Monday, March 7th, 2011

That Northwestern "Human Sexuality" Class Was The Best Course I Ever Took

In three years as an undergraduate at Northwestern University, I only saw one professor argue with his students. It happened several times in the same class, Human Sexuality, and I will never forget the first time it happened. It was the winter of my sophomore year, 2005. The professor, J. Michael Bailey, had been leading us through some provocative research, which suggested that if you control for a whole variety of factors, adults who were sexually abused as children are not much more likely to have psychological pathologies than adults who were not. The implication, that the sexual abuse of children might not be as damaging as our culture has long assumed, naturally upset some members of the class, and Bailey, as was his practice after introducing a controversial topic, halted his lecture for ten minutes of questions and answers.

A dark-haired young woman in the back of the class stood up right away. This was not an insignificant act; Human Sexuality was one of the most popular courses at Northwestern and hundreds of people gathered in the huge lecture hall on North Campus every winter to attend, so hundreds of heads turned to look at her.

“You’re talking about sexually abusing children,” she said, in tone that would have been hectoring if it hadn’t been so surprised. “No matter what the research says, that is morally wrong.” Bailey said that his moral judgment had nothing to do with the matter, that he was presenting research and that was all. This was clearly unsatisfactory to the young woman, who asked in response, “What would you say if one of your daughters was molested?”

Everyone has taken a class where the lecturer loses the respect of the students. This, I thought, was on the verge of happening. If Bailey responded defensively or, worse, derisively, he would lose the audience, maybe for the rest of the semester. I was sure that he would take the temperature of this woman’s voice, deflect the question and move on.

“If one of my daughters was molested, I would be devastated,” he said. “But I would take comfort in knowing that the molestation would not necessarily ruin her life.”

The young woman sat down. Bailey got back to his lecture.

Why am I telling you this story? J. Michael Bailey is the person at the center of the controversy currently burning on the Western shore of Lake Michigan, fed by gusts of air from every prurient corner of the Internet and every red-faced moralist who can sit through the Fox News or MSNBC or CNN makeup chair long enough to release his outrage.

What happened is this: Bailey, as he does several times every semester, organized an after-class demonstration, which in this particular instance took the form of one non-student Chicagoan applying a device known as a “fucksaw” to the vagina of another non-student Chicagoan, who apparently reached orgasm, though we have made the collective mistake of assuming so. (If "Seinfeld" has taught us nothing else, it is that only she knows for sure.)

Pardon the digression; commence the defense. I arrived in Northwestern in the fall of 2003, smart-assed and smug, from the halls of a criminally overpriced prep school in northwest Washington, D.C., which for all of its faults taught me that everything should be questioned, that good argument dignifies everyone and that being intellectually boring is sort of a sin. Let us say that these were not the values I encountered at my new home.

To understand Bailey’s worth to Northwestern, you need to understand a little bit about Northwestern. First, it's full of very smart and very driven people. Second, it's not a place where young people go to have their assumptions challenged. It's not the sort of university where young people go to experiment and find themselves and dabble in campus radicalism and psychedelics and maybe let someone of the same sex or someone in a body suit rub up on them. Due to its prestigious undergraduate programs in theater, journalism, engineering and business, it has an entrenched and sometimes suffocating pre-professional streak. In every way, geographically, intellectually, socially, psychologically, it's the opposite of our South Side rival for academic supremacy. It's also really, truly, appallingly cold. Which is all a way of saying that it's the sort of place that might benefit from a fucksaw every now and then.

I was adrift there. I know, I know: poor little me, paying $40,000 a year to be intellectually alone and sad in picturesque north Chicagoland. But let me say in my defense that 18 to 20 is a really awful age to feel like there's a good conversation going on somewhere and you aren’t having it. The early classes for my English major didn’t help. Sure, I learned how you can interpret The Matrix through a Lacanian lens, but I never heard anyone argue why you should. The students didn’t care and the professors didn’t notice. There were no stakes.

So now you can maybe see why that moment in Bailey’s class was so revelatory for me. I was watching an academic defend his field in the context of his life. There were stakes. It wasn’t life-altering or anything quite so neat as that. But it was an educator taking seriously enough the intentions of his students to expect that they could handle facts that made them uncomfortable. I felt, more than anything, respected.

It certainly wasn't his presence that made Bailey the best professor I had at Northwestern. He lacked the performer’s intuition that the great lecturers have, the sense of drama, of revelation. He spoke in a monotone and in class would basically shuffle around the stage with his microphone. But he taught major, contentious areas of sexuality research that we all have a stake in: about the genetic basis for sexual orientation; about the evolutionary costs and benefits of rape; about real, observable differences in male and female arousal patterns; about case studies of people who can only achieve sexual pleasure by cutting off their own limbs. Bailey assumed that we were not in the class just because it was about sex or, worse, to fulfill some silly course requirement. He assumed we were in class because we were as interested in the mysteries of human sexual experience as him.

