Is This the End of the Era of the Important, Inappropriate Literary Man?
March 28, 2016 9:50 PM   Subscribe

"I talked to a woman who asked for anonymity because she’s still associated professionally with the University of Iowa. 'When I got to Iowa,' she told me, 'I was like, who the fuck are these people? And where are the adults?'" Jia Tolentino on Thomas Sayers Ellis, VIDA, and the "tradition" of bad behavior from powerful men in the creative fields.
posted by cudzoo (28 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
No. Every woman in academia that I know has enough personal first hand experience of the high toleration of awful behaviour by unimportant male academics to see this as a mere blip.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 10:42 PM on March 28, 2016 [37 favorites]

The article seemed weirdly equivocal to me - they were right to come forwards, but in a different way; and to complain, as long as it was about the right things; or even just a mood, but not like that, of course, because it's good if male professors are violent and unpredictable in those ways; and it's a feminist act to do it the right way, but if you do it wrong you're sabotaging women with real problems. So I was confused about what she was advocating or perhaps condemning. And then I got this at the end:
There is too much at stake here for a woman who comes forward to be put in the position where anyone could say—as people tend to, and as we continue to make possible, through a scrim of good intentions—that it’s not quite clear what she’s talking about.
Have I been trolled?
posted by Joe in Australia at 11:03 PM on March 28, 2016 [6 favorites]

Ditto lesbiassparrow.

I think the central axis of the article is about the means of a community sharing the information and the warnings of the crime/criminal to its members. The equivocation is centrally about the dossier-making approach of VIDA which effaces the finger-pointing individual and aggregates experiences to form a picture of a deeply aggressive Great Man. I think this is understandingly problematic to the writer.

I'm reminded of Maxine Hong Kingston's lines in The Woman Warrior:

'The idioms for revenge are "report a crime" and "report to five families." The reporting is the vengeance – not the beheading, not the gutting, but the words.

I feel like the collaborative, aggregating story of distressing sexualised violence amongst women as crime reporting methodology is perhaps an ancient one. I see the exploration Jia Tolentino grapples with, and problematises, is that it is lacking accountability via litigious means, a system that is clearly letting women down. I certainly don't find her equivocation about the choice of means here as 'weird' but a genuine challenge.
posted by honey-barbara at 11:19 PM on March 28, 2016 [13 favorites]

That was a long meandering hem-hawing read. I totally see why women would want their accounts collected and posted on Vida. But I would be one of those "quietly resigning." You can be Internet guerrilla activists or you can be a formal nonprofit organized to promote women in the arts, but I'm not sure you can be both in our reality.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 12:15 AM on March 29, 2016

Intelligence is like four-wheel drive. It only allows you to get stuck in more remote places. - Garrison Keillor
posted by fairmettle at 12:51 AM on March 29, 2016 [22 favorites]


LECTURER 1: God. There goes [Assoc. Prof. Sleazeball] again. What a despicable human being he is.

RESEARCH FELLOW 2: Yeah: look how uncomfortable he's making her. Could she be any more obviously leaning away from him?

LECTURER 2: This profession has some major issues with sexual predation. Did you hear about what [APS] got up to at [Yearly Conference]?

RESEARCH FELLOW 2: No! I missed that one this year! Tell me about it!

posted by Sonny Jim at 4:19 AM on March 29, 2016 [26 favorites]

Yes, this is important.

Also important: when given a public platform to write about this, don't write a long meandering unedited and almost unreadable piece.
posted by sciencegeek at 4:48 AM on March 29, 2016 [13 favorites]

The daily parade marches in a circle.
posted by four panels at 6:14 AM on March 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

He’s charismatic and surprising, a protest poet, a real intellectual, unafraid to cause alarm

I'm kind of wondering what important controversies there are in poetry or moral outrages that the poetry community remains silent about such that being "unafraid to cause alarm" is considered an important virtue, rather than a sign of an attention seeking asshole.
posted by deanc at 6:21 AM on March 29, 2016 [6 favorites]

Color me surprised. What many years' worth of these articles (man with power forces himself on women, everybody knows but nothing is done to stop him) plus a lifetime of observing sexism have taught me:

A) One woman does not equal one man --- if it's just one woman saying a guy abused/raped her, she's probably lying.
B) Three women do not equal one man --- all three women are probably lying; see: Jian Ghomeshi etc.
C) 20-30 women do not equal one man --- those women are all probably lying; see: Bill Cosby et al.

So how many women does it take to equal one man?!?
posted by easily confused at 7:20 AM on March 29, 2016 [16 favorites]

I'm kind of wondering what important controversies there are in poetry or moral outrages that the poetry community remains silent about

His poems don't rhyme.
posted by aaronetc at 7:24 AM on March 29, 2016 [2 favorites]

I've met Ellis, and this surprises me NOT AT ALL.

(That said, I found this whole writeup to be nearly impossible to follow-- and I actually know a few of the people involved, which you would think might make it easier? The author is asking for clarity of prose in accusations, but I found the whole narrative of this piece extremely tangled and hard to read.)

This is part of the problem with MFA programs deciding that being ~artistic~ means they can't be expected to act like professionals, or grown ups, or human beings. It is rampant, and it is really gross.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 7:24 AM on March 29, 2016 [4 favorites]

20-30 women do not equal one man --- those women are all probably lying; see: Bill Cosby et al.

