When a Queer Feminist Professor is Accused of Harassment

canada-ontario-toronto-front-campusWe defend our friends. It’s natural. It’s powerful. It’s what friendship is all about. Certainly Avital Ronell’s friends— the most powerful philosophers in academe, for what it’s worth—wanted to defend her from the recently revealed allegations that she’d sexually harassed one of her male graduate students. The Title IX complaint by Nimrod Reitman  resulted in her year-long suspension from NYU.

But she had high-profile defenders in the feminist world. Judith Butler. Slavoj Žižek. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. Shoshana Felman. These are just a few of the famous progressive scholars who lept to her defense in a widely circulated letter excerpted in the New York Times. Presumably without all the facts, they chose to attack the survivor. That’s certainly not a surprise, human behavior being what it is.

But to be honest, as an academic, I expected more. From the most revered names in the humanities, people who would be expected to make conclusions based on evidence in the name of social justice, I expected more. 

2 comments on “When a Queer Feminist Professor is Accused of Harassment

  1. Kimberly Smith Benedikt on

    Yes, it’s about power. Abuse comes from all corners and thankfully metoo does not explicitly signify a gender.

  2. Bobby5000 on

    This month there were two stories. One consider Bill Cosby. In his first trial, the defense was able to exclude virtually all the other women who had experienced the same assault. While we profess to have trial by jury, the judge decided they were not credible. The Me Too Movement came, and then the judge changed his mind, and these other obviously credible victims came to testify and a fair verdict of guilty was reached.

    The same month, a woman in New York City claimed she had been sexually assaulted by a young Afro-American boy. Fortuitously for him, there was a tape showing his only offense was that his backpack accidentally knocked up against her for no more than a second. Had there been no tape, would he have been arrested.

    The lessons are obvious. There are serious offenses that have been historically ignored and false or exaggerated claims periodically made. Investigation is needed where assault is alleged, the claim should not be ignored, nor should one assume a woman is automatically telling the truth and a man lying. Take the claim seriously and allow the relevant evidence.

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