Friday, April 3, 2015

Insisting On My Own Reality: Teaching Rape Law In A Trigger Warning World

Whatever you may think of BuzzFeed, they occasionally have some thought-provoking reportage. Today's example is mostly of interest because it gives us a glimpse into the deeply entitled and horribly flawed thought processes behind the students objecting to rape law instruction. Back in December, the New Yorker ran an excellent essay by Harvard Law professor Jeannie Suk in which she wrote that
Students seem more anxious about classroom discussion, and about approaching the law of sexual violence in particular, than they have ever been in my eight years as a law professor. Student organizations representing women’s interests now routinely advise students that they should not feel pressured to attend or participate in class sessions that focus on the law of sexual violence, and which might therefore be traumatic. These organizations also ask criminal-law teachers to warn their classes that the rape-law unit might “trigger” traumatic memories. Individual students often ask teachers not to include the law of rape on exams for fear that the material would cause them to perform less well. One teacher I know was recently asked by a student not to use the word “violate” in class—as in “Does this conduct violate the law?”—because the word was triggering. Some students have even suggested that rape law should not be taught because of its potential to cause distress.
In other words, we should not teach rape law because ... even talking about rape will freak certain people out. "[C]riminal law professors at schools across the country ... are concerned about what they perceive to be a troubling trend among students who would rather protect themselves than engage with complex issues." Well, yes (emboldening mine):
“What’s new is the suggestion that the teaching of rape doctrine and its flaws in a serious way, open to contending views, makes some students feel ‘unsafe,’ and because they feel ‘unsafe,’ there must be something deeply wrong — immoral and perhaps even illegal — going on,” said Yale Law School professor Jed Rubenfeld. He said he’s been asked (and has declined) to give trigger warnings and announce phone numbers of sexual assault hotlines before teaching rape, although he does ask students to be especially conscious of their classmates and refrains from cold-calling on students when rape is being discussed.

“This is a sad and profoundly anti-intellectual point of view, and it’s spreading,” he said. “Every topic taught in criminal law is a terrible reality.” Professors who don’t teach the class in a serious way, “subjecting both the doctrine and the criticisms of it to searching logical and moral scrutiny,” are “failing the most basic principles of intellectual honesty and academic rigor.”

But what happens when female law students vehemently disagree?

“I am not afraid to study rape law,” said Cari Simon, a Harvard Law graduate and former president of the college’s Women’s Law Association who now defends survivors of sexual violence at colleges and fraternities. “Of course I understand the import of studying rape in law school. That I expect rape to be taught with the understanding that 1 in 5 women are assaulted while in college, and therefore there are very likely survivors sharing the law school classroom does not mean I am afraid. It means I care.”
In other words, as always, teaching about rape is okay provided we cater to her fantasies about rape victimization rates, and that we refer to everyone accused of such charges as a priori guilty.  I've repeatedly gone over the intentional infantilization and propagandizing necessary to arrive at the "1 in 5" figure (the Heather MacDonald piece in City Journal lays it out perfectly). It's of a piece with the overall kid glove treatment certain women seem to demand here. One thing I didn't realize is that
“There was a point in time where women were excused from not just rape but any disturbing legal topic because it was too traumatic,” said University of Colorado Law professor Aya Gruber, who said she’s noticed a “rapid and profound shift” in the way her students think about rape pedagogy over the past few years.

Several of my contemporaries do not teach rape because it is too fraught, but I find this to be an almost sexist position,” she said. “My question is always the extent to which we as teachers are protecting women in a world which oppresses them, and the extent to which we as people in power are reaffirming and reinforcing the messages that keep women in that position.”
This metastasizing view of women as overgrown children incapable of dealing with a sometimes brutal world is a real problem for anything resembling actual equality between the sexes. It draws from a deeply Victorian sensibility, one catering to women by way of the fainting couch.

Update: I appear to have been banned from further comment on that page. No surprise.

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