Disrupting Julius Caesar on Broadway

Regarding the disruption of Julius Caesar on Broadway by right-wingers Laura Loomer and Jack Posobiec: I don’t agree with what they did. (They objected to the fact that the play “had been politically altered to feature the assassination of U.S. President Donald Trump.”) I think the disruption was silly and immature. But the reaction of some people–even people I normally agree with–has me shaking my head.

Point one: Loomer and Posobiec performed their act in front of what had to be a hostile crowd, unlike SJWs who interrupt speakers in universities, speakers who are the unpopular (and therefore more vulnerable) individuals.

Point two: They had no weapons other than themselves and their voices. Compare this to the violent eruptions happening on campuses everywhere. (Berkeley, for example.)

Point three: What they did was disruptive, obviously, but it wasn’t dangerous in any way, making it difficult for me to understand the hysteria.

Point four: I was asked by someone who disagreed with me how I would feel if I were interrupted by protesters. Here’s my answer:

1) Days after the Columbine shooting, a young man dressed in a black trench coat walked into my classroom (in an isolated annex of my college). He stood in front of the class and laughed maniacally for 30 seconds before running off. That was disturbing, given the direct connection his clothing made to the tragedy.

2) I experienced a school shooting in 2006. I was not near the action, but evacuated a classroom and was outside on the crowded grounds of the college when shots were fired. I witnessed what can only be described as massive pandemonium, a situation that could have easily triggered a stampede. It was prevented only because it was hard to tell where the shots were coming from–no one knew where to run.

3) A few years ago, student protesters in Montreal were disrupting classes wearing black balaclavas, demanding that their universities cede to their demands. The balaclavas were frightening to students living in Montreal, a city that has seen three school shootings since the early 90s. Apart from regular, working Montrealers, whose children were affected and whose commutes were disrupted by students clogging highway ramps, very few people condemned these tactics (although I did so on this blog).

So yes, in conclusion, I do think I could handle a public disruption. However, what I object to, where Loomer and Posobiec are concerned, is the hysteria around their non-threatening behaviour. What they did was simply silly, and to put it into the same category as Berkeley or other protests seems to me a gross and deliberate overstatement.

Besides, the disruption will generate free publicity for the company mounting the play. I wonder if we’ll hear complaints about that?

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Swingers, Feminism and Social Constructivism

In my late 20s a friend played a trick on me. She invited me along to a party, the kind that turned out to be a cover for an orgy. An hour or so after we arrived, the host started projecting a porn video onto a blank wall in the living room. That’s when everyone’s clothes started coming off.

When I understood what was happening, I bid a polite goodnight to the man and headed out to my car. My friend followed me, hectoring me in a half-whisper, saying that I was embarrassing her. When the host followed her out and apologised (to me) for the misunderstanding, I reassured him no apology was necessary. I have no issue with what consenting adults do behind closed doors, I told him. Swinging just wasn’t my scene.

To keep reading more of this at Quillette.com, click here. 

 

 

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The Senate, Teens and Don Meredith: Did Lyse Ricard get it right?

Senator Don Meredith

A Canadian senator, a member of Canada’s “second chamber of sober thought,” has come under fire for having an inappropriate relationship with a young woman.

As with most sex scandals, the facts are in dispute. Senator Don Meredith, a Jamaican immigrant turned Canadian businessman, is alleged to have engaged in a sexual relationship with “Ms. M.” Meredith is also a Pentecostal minister whose raison d’ete has long been youth empowerment. The two met at a Black History Month event at an Ottawa-area church in February 2013. He was in his late 40s and married with children. She was 16.

Their relationship, where consensual sex was alleged to have taken place three times over two and half years, was intermittent, with most of their contact taking place via text, Skype and Viber. A report written about it, by Senate Ethics Officer Lyse Ricard, reads like most reports produced by administrators with sensitivity training: the woman’s victimization is a given, while mitigating evidence, the kind that might raise doubts about her narrative or her intentions, is minimized, left out, or deemed extraneous.

 * * * 

I’m an academic and back in the 1990s, when the first wave of political correctness was cresting, several male colleagues I knew personally were accused of sexual misconduct. Of the three cases I’m most familiar with, two were dismissed when unassailable witnesses came forward. The third and most complex ended in a colleague’s forced resignation (or in other words, a firing). His experience is worth looking at.

First, as in Meredith’s case, this colleague was considerably older than his young accuser.

Alice Munro writes about adolescent sexuality in the title story of this collection. Why are so many of us denying that it exists?

