Unwanted Advances: Sexual Paranoia Comes to Campus
Book of the week
Laura Kipnis’ new book on campus sexual politics will surely earn her an inbox of hate mail, said Jennifer Senior in The New York Times. “I’m guessing she can handle it,” though, because she’s a dedicated provocateur, always ready to fight back. A Northwestern University film professor, Kipnis was inspired to write Unwanted Advances after being caught up in a silly investigation: Days after she published an essay denouncing the school’s new ban on faculty dating students, two students charged that the essay itself created a hostile environment for anyone considering filing a sexual misconduct complaint. Kipnis was eventually cleared, but the experience increased her irritation with the rising sexual hysteria in academia. Her resulting combat report is a book everyone will want to argue with. “Above all else, though, Unwanted Advances is necessary.”
In a way, the 2015 imbroglio “happened to the ideal person,” said Charlotte Shane in Bookforum. A feminist unconstrained by pieties in any form, Kipnis is also so sharp and witty that you wind up pitying her targets. Among them are the university officials charged with enforcing Title IX of the federal Education Amendments Act. Though she was largely unscathed by her encounter with them, the same cannot be said of her former colleague, philosophy professor Peter Ludlow. As Kipnis describes in detail, Ludlow was forced out of Northwestern even though the accuser who did him in had been in a consensual relationship with him and decided only years later that one encounter had been nonconsensual. Kipnis convincingly argues that investigators, as well as female campus activists, have embraced a strangely retrograde view of women as helpless victims. Meanwhile, no one dares to speak up in a man’s defense for fear of being labeled an apologist for a sexual predator. “And, she adds, none of this appears to be reducing sexual assault.”
But victim blaming won’t help either, said Zosia Bielski in The Globe and Mail (Canada). Though Kipnis asks smart questions about the prevalence of blackout drinking on college campuses, her insistence that young women take more responsibility for creating the sexual lives they want won’t protect all of them. As Kipnis surely knows, even strong, sober women get raped. She is speaking out to empower women, though, not disarm them, said Cathy Young in The Wall Street Journal. Whatever else Unwanted Advances is, it is “a scathing indictment of the state of American feminism,” and a call for a more grown-up view of sexual dynamics.