A story of sex, secrets, and Ivy League denial or is it fantasy? Disavowal. Complicity. A career boost. Might as well milk it for what its worth. As if fawning over her is somehow a mark of distinction, A heaven-sent opportunity to garner a little attention; burnish the feminist brand? It seems like a pampered world. Emotional shallow whining that uses sexism instead of confronting it. An ingenious use of disavowal to relish some sexism on the sly. Its possible that Wolf’s written work is primarily for conservative men and women who genuinely want to perceive feminism as evil and nihilistic and Wolf provides a means to discuss this, reactionism and counter to pleasure; where feminism is anti-desire and pleasure. Wolf as propaganda to disinterest society from feminist issues.
…In the late fall of 1983, professor Harold Bloom did something banal, human, and destructive: He put his hand on a student’s inner thigh—a student whom he was tasked with teaching and grading. The student was me, a 20-year-old senior at Yale. Here is why I am telling this story now: I began, nearly a year ago, to try—privately—to start a conversation with my alma mater that would reassure me that steps had been taken in the ensuing years to ensure that unwanted sexual advances of this sort weren’t still occurring. I expected Yale to be responsive. After nine months and many calls and e-mails, I was shocked to conclude that the atmosphere of collusion that had helped to keep me quiet twenty years ago was still intact—as secretive as a Masonic lodge….
…How did this all begin? For years now, Yale has been contacting me: Would I come speak at a celebration of women at Yale? Would I be in a film about Jewish graduates? Would I be interviewed for the alumni magazine? I have usually declined, for a reason that I explain to my (mostly female) college audiences: The institution is not accountable when it comes to the equality of women. I explain that I was the object of an unwanted sexual advance from a professor at Yale—and that his advances seemed to be part of an open secret. I tell them that I had believed that many Yale decision-makers had known about his relations with students, and nothing I was aware of had happened to stop it….
Its a peculiar narrative of feminism, one that is permeated by the cult of celebrity where feminism is a mediated condition of our lives, casual cultural dialog that provides universalized, generic categories of women divested to radical political charge, and coaxed to the private sphere of individual self worth. Feminism on the self help shelf. Self cast as a revolutionary, a heroine, but ultimately a reassertion of the status-quo. An authenticity hoax, an individualism that a near sighted gaze would show resembles shilling for tampons and other female hygiene products. Its a repack job about gender equality with men of comparable social standing. Another song and dance act for the entertainment complex.
…Where is the professor now? they ask. He is still there, I explain: famous, productive, revered. I describe what the transgression did to me—devastated my sense of being valuable to Yale as a student, rather than as a pawn of powerful men….
Then, heartbreakingly, a young woman will ask: “Did you tell?”
I answer her honestly: “No. I did nothing.”
“Have you never named the guy, all these years on?”
“No,” I answer. “Never.”
“But,” she will ask hesitantly, “don’t you have an obligation to protect other women students who might be targets now?”
“Yes,” I answer. “I do have that obligation. I have not lived up to it. I have not been brave enough.” And then there is always, among those young, hopeful women, a long, sad silence.
After such speeches, a young woman will come up to me—in Texas, in Indiana, in Chicago—in tears: My music professor is harassing me, she’ll say. I tried to tell the grievance board, but they told me it is my word against his, and that there is no point in pursuing it. I know I won’t get a job if I do anything about it. My lit professor made a pass at me; he is grading my senior thesis. My female adviser basically told me to drop it if I want to graduate; to switch classes; to start all over with another subject. My lab instructor keeps putting his hands on my body, and his mentor is on the grievance committee. I can’t sleep. What should I do?…
All the hype and advance billing of the “new feminist”. The media hogs and addicts who are white, privileged, and not much of a threat. Predictable. And ultimately kitsch and violent. Its also opportunistic since feminism is an industry that needs sexism. Commodified sexism that reaches a mass audience in part because it douses fear of serious feminist affirmation.There is not much difference between Tina Fey, Madonna, Wolf, Barbara Kruger and Naomi Klein; infantile voyeurism that is willing to masturbate in public but of which no one really cares.
…I am ashamed of what I tell them: that they should indeed worry about making an accusation because what they fear is likely to come true. Not one of the women I have heard from had an outcome that was not worse for her than silence. One, I recall, was drummed out of the school by peer pressure. Many faced bureaucratic stonewalling. Some women said they lost their academic status as golden girls overnight; grants dried up, letters of recommendation were no longer forthcoming. No one was met with a coherent process that was not weighted against them. Usually, the key decision-makers in the college or university—especially if it was a private university—joined forces to, in effect, collude with the faculty member accused; to protect not him necessarily but the reputation of the university, and to keep information from surfacing in a way that could protect other women. The goal seemed to be not to provide a balanced forum, but damage control.