I won’t comment on the most recent demonstration. I wasn’t there. But the fact that these events have been going on for years leads me to believe that the current controversy has a lot more to do with the word “fucksaw” than anything else. These demonstrations clearly existed to expose a group of smart but sheltered young people to the staggering spectrum of human sexual behavior. Sometimes people need to be shocked out of their assumptions.

I only remember one demonstration from 2005 well. It was just a panel of gay men, longtime friends of Bailey’s, who sat in front of the class and answered any question the audience could come up with. I simply didn’t know very many gay people when I was 20 years old, and I had a whole host of assumptions blasted by the commonsense, funny, sad answers provided by the men on the panel. There was a moment late in the demonstration when it became clear to the class that the removal of women from the sexual equation results in a lot more, well, sex. Someone asked the panel: “How many of you have had sex with each other?” The men, who ranged widely in age, looked at each other, and it was clear some major mental math was happening. All at once, the men on stage started just shaking with laughter, and the audience did too. I didn’t leave the lecture hall changed in any fundamental way, except I knew a little bit more about the three or ten (depending on who you ask) percent of men who have sex with other men. I can say that no other professor’s class at Northwestern taught me that much about the way actual people live in the world.

It has barely been reported that the “fucksaw” demonstrators led an hour-long discussion after their shocking act. Can we extrapolate from this fact that some knowledge about human sexuality may have been gleaned? That some 19-year-old from Peoria might not think his new girlfriend is weird or disgusting when he stumbles upon her leather closet? That we all got here from fucking, that we do it in a lot of different ways, and someone should probably be studying it? Or would it just be easier and more satisfying to be scandalized?

Joseph Bernstein does not own a fucksaw.

68 Comments / Post A Comment

saythatscool (#101)

I often fantasized about being scandalized by a fucksaw in front of an audience of pre-professionals paying $40,000 a year for the privilege. My quivering loins anticipating said fucksaw's phallus. Smart but sheltered young people watching me as I get penetrated over and over again until I achieve female ejaculation for the prestigious bemusement of the adult daycare crowd.
Then I would return to my silly little conservative life and nobody would be the wiser that I was the fucksawee.

petejayhawk (#1,249)

Did the same thing with your mom last month, stc. We had a good chuckle about it afterward.

k-rex (#2,909)

So Northwest is an awful school full of awful people. Some of whom got to watch a live sex show before they went on to become our dull and useless bosses.

HiredGoons (#603)

they also have Arthur Butz!

goodgood (#10,279)

It's hard for me to accurately pass judgement on Bailey since I was never one of his students, nor was I a student at Northwestern. But using "science" to disprove common assumptions about the effects of sexual voilence sounds awfully misguided and sounds like a value-laden scientific approach, which in my opinion, is NOT scientific. It would have been far more interesting and beneficial to talk about how scientific studies, especially sociological and psychological ones, are rarely ever fully value-free.
As someone who has been raped, and has 'ignored' it and lied about it ever occuring, it's really hard to believe that the subjects used in the "study" he refers to (Joseph Bernstein, do you have the researchers of the study Bailey used in that class?), were being fully honest. When you are a victim, there is a need to forget it and prove to the world and yourself that you are "fine", even when you are tortmented and confused and hate yourself inside. Victim blaming is internalized and quite often manifests itself as desperate "normalcy". Bailey sounds like a guy who wants a reason to rape. It really makes me wonder…
Also, Bailey has daughters? Shit. If my dad ever said anything like this, I'd be more hurt psychically/emotionally than how I feel right about being a rape victim.

petejayhawk (#1,249)

Bailey sounds like a guy who wants a reason to rape.

Oh, for fuck's sake.

goodgood (#10,279)

Like I said before, I am speaking as an out rape victim. Please consider this. Sure, I am committing ad hominem to some degree. But can we not talk about value-laden social science studies? That is the bigger topic here.

petejayhawk (#1,249)

And I am sorry for the horror you were put through, for sure.

But turning "research that suggested adults who were sexually abused as children are not much more likely to have psychological pathologies than adults who were not" into "J. Michael Bailey wants to rape people" is complete bullshit.

goodgood (#10,279)

Yes, I agree what I said is bullshit and a logical fallacy. This is a blog comment.