Second, as in Meredith’s case, the accuser’s family became aware of the sexual nature of the relationship and did nothing about it. (The extent of Ms. M’s family’s knowledge is notably missing from Ricard’s report, but given the relationship’s duration, and Meredith’s many dealings with Ms. M’s family, it’s hard to believe they were unaware of any attachment.)

Third, as in Meredith’s case, my colleague failed to deliver on some promises. One was for a letter of reference, which, given his impeccable credentials, would have carried some weight and helped his accuser gain admission to a prestigious university to which she had applied.

Fourth, as in Meredith’s case, my colleague lost interest in his accuser, a pattern that was consistent with his cynicism about love generally. After a painful divorce several years earlier, he’d had a long series of relationships–with women of all ages–none of which lasted longer than a few months.

Fifth, as in Meredith’s case, the young woman alerted authorities when the relationship ended.

While neither my colleague nor Meredith acted in a princely manner, I’m not sure that one man’s firing or the other’s removal from office is appropriate. The question of Ms. M’s age is the issue in Meredith’s case, although I believe it is something of a red herring. Ms. M’s family sent her to university in Ottawa, away from her home country, at the age of 16. Clearly they felt she was mature enough to go on her own and, by all appearances, her involvement with Meredith, which did not become physically sexual until shortly before her 18th birthday, was consensual.

In my colleague’s case, his accuser was 19. He’d hired a lawyer who argued that since she’d reached the age of maturity and had consented to sex, my colleague had not broken the law. It didn’t matter; he still lost his job. However, what was most intriguing was his accuser’s recent history.

Shortly after the firing, another male colleague admitted to me, privately, that he’d had problems with the accuser too. He’d taught her a year earlier, and she had formed what he thought was merely a friendly attachment to him. Then she turned up at his office one day wearing a raincoat, which she obligingly opened to show him she had nothing underneath. After catching his breath, he threatened to call security unless she left. She did, but several weeks later she turned up at his home while he was out; she informed his wife that they were having an affair.

It’s a salacious story, but what happened later is most salient: out of fear, this second colleague remained silent while the first colleague was in the process of losing his job. He simply felt safer on the sidelines. He had not reported the raincoat incident when it happened, assuming his threat to call security was sufficient. He was also afraid the accuser would say she’d had an intimate relationship with him too. She’d been seen stopping by his office, after all. Then came his concern that his by-then ex-wife (whom he trusted and who had been hurt by the allegation of an affair) would be questioned and forced to admit that a confrontation, however untruthful and contrived, had taken place. A focus on age differences—this second colleague was also in his 40s—and an over-magnified perception of the accuser’s vulnerability, had frightened him into silence.

With Meredith, those judging him seem to be doing so solely on his involvement with his accuser, with emphasis on the advantages age and power granted him. Conservative leader Rona Ambrose has said: “I just think his conduct is reprehensible…of course he should resign.” While his behaviour is certainly unbecoming, and Ricard is correct to say so, her report is myopic in all the ways I’ve come to recognize: it’s as if all the thoughts in it (I hesitate to call them all facts) supporting the young woman are in a bold size 20 font while those supporting Meredith are in non-bold size 8. There’s also that pesky percentage balance. About 70% of the report detailing the relationship supports Ms. M. It makes for a predictable and depressing read.

But back to my colleague. He eventually took a university job in a country with an “emerging economy”; being fired in Canada at the age of 48, and for inappropriate sexual behaviour, meant he became unemployable as an academic in North America. He also had children to support, children who now only saw him twice a year, and a career that was still good for another decade or two, albeit on the other side of the world. I often wonder what would have happened had the story about the accuser and her raincoat emerged. Would the peers determining my colleague’s fate have reached a different conclusion? I suspect they would have and that’s what’s so tragic.

So how a story gets told is important. Ricard’s report, with its emphasis on Meredith’s unwillingness to disclose details—alternately framed as lying or evasion—ignores a simple fact. Meredith has children old enough to read about him and so his desire to limit the damage makes sense. He also has a wife who is quite capable of being hurt by the public airing of his misbehaviour and, since his contrition seems genuine, I find it credible (not to mention sensible) that he’s not volunteering much. That doesn’t mean an airing shouldn’t happen, but it does explain his reticence, a fact that’s being used to malign him and I think unfairly. His accuser may have been young, but his children were too.

