimate atmosphere. There is a difference between a professor approaching a student with the first move, and a student approaching the professor. The student is an adult and presumably, as an adult, understands what is appropriate and what is not in a teacher-student relationship. She made the conscious choice to cross that boundary by creating the atmosphere she did, and I think most reasonable people would be able to see where that atmosphere could be mistaken for one of romantic intention.

Inviting a professor over for a cozy twosome over candlelight, wine, and homemade dinner is not the same thing as wearing a short skirt to class, so your analogy is faulty, in my opinion. In the dinner situation, the atmosphere has been created directly for her tete-a-tete with the professor, whereas in the skirt situation, her decision to wear a short skirt is not directed at anyone in particular.

It's true that he also behaved in a way that was unprofessional. But so did she. She created the whole situation, and he went along with what he thought her intention was. He was mistaken, and he should have refused anyhow because you shouldn't get intimate with students. But I don't think there is a consent issue here, and therefore I do not consider it a sexual assault.

Now, if he had approached her first, that would have been harassment. Because in that case, he would have no reason to believe that his advances were wanted, and she might feel pressure to accept them even if she didn't want them. If she had been incapacitated in some way, as for instance a patient might be in a doctor/psychiatrist/psychologist - patient relationship, then sure, even if a woman makes the first move, she cannot be said to be acting from a point of consent. But in a case where a man has reasonable grounds for believing she is interested in him that way, and no reason to believe that he is in a position of power over someone who is incapacitated and therefore is not making the first move out of psychosis or grief or illness, I would say his only mistake was in being unprofessional for engaging, and making an understandable mistake about his reading of her intentions.


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