You know, I do see and can appreciate how rape could theoretically be an evolutionary advantage, through a biological lens. Being skeptical of your own assumptions is a good thing. And I am to some degree.
But isn't accepting a scientific study without skepticism nor acknowledging its intents just as fallible? I mean, thats the one of the first things that was emphasized during my sociology/philosophy double major undergrad career.

petejayhawk (#1,249)

Let me get this straight – you accuse a professor who discusses some research findings (that you mischaracterized completely) of looking for reasons to rape other human beings, then get upset because we're not having an in-depth discussion on skepticism and scientific inquiry?

Where did they emphasize doing that during your sociology/philosophy double major undergrad career?

DrWorm (#10,282)

If you understand that what you said is bullshit, then why share? Even a blog deserves helpful contributions.
Also, please elaborate on which values these researchers had that skewed their results so terribly.

I'm sorry you got raped, but that doesn't automatically make you correct in your assumptions about Mr. Bailey or his research. Not every cancer survivor is an Oncologist.

goodgood (#10,279)

I did not stop to consider the fallacies in what I was saying until I was called on it. It was written in a haste because this has a VERY emotional impact on me. My emotions, while not recognized as valid sources of 'knowledge' or argument, are still valid because they are a result of what I have experienced.

My interpretations of this study are still valid, even if they differ from all of yours.

I find studies and arguments that rationalize the evolutionary 'usefuless' of rape really hurtful to me. It really hurts me to think that there is a scientific reason for it (even if I do understand its arguments) beyond the psychological/pathological issues that drove the perpetrator to commit the rape.

It belittles my pain and self-worth I've struggled so hard to find after the incident. I don't need a study to tell me that I can be successful, because I already know that; I have a job and some reasonable success for a twenty something and feel very lucky that I've overcome. It tells people who are outside of the victim/rapist world that victims will probably all be 'ok' in the end. It brushes aside their pain, and whatever pain they do experience is considered null because it will go away eventually, because science said so! I think in some way it very subtly contributes to the culture of rape and its excuses.

If I have mischaracterized this study, I am sure many others have as well – perhaps in ways opposite to how I'm interpreting. Isn't everything up to interpretation?

Are there any women out here with better argumentative skills than I? I feel like I'm being bullied. Why am I the only one who is accused of mischaracterizing this study?

petejayhawk (#1,249)

Because you are the one who said the Northwestern professor was looking for a reason to rape. You throw shit like that out there, you're gonna get called on it. It's not bullying, don't throw that card out there now.

Elle (#7,022)

I'm a rape survivor and I'm sorry, but I am completely on the other side of this from you (and frankly I'm a little pissed that you assumed "any women out here" would definitely agree with you). Rape is horrific and traumatic and what happened to us fucking blows but here's the thing: science doesn't care about your feelings. No one is using scientific studies like the one Joseph Bernstein says his professor cited to justify child abuse. Exploring the evolutionary role of rape in human history is not giving excuses to rapists or contributing to rape culture (seriously, what?) or downplaying the psychological evilness that drives someone to forcibly have sex with another human being. No one thinks that rape is okay! Most rapists probably don't think rape is okay, and already run circles around themselves to justify their horrific actions (mine did!); studies and investigations into the role rape might have played or if maybe some victims end up okay aren't going to turn someone into a rapist.

"Is this going to hurt someone's feelings" is not a question a researcher should ever have to ask himself before publishing.

DoctorDisaster (#1,970)

I apologize — I definitely don't want to make anyone feel bullied or belittled. "Mischaracterized" was probably a poor choice of words on my part. You're right that this is a debate about differing interpretations of data; what I meant to do was present the interpretation that I think holds the most sway with researchers in this field.

We all know anecdotes about abuse survivors who went on to become powerful voices for change, successful professionals, or caring parents. I think the point of the study was to put that anecdotal evidence in statistical context; how common is that experience? I believe that is a worthy question for research to try to answer.

Is it possible to look at the data and decide, "All's well that ends well! Abuse isn't so bad after all!" Well, yeah: being an ignorant rape apologist shit-for-brains is always an option. But you can't choose what to research based on how IRAS4Bs will interpret it. If they can't twist your data to fit their worldview, they're just going to dismiss it anyway.

DoctorDisaster (#1,970)

I've heard a little bit about these studies, and I think you're mischaracterizing their findings. If I understand correctly, the claim is that survivors of sexual abuse, AFTER GOING THROUGH HORRIFYING TRAUMA THAT NO ONE SHOULD EVER HAVE TO ENDURE, AND THAT NO ONE SHOULD EVER TRY TO DENY OR MINIMIZE, can still have successful career or family lives.