And while Ms. M’s youth may be a factor, let me throw an idea out. I lost my virginity at 17 to a boyfriend who was 20. That was back in the 70s, but I still know where he lives thanks to Facebook. I’m not sure about Canada’s statute of limitations when it comes to statutory rape, but I suppose if I were feeling particularly destructive, I could look this man up and have him charged with it. It’s an absurd proposition, but I mention it because I doubt very much that I’m the only woman in Canada to have had sex before turning 18. Moreover, if all of us in the same boat had our deflowerers charged, the court system would be overwhelmed. That’s a little piece of reality to place next to Ms. M’s search for justice, a search based on the ridiculous premise that 17 year-olds aren’t having sex.

As deplorable as Meredith’s behaviour may seem, he also seems more ambivalent than evil and inescapable details in the size 8 font support that: despite his folly, he is on record discouraging Ms. M from contacting him; he also introduced her to his wife and son early on, an act that for most women, young or old, would discourage them from proceeding with a relationship. Then there are those large gaps in communication, indicating that Ms. M and Meredith lost contact for months at a time.

Like it or not, Meredith’s explanation—that he had doubts about what he was doing—seems true. The fits and starts in his communication with Ms. M, his choice to rely heavily on electronic communications rather than IRL meetings, and his protestations about her age, prove it. Her motives for going public are less discernible but seem to correspond with her disappointment with Meredith, likely for ending the relationship and failing to follow through on the help he said he would give her and her family.

I’d like to suggest another paradigm for analyzing scandals like this: instead of worrying about who politicians are sleeping with, why don’t we ask, “How much might their misbehaviour cost the taxpayer?” Near the end of Ricard’s report, she makes the following observations about Meredith’s conflicts of interest, emphasis mine:

  1. Meredith promised to get Ms. M on a committee he struck to recognize the first black soldier to receive the Victoria Cross…he acted in his capacity as Senator, at least in part, to strike this committee.
  2. Meredith made representations to Ms. M’s sister that there might be some sense of collaboration between his not-for-profit organization, the GTA Faith Alliance, and her non-profit organization.
  3. Meredith was in contact with Ms. M’s parents, engaging in discussions about the potential for them to do business together.
  4. Senator Meredith provided a reference for Ms. M in support of her application to participate in an internship on Parliament Hill.
I have to ask: if Meredith had said he’d spoken to Mohammed instead of Christ, would Ricard’s report have been so skeptical of Meredith’s claim of religious solace? I am agnostic and so have no religious affiliations, but the skepticism with which Ricard approaches Meredith’s religion is clear. I think that is worth evaluating critically.

The problem with each of these assertions is that the first three only refer to potential events, none of which materialized. The fourth—a letter of reference—was written too late to be useful. There was also the issue of helping Ms. M’s mother with residency status, another promise that apparently fell through and may have been the biggest irritant to Ms. M and her family. That that is not on Ricard’s  list, which is located near the conclusion of her report, speaks to the myopia I mentioned earlier. It’s missing because asking Meredith for help with their immigration issues makes Ms. M’s family look bad. It raises the question, “Were they using their daughter to get special treatment?”

What Meredith was doing was obvious: he was hedging, trying to keep Ms. M in his orbit without actually abusing his administrative powers. That makes his actions obnoxious, but it doesn’t make him a criminal, nor should he be expelled from the Senate on that basis alone.

Apart from a dalliance with a young woman to whom he made illogical promises, Meredith was all talk and no action. However, his lack of action cost taxpayers nothing. It may sound insensitive to Ms. M and her supporters, but I suspect a lot of Canadians are okay with that.

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Feminism and Responsibility

At the age of 47 I suffered what I now like to think of as “The Year of Living Stupidly.” Unlike Sigourney Weaver in the film that inspired me, I did not live dangerously, although there was certainly a lot of drama. That was the year I suffered my last serious crush. …More

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The Curious Case of Steven Galloway

On a frigid night a few years ago, a friend dragged me to an event at a popular Montreal bar. Students of a local graduate program in creative writing were giving a reading.

My friend and I sat close to them. I watched as pitchers of beer came and went and the students danced attendance on an older man, perhaps an instructor or organiser of the event. As the night went on and inhibitions were lowered, evidence of unruly feelings, of jealousies, slights and complications, became obvious. Most creative arts departments are proverbial hothouses as far as egos go and this group was no exception. They were living proof of that punk axiom: eventually, love would tear them apart. The emotions I saw guaranteed it.

Annabel Lyon. She's the colleague of Galloway's who insisted he be taken to a psych ward, after news of MC's accusations became known.
Annabel Lyon. She’s the colleague of Galloway’s who insisted he be taken to a psych ward, after news of MC’s accusations became known.

