Feminist Accused of Sexual Harassment.

Author:Sanger, Carol

Feminist Accused of Sexual Harassment. By Jane Gallop. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, Public Planet Books. 1997. Pp. 101. $9.95.


"What kind of feminist would be accused of sexual harassment?" asks Jane Gallop (p. 1). Gallop quickly provides her own challenging answer: "the sort of feminist ... that ... do[es] not respect the line between the intellectual and the sexual" (p. 12). Gallop is firm and unrepentant about not respecting this line: "I sexualize the atmosphere in which I work. When sexual harassment is defined as the introduction of sex into professional relations, it becomes quite possible to be both a feminist and a sexual harasser" (p. 11). Figuring out what this means -- and what its implications are for professors, for feminists, for law schools w is the task I've set for this review. I begin with a warning. As Margot Channing suggested some forty years ago, "Fasten your seat belts. It's going to be a bumpy night."(1)

The atmosphere that Gallop sexualizes is the Department of English and Comparative Literature at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, where Gallop, "one of the ornaments of the post-structuralist school,"(2) is a Distinguished Professor. Her best known books, Thinking Through the Body and The Daughter's Seduction, offer close readings of Sade, Freud, Lacan, Cixous, and Irigaray at the intersection of feminism and psychoanalysis.(3) Feminist Accused of Sexual Harassment seems an altogether different kind of project. It offers a close reading of one woman, Jane Gallop herself, as the subject of sexual harassment complaints brought by two graduate students after she kissed one of them in public. Feminist Accused and Acquitted, although this outcome doesn't make its way to the title -- is Gallop's effort to tell her story so that, as she puts it, everyone can "understand what's going on with sexual harassment."(4)

What's going on, according to Gallop, is doctrine gone haywire. No longer is sexual harassment concerned with brutish male bosses demanding sex from female subordinates in exchange for job security. Sexual harassment has moved from explicit demands and threats to "charged talk or behavior; implicit professional threats [that] could possibly cover the entire range of professional interaction" (p. 8). In addition to the potentially "limitless" possibilities in form, the cast of players has also increased (p. 8). "Harassment need not be perpetrated by bosses; peers can harass, even subordinates. And gender can be a variable: increasing numbers of cases involve a man claiming to have been harassed or a woman accused of harassment" (p. 8). Indeed, as things stand now, even a feminist can be accused, and even when the underlying relationship was heartily consensual.

This, for Gallop, is the most troubling aspect of what is going on: the inclusion of consensual sexual or amorous relationships between teachers and students within general harassment policies and prohibitions. Feminist Accused takes aim at this "bloated rampant expansion" (p. 8) and argues that sexual harassment as now conceptualized and applied in schools is stupid, regressive, and fatal both for sex and for the production of knowledge. Gallop argues that sexual harassment law and policy should have nothing to do with consensual relations between professors and graduate students, for two reasons. First, law should play no part in incapacitating adult women by refusing yet again to recognize their desire for and ability to consent to sex. As she explains in a critique familiar to feminists, "Denying women the right to consent reinforces our status as objects rather than desiring subjects" (p. 38). Policies that deem all sex with professors sexual harassment are based on the protective assumption that "women do not know what we want, that someone else, in a position of greater knowledge and power, knows better" (pp. 38-39). Gallop's position is that adult women, even young adult women students, know and should be able to act on what they want.

Her second argument, perhaps less familiar to those who attend the annual meeting of the Association of American Law Schools rather than that of the Modern Language Association, is that teaching is at core an erotic enterprise. Intense, amorous, even sexual relations between professors and students lie at the heart of what good teaching is about -- the production and acquisition of knowledge. The argument comes in varying strengths. Consider this midlevel version: "Whether it is perceived as an instrument of dominance or a mode of revelation, the educational process involves an emotionally suffused link between human beings. Its intimacies form a tangled web of intellectual aspiration and erotic desire."(5) More simply, "learning and teaching are acts of desire and passion."(6) Gallop, however, endorses a stronger version, one that more or less goes the full Monty. Good professors should have students eager to sleep with them and there is nothing wrong in empowering those students intellectually and sexually by taking them up on their offers (p. 12). She speaks as one who was so empowered(7) and who has subsequently also empowered a number of her students.(8)