It is NOT a way of saying "rape is OK" or "rape really isn't that bad" — researchers in human sexuality are surely laden with values, but for the most part, those values are in direct opposition to such statements — any more than saying "amputees can lead successful lives" implies "so feel free to hack off people's limbs willy-nilly."

erikonymous (#3,231)

A pernicious myth about Science is, of course, that it is value neutral. Most scientists, however, are aware that they bring their biases to any experiment or analysis, especially in the so-called "soft sciences." Some people seem to insist that all discussions of data are preceded by such a disclaimer, like when I begin a sentence with, "Well, I've found, in my personal experience that …"
But what good, really, is research without a motive?

deepomega (#1,720)

DD is right, of course, and I think it's also important to point out that "childhood sexual abuse victims can have successful lives" does not imply "no childhood sexual abuse victim will have any pathology or any need for therapy."

petejayhawk (#1,249)

Nobody made any claims that childhood abuse victims suffer any problems; there was mention of research that suggested that "psychological pathology" is only somewhat higher in abuse victims than the population at large – which is to say, we're all pretty fucked up, abused or not as a kid.

The mischaracterizations and made-up information in this comment thread is amazing. People are projecting all sorts of shit onto stuff that was not even mentioned in the article.

listen comma lady (#10,288)

I think the reference is to Susan Clancy's work.

Read the whole thread. Plenty of info and rebuttals.

turd_sandwich (#5,660)

I also think this line of research may have been an implicit response to the retarded "repressed memory" phenomenon that U.S. society experienced in the '80s and '90s. Not as concrete a response as Elizabeth Loftus's "Lost at the Mall" study, but still, it seems in the vein of containing the bullshit.

Niko Bellic (#1,312)

"there is a need to forget it and prove to the world and yourself that you are "fine", even when you are tortmented and confused and hate yourself inside."

I am not seeing where does it say that the study concluded that rape victims are not "tormented, confused or hate themselves inside". I am tired of people taking shots at validity of scientific research without enough regard for basic logic in their arguments.

sleepyhead (#10,298)

goodgood, I am researcher and worked on a project that studied the relationship between sexual abuse and mental disorders later in life. I can tell you with almost 100% certainty that the studies discussed in the class had probably hypothesized that sexual abuse is bad for you. They probably didn't WANT to find what they found. They didn't find this to be true, and that is the way science works. You set up a hypothesis, you try to disprove it. If it's not disproved, you can't manipulate the data to make that finding go away. We found the same thing with our data, and we have agonized over the finding. We don't want to put it out there and have some NAMBLA member saying, "LET'S ALL RAPE CHILDREN! IT'S NOT HARMFUL." We know on a case by case basis that is not true, and there are more ways for the negative consequences of sexual abuse to manifest themselves later in life than just clinical diagnosis.
Regarding the evolutionary study of rape: almost any study that tries to explain how behavior as part of evolution must be taken with a grain of salt. It's not because behaviors can't have a basis in evolution, but because we can't disprove these hypotheses in humans. My problem with those kinds of studies, however, have nothing to do with the rape aspect. I think it's a valid question to ask why humans perpetuate this awful act on other humans. It's a valid question because you might be able to use the answer to stop it.

NU2001 (#10,280)

Good article with keen observations.

NU, as with most not-quite-the-top universities where the students are from first-generation-upper-middle-class families, is a place where students think that if they go there, keep their head down, and get their ticket punched, they are on their way to a six-figure income just like their fathers'. Very few of my classmates were going to change the world. They wanted an office job and a gold watch.

In my ethics class at NU, we would often argue about porn. It took awhile before the prof realized that most of the women and some of the more conservative men were arguing about Playboy-esque porn. He told them to go home and look on the internet and come back when they were informed on the topic.

Dickdogfood (#650)

There's a wide and mysterious gulf between "Sexual abuse may not acutally ruin the lives of the abused to the degree we thought" and "If one of my daughters was molested, I would be devastated" that really needs to be mapped out.

petejayhawk (#1,249)

As a couple comments here confirm, it's not just the religious right that REALLY has a hard time accepting (or even thinking rationally about) data that challenges their beliefs.

Tulletilsynet (#333)

Yeah, and another wide and mysterious gulf that might stand some mapping out is the wide and mysterious gulf between specialized scientific research (what Bailey publishes) and the elective-based curriculum of American universities (what Bailey is doing with large lecture classes).
Not sure the pool of undergraduate participants who signed up for Bailey's class (which I assume resembles other sophomore elective lecture classes in that it aims to draw in as many casually interested warm bodies as possible for the sake of the department's metrics) really deserves the heavy-duty academic freedom arguments that sometimes come up in culture-war skirmishes like this one.