As a teacher and lover of literature, I’ve got an odd admission to make. I don’t like university creative writing programs: they may be prestigious and even profitable, but I suspect they are more about buying clout and less about incubating talent. The students that night read about love and sex from an autobiographical perspective—with some texts directed at other students in attendance—and yet none read anything exceptional or even interesting. Yes, they were young; yes, their work was embryonic and might improve. But that didn’t dispel my fear that they were being duped by a university experience that was misleading by its very existence. They believed they were members of a coveted cadre and destined for literary glory; a statistical improbability if there ever was one.

So it’s not surprising that the creative writing program at the University of British Columbia, another hothouse, imploded last year over allegations of sexual abuse and misconduct. Foregrounded is the alleged bad behaviour of the former department chair, Steven Galloway, acclaimed Canadian novelist, and backgrounded is a program as rife with contradictions as the one I saw that cold February night. That conversations about Galloway are taking place without acknowledging the complexities of his milieu is bizarre, a bit like summarising Robinson Crusoe and failing to mention it takes place on an island. The context is important because here’s what I’ve seen over decades of teaching: even the most level-headed students can enter these creative communities and develop borderline personalities in an instant.

The scuttlebutt, where UBC is concerned, is that there was none, apart from an announcement that “serious allegations” had been made against Galloway and he’d been suspended for the “safety” of students, words cryptic enough to become irresistible as click bait. Of course allegations of sexual abuse—assault and harassment—did surface eventually and came from the department’s most disaffected students. However, they arose in an atmosphere primed for hysteria: a previous case of harassment, concerning a PhD history student, had been handled too slowly for some in the UBC community and investigative journalists, from the CBC’s Fifth Estate, took aim at the university’s administration. It’s likely their coverage, and the negligence it claimed, had more to do with Galloway’s treatment than any bad behaviour on his part. 

***

Chelsea Rooney, one of the students who helped MC (main complainant) build a case against Steven Galloway.
Chelsea Rooney, one of the students who helped MC (main complainant) build a case against Steven Galloway. She sent out a secret memo to other students, asking them to come forward with complaints. Judge Mary Ellen Boyd rejected much of her evidence.

What happened? As that previous case was being decided, a letter was circulated, criticising the university’s handling of sexual impropriety and assault. It’s unclear whether the letter was actually written by an ex-lover of Galloway’s, a woman in her 40s and a former student, or whether she simply circulated it with the intention of getting his attention. (Sources on this issue differ.) Whatever the case, it worked. Galloway saw the letter, recognised its intent and called the woman. He’d had a two-year affair with her that started in 2011 and did not end well. Both had been in other relationships and kept their affair quiet, a decision that made sense at the time, but was eventually Galloway’s undoing. The letter triggered a series of events that would lead to further accusations by other students. However, an independent investigation, led by Judge Mary Ellen Boyd, concluded that of the five accusations against Galloway, only one was credible–that he’d had an undisclosed sexual relationship with a student. Still, UBC concluded that Galloway’s actions irreparably damaged an atmosphere of trust and he was subsequently fired. While his union grieves on his behalf, Canadian authors, led by luminaries Margaret Atwood and Joseph Boyden, wrote an open letter to UBC. They want a more transparent explanation of the process that led to Galloway’s firing.

Cue the predictable outrage.

The problem is that Galloway’s ex-lover (MC for main complainant), did not go directly to university administrators whose job it is to help students in crisis. Instead, it appears she wrote a different letter to other faculty members in the creative writing program, a letter that suggested those faculty members consult other students to collect evidence of her claim. The upshot is that two other students, both of whom ended up being complainants themselves, did their own detective work. One distributed a secret memo to other students asking them to come forward if they had any complaints about Galloway; the other, who was also an employee of the university, used her position to dig into his use of department finances. Both students did this clandestine evidence-gathering under the direction of one of Galloway’s colleagues. That colleague was the same one who insisted that he be taken to a psych ward after he received an email about the accusations against him. He was in the U.S. at the time, giving a talk at another university.

Sierra Skye Gemma. She used her position at UBC to investigate Galloway's use of financial resources.
Sierra Skye Gemma. She used her position at UBC to investigate Galloway’s use of financial resources. Apparently this was not done with the university’s approval.

As the letter by Atwood and Boyden made clear, no criminal charges were ever laid against Galloway. Although there were complaints about bullying and favouritism, any professor heading a creative writing program is vulnerable to the same. For students, the headiness of belonging to a (self-perceived) group of up-and-coming writers is bound to be matched by high levels of exquisite sensitivity, levels that would render their criticisms dubious. However, sensitivity isn’t the only problem with this department. There’s another that can be summed up with that annoying buzzword from the 90s: Everyone was violating boundaries.