I know it sometimes seems that way, but it strengthens people to know that there are a _lot_ of people who do listen, and who do take things seriously. If all we hear about is defeat and ignoring problems and doubting victims, it's a lot easier for everyone to stop trying. Talking about injustice does stoke the fires sometimes, but it also makes things seem impossible.

They aren't. Progress is happening, even if it is slower than it could be. Things are further along now than they were before. Stay balanced; please make sure the successes are honored and reported as much as the failures, or else people might give up just when they are most powerful.
posted by amtho at 7:48 AM on March 29, 2016

...This is not at all to minimize the seriousness of this kind of thing, or the need for continued effort.
posted by amtho at 7:49 AM on March 29, 2016

I share the writer's concern about using anonymous internet justice mobs, namely that they're open to abuse and might even hurt standard criminal justice proceedings.

At the same time, most of these women clearly (and logically) don't think standard criminal justice or even institutional care is there for them, and when people give up on the official system, they resort to other means.

And I'm also tired of We Must Not Lose This Great Man reasons for not slapping this shit down. There are so many talented, driven people (especially women!) in academia right now, and most of them aren't rapey creeps.

If every so-called Great Man in the humanities and sciences were sucked into the Phantom Zone tomorrow, their fields would go on and human discovery and achievement would continue.
posted by emjaybee at 8:51 AM on March 29, 2016 [11 favorites]

please make sure the successes are honored and reported as much as the failures a

as soon as they are equal in reality, they can be spoken of equally. as it happens, most survivors will never know justice. bill cosby is still a free man and will be until he dies. woody allen is still getting big amazon contracts and actors still line up to work with him. james deen is still working and has seemingly suffered little. most survivors will never know anything approaching justice as our abusers walk around free and unfettered. i don't think it's hopeless but i don't think tacking a smiley face on the reality of the situation does anyone any good.
posted by nadawi at 9:03 AM on March 29, 2016 [4 favorites]

See also: Artistic Directors in small theaters, everywhere.
posted by papercake at 10:02 AM on March 29, 2016

c.f. Jian Gomeshi.

(I had a hard time getting through this as well, at one point I thought the very judicious language was maybe simply very prudent, later I decided it was poor editing.)

These narratives need to be brought out. As a guy, I've known and/or seen 'that guy' more than once but I've never heard the follow up, never the details. Just that he was 'kind of shitty' or some other euphemism. It doesn't help, the elision - the truth must out. Cause us 'not shitty' guys generally fucking hate that guy and would be glad for the chance to hit him with the truth, to get in the way of his spreading more misery.
posted by From Bklyn at 10:06 AM on March 29, 2016

the problem is that many women have learned that 'not shitty' guys often support the shitty guy and explain to the women why they don't understand his sense of humor, or how awkward he is, or how they're sure he didn't mean it, or maybe we remember wrong. i trust and believe there are men out there who don't respond that way, but honestly the majority of men i've tried to explain things to do, and so i've learned to obscure the details in the company of men.
posted by nadawi at 10:10 AM on March 29, 2016 [10 favorites]

I'd like to say this is a surprise, but then how many literary books are there about important literary writers/professors who drink too much, smoke too much and sleep around with too many of their young nubile students.

Sometimes it can really sour me on a writer. Mostly thinking of my experience with Tim O'Brien and reading Tomcat in Love. I sense that he's being tongue in cheek, but when I read the book it just made me mad. Disappointing since I really loved The Things They Carried and Going After Cacciato.
posted by drewbage1847 at 11:55 AM on March 29, 2016 [3 favorites]

....I hadn't heard about Michael Gira of SWANS. Uggggggggh.
posted by Rev. Syung Myung Me at 12:28 PM on March 29, 2016

Oh, no. Tim O'Brian?
posted by jfwlucy at 1:19 PM on March 29, 2016

So how many women does it take to equal one man?!?

50. Aren't we calling this "Burress's Law" or something like that now?
posted by jenfullmoon at 1:45 PM on March 29, 2016

the problem is that many women have learned that 'not shitty' guys often support the shitty guy...

I understand, completely and I wish it were otherwise. But the stories have to come out so that a point of tacitly supporting the shitty guys is no longer excusable on account of ignorance.
posted by From Bklyn at 2:03 PM on March 29, 2016

then more men need to behave properly when women trust them enough to tell them things. i mean, this is a problem we have even in as great of a space as metafilter is - and by and large those are stories about men that the men here will never meet, yet too many still argue his side when a woman tells her story. it's insidious and we can't fix it alone. one suggestion is that if see a man sealioning a woman about her own harassment and abuse, step in and tell him to cut it out.
posted by nadawi at 2:14 PM on March 29, 2016 [5 favorites]

I thought Burress' Law was 50 women plus one man who believes them.
posted by Deoridhe at 6:51 PM on March 29, 2016 [2 favorites]

jfwlucy - Just to be clear - i have no information on Tim O'Brien being a cad - just that Tomcat in Love was such a perfect example of the whole genre of literary professors behaving badly that it discouraged me from picking up more of his work.
posted by drewbage1847 at 8:58 AM on March 30, 2016

" A deeply internalized sense of obligation". Yes.
posted by haikuku at 7:00 PM on March 31, 2016

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