Barbara McCarren (#10,177)

Word. On the other hand, this is their introduction to the meaning of academic freedom, & by now I'm sure they've heard it's 'in the news'. It can only be good, for the thinkers among them.

soco (#8,225)

I agree. The subject and format, seemingly more than just a basic intro to sexuality course, would have probably been better served with a seminar class. Leave out the people who can't take it seriously or critically.

Joey Camire (#6,325)

I thoroughly enjoyed my Psychology Of Sexuality class. It's nice to know we're all kind of fucked up. Misery (and/or arousal) loves company.

turd_sandwich (#5,660)

My employer got in heaping mountainfuls of trouble over publishing this research, except in that instance, the professor was our organization, and the exasperated girl in the back of class was Congress and Dr. Laura. Good times were had by all.

kpants (#719)

"These demonstrations clearly existed to expose a group of smart but sheltered young people to the staggering spectrum of human sexual behavior. Sometimes people need to be shocked out of their assumptions."
Was the "fucksaw" demo so much shocking, as it was more just an exercise in titillation? Our culture fetishizes violence and sexual violence against women : how that gets internalized might be a bigger revelation to young people today than an exhibition of how it is externalized and put on display (hi, internet porn of everything everywhere.)

Mindpowered (#948)

One thing to keep in mind, is that just because it's there (hardcore,degrading,internet porn), doesn't mean that it's symptomatic of the sexual proclivities of the ± 1,000,000 that make up "western culture". In fact, such viewpoints are small minority and only the ease of access through the internet lends them a false ubiquity.

What is more dangerous is the one size fits all sexuality that has been forced on us by a Judeao-Christanormative viewpoint. The Fucksaw is nothing more than an attempt to suggest that there may be people out there who don't quite fit in this neat little box that that tome lays out.

Mindpowered (#948)

± 1,000,000,000

kpants (#719)

I would suggest, however, that attempts to overturn assumptions regarding human behaviors are better served by revealing both the humanity of the people who are behaving in whatever way (be that mainstream or not), and the human motivations or desires driving that behavior. Trying to simply shock people out of their own assumptions regarding humans and human behavior does not seem a necessarily effective tactic, if others are dehumanized in the process.

For example, the discussion panel as mentioned above let students interact with gay men as human beings who are sexual, rather than putting their bodies on stage as sexual display cases.

Our culture is already pretty voyeuristic. Allowing students to act as voyeurs may ultimately only condone and re-enforce behavior they already know how to do: watch, watch, watch, instead of engaging with human beings different from them as people with inner lives and intelligence.

petejayhawk (#1,249)

Which is why the woman (Faith Kroll, look it up) and her partner engaged the students in a Q-and-A session for over an hour after the fucksaw went back into its holster.

But that, of course, doesn't fit your narrative.

kpants (#719)

I understand there was a Q-and-A session. So then why partake of viewing live "fucksaw" intercourse, except mainly to titillate? The students were not placed there to observe it as a sample population for an arousal study.

I also understand the need to create innovative demonstrations to bring a classroom to life sometimes.

My "narrative," as such, is that perhaps certain sexual demonstrations which employ shock to get quick/easy attention are not necessarily the most useful or helpful. And that perhaps such demonstrations can re-enforce other behaviors and attitudes we are conditioned to accept as "normal" even though the presumable intention was to cause us to reevaluate society's understanding of "normal."

petejayhawk (#1,249)

I think I understand what you're saying…that if the goal is to get people to understand sexuality (particularly alternative sexuality) differently or more openly, then perhaps you have that discussion and lead people down that road to openmindedness, and then hopefully they'll become openminded or un-hung-up enough to consider busting out the fucksaw at some point if that's what they and their partner(s) want to do and that's what they're comfortable doing? But that busting out the fucksaw in a sophomore seminar for shock/titillation value is not necessarily the way to force people down that road?

Am I reading it right? Because I can get on board with that. The only thing I would say about this then, is that the demonstration and Q-and-A was not held in class and was not mandatory, and if a student was not interested in seeing the demonstration or engaging in a discussion about alternate lifestyles (BDSM particularly in this case), then they did not have to attend.

kpants (#719)

@Deleted by user: Yes, more or less.

(Of course, I'm just a little concerned in that I've been in classes where some things weren't mandatory, but basically if you didn't go along with everything there were still unofficial and/or casual repercussions. Clearly that is totally dependent on the instructor/professor and the cultural environment of the school, so that may not be the case in this instance!)