Here’s a recap of the emotional boundaries that were compromised:

  1. Galloway had an affair with a student while he was married. He later married his second wife, who was also a graduate of the creative writing program.
  2. When his ex-lover sent her letter to his colleagues, they did not go to the administration. Instead, they met at a private home and strategized with two students.
  3. The first of those students is married in a relationship with another creative writing professor at UBC. After Judge Mary Ellen Boyd questioned her, Boyd decided that her credibility and eagerness to insert herself into the investigation were problematic.
  4. The second student was an employee of the university and used her position to investigate financial matters.
  5. MC was also in a long-term relationship when she had her affair with Galloway.
  6. The colleague who supervised the evidence gathering also called the police and insisted Galloway be taken to the local psych ward because he was suicidal. (Galloway denies this.)

I’m not a fan of extra-marital affairs, but I’m not sure it’s the worst thing on this list. The duplicity of Galloway’s colleague reflects the kind of gaslighting most of us consider abusive, although I’d like to believe she acted from a position of confused loyalties rather than malice. And MC’s claim that she was assaulted by Galloway? It’s suspect and here’s why: were we to do an epidemiological study of recent, high-profile assault accusations just like it–against celebrities like Jian Ghomeshi and porn actor James Deen–we would have to include some rather incongruous elements.

Here are some rape “risk factors” for women:

  1. A relationship ends.
  2. The former partner is a man of some renown.
  3. The woman has some difficulty processing rejection. She continues to insist her former partner is guilty, despite evidence to the contrary. She believes the legal system has made a mistake.
  4. The woman has a tendency toward exhibitionism combined with a need for public vindication. Other non-celebrity examples of this would include “Jackie” from the false rape story reported by Rolling Stone, the “Mattress Girl” at Columbia and Mandi Gray of York University.

If you’ll notice, many of the conventional risk factors for rape, like wearing a mini-skirt in the wrong part of town, or getting drunk at a party, aren’t making it onto the list. That’s because the focus in this version of sexual assault, notable precisely because of its contagion, is on a soured relationship and a need for vindication. With the proliferation of these accusations, it may be time to start flagging these risk factors and asking tougher questions.

***

Galloway's novel has sold over 700,000 copies and been translated into 21 different languages.
Galloway’s novel has sold over 700,000 copies.

About 20 years ago, I had an older colleague, an inveterate womaniser, who regaled me with stories about the wild, early days of Quebec’s CEGEP system. One was about a young woman who had escaped an eastern bloc country–before the Berlin Wall fell–and how he’d helped her win a large and prestigious scholarship. He’d approached four of her other professors and asked them to also write strong letters of reference, focusing on the young woman’s escape from an oppressive regime, her determination to make it in Canada and her quick adaptation to English education. So instead of just one letter, she had five, all praising her strength and courage. The colleague didn’t tell his other colleagues that he was also sleeping with the young woman, who was then in her early 20s.

That story always rankled despite its heroic aspects. It bothered me that another woman, arriving in Canada under similar circumstances, might also deserve the scholarship, but might try to win it honestly, without resorting to sleeping with a professor. The issue came up again a few years ago. The woman’s scholarship paid for a significant portion of medical school. While I was searching for a local specialist on Google, her name came up along with about 20 ratings. She had one star out of five and patients had written comments like, “How did this woman even become a doctor?”

I’m sharing that anecdote because I’m tired of being expected to be sympathetic to women like MC. It doesn’t sound as if she benefited from her relationship with Galloway, but if she did, I think we have the right to hear about that too and to demand that her degree, or at least some credits, be revoked. As a woman in her 40s, and one who also chose to cheat on a partner, MC is not a victim. Her life experiences should have prepared her for the consequences of a relationship with a man in Galloway’s position. That that did not happen is her tragedy, not ours.

If we really want to rid the academy of discrimination, we must acknowledge all forms of it. False allegations and crying foul over ordinary life experiences–like getting dumped–should not be career-ending occasions for anyone.

____________________________

Camille Paglia discussing campus politics:

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The Pronoun Debate: Who Won?

Canada’s new Bill C-16 has free speech advocates worried. At issue is the introduction of social construct definitions of gender identity and gender expression into our country’s Human Rights code. The bill makes it illegal to target those who identify or express themselves differently from their biological gender. Specifically, it protects against genocide and the public or willful incitements of hatred.

To read more at Quilllette.com, click here.

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