Finally, last summer, I could no longer bear my own collusive silence. Yale had reached out to me once again. The Office of Development had assigned an alumna to cultivate me: She sent a flattering letter inviting me to join a group of women to raise money for Yale.
I wrote my own letter back to Charles Pagnam, vice-president of development. I could not join such an effort because I had been sexually encroached upon at Yale twenty years ago, I explained. The professor involved was still a very visible presence on campus. I wrote that I did not know what steps Yale had taken to protect students, and I wanted to know about the effectiveness of the grievance procedures now. I asked for a private meeting. I heard nothing….
Writers like Wolf don’t have to possess real talent to be taken up and coddled as media darlings. They just have to continue spouting what movers and shakers in the media want to hear. Wolf appeals ostensibly to what Thomas Frank calls the hip consumer, the rebel consumer; who tries to express their individuality through commodities such as the mass market brand of feminism. Hence, so called culture jammers like Wolf, Paglia etc. sustain and glorify the narrative that makes consumerism tick. What results, says Frank, is a situation where ” business is amassing great sums by charging admission to the ritual simulation of its own lynching”
…Weeks later, I called Pagnam, told my story to his staff, and re-sent the letter. Again, no response. More waiting. I called the dean of Yale College, Richard Brodhead. He took my call right away. I told him I was calling because I was sexually encroached upon twenty years ago by someone on his faculty, and I wanted to set up a confidential meeting to address it. I wanted to be sure, I said, that Yale’s grievance procedures are now strong.
Brodhead seemed to know who I was talking about. He implied the man in question was not well. “I don’t think you understand why I am calling,” I said. “I don’t want to bring a lawsuit against Yale or Harold Bloom. I don’t want the meeting, or this experience, to be public. I simply need to know that the institution is accountable.”
“I’ll get back to you,” he said. He didn’t.
After months of silence, I called Pagnam again, determined to reach him. I was starting to feel like Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction. One assistant responded brightly: “You should try the Women’s Studies Program!”
It was now about six months since I had first sought a response from Yale. To my amazement, I was facing a blank wall.
I was also in a state of spiritual discomfort. Keeping bad secrets hurts. Is a one-time sexual encroachment by Harold Bloom, two decades ago, a major secret or a minor one? Minor, when it comes to a practical effect on my life; I have obviously survived. This is the argument often made against accusers in sexual-harassment cases: Look, no big deal, you’re fine. My career was fine; my soul was not fine. I had an obligation to protect others from which I had run away….Read More:http://nymag.com/nymetro/news/features/n_9932/index1.html
Finally, Bloom suggested that he come to the house I shared with one of his editorial assistants and her boyfriend. At dinnertime. I agreed.
The four of us ate a meal. He had, as promised, brought a bottle of Amontillado, which he drank continually. I also drank. We had set out candles—a grown-up occasion. The others eventually left and—finally!—I thought we could discuss my poetry manuscript. I set it between us. He did not open it. He did not look at it. He leaned toward 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. I moved back and took the manuscript and turned it around so he could read.
The next thing I knew, his heavy, boneless hand was hot on my thigh.
I lurched away. “This is not what I meant,” I stammered. 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 moved toward me. I turned away from him toward the sink and found myself vomiting. Bloom disappeared.
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….
…Every year, I wonder about the young women who might have suffered because I was too scared to tell the truth to the people whose job it is to make sure the institution is clean. I am not at peace when the sun sets and the Book of Life is sealed: I always see that soft spot of complicity. Read More:http://nymag.com/nymetro/news/features/n_9932/
…When I described to my parents what had happened, they had gone to a friend of theirs, a scholar of Middle Eastern literature, who was close to Bloom. “You were outraged; you felt violated,” my mother, Deborah Wolf, recalled recently. They begged him to speak with Bloom and ask him to leave me alone. “He refused,” my mother said. “He said it would be awkward. We felt so helpless. We had no power to protect you.” (My roommate, now an editor, who asked not to be named—“I’m still terrified,” she confessed—said: “We knew something had happened that night. You were really nervous; you were anxious for the rest of the semester.”) I longed to go to my thesis adviser. But John Hollander was Bloom’s close friend.
Harold Bloom never met with me again that semester. Not knowing what to do about my grade, I went to his department mailbox and dropped off the collection of poems I had tried to show him at our dinner. I never heard back from him. When I got my grades for a class he had never taught me, he had given me a B….