Mindpowered (#948)

Watching a sex act is no different than watching a violent act. Since we are bombarded with violence via TV/Movies yet the actual level of violence is fairly rare in everyday life, I would suggest that social conditioning can iron out any nebulous effect of "watching". Moreover, since this social conditioning is so strong perhaps we need (at least for sex) things that really make us uncomfortable to challenge it. Of course the vision can only do so much which is why the Q & A is so important.
Finally, I would suggest that the emphasis placed by certain quarters of academia, on vision "the male gaze" etc.. is misleading and distracts us from the real issue of social (Judeao-Christo-heteronormative) control
(which can reach truly terrifying proportions on the internet).
Re: Slut Shaming, this controversy and many many others…

kpants (#719)

I would disagree with you to some extent. Watching a sex act can be highly different than watching a violent act. Watching a sex act that involves the implication of violence may certainly blur any line or clear distinction one might make to seperate the two. I would aver that using a "fucksaw" on a human being (and that human being's genitals), certainly blurs those distinctions. That blurring is a topic ripe for discussion! But watching as a voyeur? I'm not overly convinced of the proposed practical objective.

Patriarchy itself both fuels and requires "the male gaze" to function and control women's and QUILTBAG sexuality, so discussion of "male gaze" is not necessarily a distracting issue. Actually, it may well be highly germane.

Our collective social conditioning tries to both hide and shame open displays of non-hetero, non-cis, non-male sexaulity while overtly encouraging instances where hetero cis males are in control. When that control has a coercive or violent tinge, we are socially conditioned to accept it far more than we are of instances where women and QUILTBAG individuals try to exert their own sexual power. I do not see a heterosexual couple implementing violence into their own personal sexual equation, and then putting that sexualized violence up for public consumption where the woman is literally on the receiving end of it as being anything which particularly challenges that status quo.

I'd also like to point out that the internalization of sexualized violence, manefestaions of sexual violence, and heteronormative cis male sexual privilege and control transcends Judeo-Christian culture.

Mindpowered (#948)

I agree that there are many other cultures to which women as put in much more restrictive "boxes" than the Judaeo-Christonormative one. I was focusing it as it for better or worse is the dominant one here.

The concept of the "Patriarchy" requires the " male gaze". As such both are academic constructs that imperfectly describe a complex reality. Moreover, they are actively unhelpful as they deflect attention into a almost Confucian search for the "correct name" for things eg: Womyn vs Women.

Back to our discussion, the dominant way, and, indeed the appropriate way, by which women can gain sexual control as I understand it from your posts is through the appropriation of male sexuality (quiltbagging). Unless they turn the tables and coerce men as men have coerced women, then they are relegated to reifiting the dominant male status quo. Which fits with modern mainline feminist theory as constructed over the past 40 years, which in turn draws marxist principles of dialectical contradiction/conflict.

However having met a few female submissives' (in the S&M sense)I would suggest that it's far more subversive, given the mainline confrontational/appropriational narrative to show a woman in the position of submission and enjoying it.

petejayhawk (#1,249)

Yeah, that's the thing. Not everyone's sexuality fits into either the Judeo-Christian boxes or the "enlightened patriarchy-breaking feminist" boxes. There are more ways to live one's life than through either of those lenses – including being submissive to or dominant over someone else (terms that in themselves can have many, many, many meanings based on the person and the relationship).

kpants (#719)

@Deleted by user: Agreed.

And I'm still mulling on it and turning it over in my head.

Perhaps part my reservations about the whole thing stem from puzzlement that this particular, shall we say, field trip was held for undergraduates? If the demo has value academically, then maybe it's one better suited for people who've been steeped for a while longer in this field of study. Students working on upper level study and post-graduates would seemingly have a better awareness and understanding of the varied specific factors at play here (psychological, religious, social, cultural, economic, etc.)

Publicly performed sexual acts like the one in the demo involve issues that are highly complex in nature. Throwing undergraduates into such complicated situations might be akin to throwing kids head first into the deep of a lake before they're even taught to swim functionally. (Warning: awkward metaphor ahead!) Sure, some might figure out how to keep on top of the water, surviving through instinct, but that seems a haphazard manner of instruction. It's more effective for everyone if the instructor actually takes the time to acclimate them to the water temperature and give beginner lessons.

Mindpowered (#948)

That should read re-ifeing, instead of a misspelled refitting

kpants (#719)

@Mindpowered: Well, I've got a vaguely Wittgensteiny penchant for words and language use, so I'm vaguely persuaded that such discussions are entirely and actively helpful sometimes! But that is a totally different and inappropriately off-topic topic!