This may not be quite the way law professors are used to talking or thinking about what it is we do for a living. It may come as a surprise to some to learn that we have all along been teaching unawares in some primordial sexual soup.(9) Yet there is probably little disagreement about a weak version of academic erotics: the proposition that teaching involves passion. The erotics of pedagogy takes this comfortable, often noble, idea off its familiar hinge and accepts that passion is not always limited to the subject of instruction -- a passion for poetry, a passion for procedure -- but at times directs itself toward the object of instruction, the student. There is something to this, at least at an empirical level, for we all know colleagues who have courted or married former students. Thus the lag for law professors may not be in behaving so very differently from those in other departments, just in failing to theorize about it. This is not to ignore our own stylized framing of the issue in legalistic terms: academic freedom, rights of association, fiduciary relationships, and so on. But while law schools may not be quite the hothouses of English departments, where ardor, as opposed to, say, nuisance, can be the very subject of instruction, there is surely enough consensual interaction going on in the legal academy to make it worth considering how Gallop's arguments about faculty-student sex and the underlying erotics of pedagogy apply to us.


Feminist Accused is a great piece of performance scholarship. That is because Gallop makes her case against sexual harassment through the steamy specifics of the case against her. That case may have been based on only one public kiss and one public comment, but what a kiss! What a comment! (And what suspense! We get neither kiss nor comment until the book's final pages.) Thus in Feminist Accused performance and scholarship unfold together. This is very much part of Gallop's point: "It is no more possible to really teach without at times eliciting powerful and troubling sensations than it is to write powerfully without at times producing the same sort of sensations" (p. 100). (We will return later to the topic of what one chooses to do with the sensations elicited.) Sensations abound in Feminist Accused and in its readers, as the author, combining the talents of stand-up Sandra Bernhardt and sit-down Spalding Gray, performs her argument in print.

Gallop is constantly, vibrantly aware of both being and creating spectacle -- in the classroom, at conferences, on the page. She well understands that "[f]or spectacle to speak, it must be analyzed, broken down into its various components" (pp. 6-7). Feminist Accused is therefore presented in four chunks, sketched here in brief. The first, Feminist Accused of Sexual Harassment, is mostly biographical. It details how Gallop became a feminist and the intellectual and sexual significance for her of that transformation.

Chapter Two, Consensual Amorous Relations, describes how Gallop's biographical truths were transformed into pedagogical ones.

Central to my commitment as a feminist teacher is the wish to transmit

the experience that brought me as a young woman out of romantic

paralysis and into the power of desire and knowledge, to bring the

women I teach to their own power, to ignite them as feminism ignited

me when I was a student. [p. 12]

Offering up her own amorous -- and amorous plus -- relations with teachers and students as Exhibit A in defense of unregulated consensual relations, she argues that nothing less than knowledge itself is now at stake: if universities prohibit "not only sex but `amorous relations' between teacher and student, the 'consensual amorous relation' that will be banned from our campuses might just be teaching itself" (p. 57).

In Chapter Three, Object of Intellectual Inquiry, Gallop extends this claim and argues that more than just direct student-teacher interaction is risked by over-ambitious harassment policies. That is, not only sex, but scholarship on sex is under attack. The basis of this somewhat self-indulgent but provocative chapter is again biographical. Gallop had been planning a conference on teacher-student sex. When some feminist faculty objected, the original plan was scrapped in frustration and "Pedagogy: The Question of the Personal" was substituted.(10) Even this less heated subject drew fire from so-called feminist faculty, including the university affirmative action officer at whom Gallop yelled "fuck you" in frustration. Feminist students later picketed the conference and handed out bumper stickers reading "Distinguished Professors Do It Pedagogically" (p. 68).

Gallop's point here is that not only engaged teaching but scholarship itself falls under the threatening shadow...

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