"Unless they turn the tables and coerce men as men have coerced women, then they are relegated to reifiting the dominant male status quo." Nah. It's just interesting to question and analyze patriarchal frames for sexuality, take 'em apart to see how those work- that seems a pertinent and useful way to examine issues revolving around sexuality. (As opposed to simply turning the tables on anyone in some sort of act of vengeance or coercion?!)

Understanding patriarchy and patriarchal norms would be one helpful way to examine and explain to young folk/students the lack of fluidity we allow in our society and ourselves sexually. (Which is not to say there may not be others! This is simply one that I find intrinsically involved when we're talking about "fucksaws" and all.)

liznieve (#7,691)

As a fellow Northwestern Alum who also took Human Sex with Bailey, I have a bone, or two, to pick.

First, I think the sweeping generalizations about the entirety of the 8,000 or so undergraduates is a little uncalled for, and frankly, surprising for the Awl.

Sure, there are plenty of corners for the "pre-professional" student, those you so lambast as lacking any intellectual curiousity, to huddle at NU. But there are plenty of other facets to Northwestern, departments and classes that are engaged with, challenge and debate intellectual and cultural assumptions. Students challenging professors and professors challening students alike.

If Bailey's class was the only class at Northwestern that did this for you, then that's truly unfortunate because you missed out on some fantastic opportunities. Sure, the class was interesting. Bailey, I thought, had a knack for framing things in a clinical manner, presenting scientific defense to his (sometimes) inflammatory ideas. He really made us appreciate the rainbow of human sexuality. But it couldn't hold a candle to other classes I took that were much more demanding of rigorous critical inquiry.

OK, end of rant. I just found myself really personally insulted by the assumptions made in this article about a huge population of people.

ejcsanfran (#489)

A bone to pick about a fucksaw. Well-played, indeed.

liznieve (#7,691)

I do what I can, I do what I can.

Tulletilsynet (#333)


hockeymom (#143)

Back in an earlier century when some of you weren't even born, I took a women's studies course at Madison. "Women: Their Bodies in Health and Disease."
The class was a combination of jocks needing a science credit, sorority chicks needing a science credit and hard-core feminists. Yes, these things are not mutually exclusive, but at the time, that's how I separated the class.

We had two panels that were really interesting and left a big impression. The first, how to bring yourself or another woman to orgasm. The second, how to perform an abortion on yourself. Both involved hand-outs with tips, demonstrations, where to buy various instruments to complete whichever task and recipes. I seem to remember that there was some sort of tea you could drink that would cause you to spontaneously abort a fetus. Nobody voiced any sort of protest (and really, on the orgasm thing, WHY WOULD YOU)…but I do remember being offended by the woman on the panel who argued that abortion was a valid method of birth control and she had done it herself six times. But I figured that just because she seemed lazy and irresponsible, didn't mean I had to be.
I can't imagine they are still using the same curriculum these days. Even in Madison.

Niko Bellic (#1,312)

I think they now serve that tea as "coffee" at my bodega.

Pennyroyal Tea.

I've thought about this overnight and I really can't figure out what the controversy is here. NU is a private institution of higher learning. There's no sponsors to be upset and very few parents who would withdraw their students on account of this. It wasn't even mandatory so it wasn't being foisted on anybody. It may have been a little bit superfluously titillating but so what? So are many tv commercials. This is an absolute and utter non-issue. Not just because it isn't relevant to actual political and issues/problems but mostly because it isn't a goddamned thing at all. In churches and synagogues and mosques every week they tell people that Santa Claus is watching them all the time and keeping a list of who's naughty and who's nice. Fucking shocking, right? But not really anybody's business. Just one of those curious perversities that goes on behind closed doors. More or less.

La Cieca (#1,110)

I think it points to a tendency to infantilize college students: this idea that there might just possibly be something somewhere that might tend to harm one hypothetical individual in some hard to define way. The argument at the moment seems to be hinging on whether some students might have felt "coerced" into attending the demonstration even after they had been explicitly told it was optional, and for that argument to hold water, the students in question have to regarded as incompetent to make adult judgments in the context of what is regarded as a relationship involving an uneven distribution of power. But instead of taking that uneven distribution as a given (a 100% equitable power relationship is surely the exception rather than the rule in human experience) and moving forward with the idea that even the "less-empowered" are capable of making informed decisions, the tendency seems to be to rob the less-empowered of even their ability to think: they can't make decisions, you see, because they are being subtly coerced, or they imagine that subtle coercion is a posssiblity, which is just as daunting.

Maybe it's just the middle age talking, but I really think people (even those in their delicate formative 20s) are a good deal tougher and more resilient than the culture of victimhood gives them credit for.

sjp010 (#10,321)

There is no undergraduate program in business at NU. Also, no semesters at NU – only quarters.

Doubtful you went to NU. Analysis of school rejected. Sorry!

KellyAsh (#10,331)

Ummmm there is an undergrad program in business at NU. At Kellogg. Analysis of school rejected.

Also, all of Northwestern's property taxes are absorbed by Evanston property owners. So while it is a private university, it's not surprising that people feel, say, INVESTED?

sjp010 (#10,321)

KellyAsh, are you referring to the 4-course "certificate" that the Kellogg GRADUATE School of Management offers to undergraduates while they pursue degrees in a non-business field? Because that is as close as Kellogg gets to undergraduates at NU. If you want to equate that certificate to a full undergraduate degree (that requires 48 courses in engineering, for example), I suppose you can. I would call doing so misleading.
My apologies for poor choice of words in my first post. Should read: "there are no undergraduate degrees in business at NU." That is a fact.
What is your point in bringing up the property tax issue?

KellyAsh (#10,331)

There you go…thanks for editing your choice of words. That's more accurate. And I didn't "equate that certificate to a full undergraduate degree." I said it was an undergraduate program. Which it is. But thank you.
I'm saying I'm not surprised that Evanstonians feel like they should be pissed about this conduct, and voice this opinion. I understand that the property tax deal is a source of tension in the city. So I'm not at all surprised that these people think they should have a say, that this issue has riled up that old tension. Not saying they should plan the curriculum.

Of course, this demonstration wasn't a planned part of the curriculum…

sjp010 (#10,321)

Fair enough, then we are in agreement.

My original post had to do with the AUTHOR equating the programs, with his statement about "prestigious undergraduate programs" in theater, journalism, engineering, and business — effectively lumping them all together. The other three are prestigious undergraduate programs. The business undergraduate program is not comparable, not by a long shot. Nobody goes to NU to study business as an undergraduate. The author's writing would have the reader think the campus is teeming with future CPAs and CFAs, which is simply not true.

Actually, the semester error was more blatant (the business program was icing) and was the one that primarily led me to believe that the author did not actually attend Northwestern. Or at least, is very forgetful or isn't very observant or is loose with facts. This error makes me question how well he really knows the school, and whether we can trust his judgment about its character. But maybe I'm being too harsh and it's just that he doesn't think his audience will know what an academic quarter is.

Anyway, thanks for keeping me honest, as I was keeping the author honest. Doubt he reads down this far anyway. :)

Evanstonians, as a whole, are crazy. They think they are sooooo liberal, but they have a nasty "not in my backyard" streak (e.g. the ridiculous "stop the tower" campaign). They also fail to recognize how much revenue NU brings to the city. True, no property taxes are paid. But how much commerce occurs in the city solely because of the University? A LOT, that's how much.

ajlstraley (#10,345)

Thank you for writing this! It's nice to finally read something that supports him. As one of his current students I too have found that he's an amazing teacher. I've found NU to be far different of a place (though I think that's a good thing), but even so Bailey really stands out. It really frustrates me that so many people pass judgment when they weren't even there. I think it's rather telling that not a single student who was actually there has responded negatively to it.
No, I don't always agree with Bailey, but I also always respect his opinion. Do I think that the demonstration was necessary? No. Do I have a problem with it? No! If nothing else it's shown us how prude our society is. Has it hurt ANYONE? Obviously not! Is it shocking to those who weren't in the class and thus weren't in an environment where this could actually be viewed as an experience that shows us just how far people are willing to go to express themselves, enjoy themselves and how unconcerned they are with what others think? Yes, but the demonstration wasn't meant for them. It was meant for those students who had been repeatedly warned and who were curious. It wasn't just a sexual act, it was an act of defiance against social norms. The fact is that this was not a big deal to anyone there at the time. Others made it one, but at the time people were surprised, but definitely not horrified or even bothered. It was a memorable talk that involved a lot of other information than just the fucksaw.
Perhaps I'm not being very articulate, but I suppose I just get frustrated that so many people are outraged by something they clearly don't understand.

eastcoasthrumph (#10,356)

CNN posted an article regarding the blog "Born this Way" earlier. Approximately 30% of their reader-base was up in arms because they claimed the blog promoted pedophilia. Never mind that the pictures are self-submitted, and no one is talking about fisting toddlers. The knee-jerk reactionary moral outrage that has followed this class is the same thing. Clearly the answer is that more of these people need to get ridden by a fucksaw.

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