An argument for how the “recent upheavals in sexual culture on American campuses” are symptomatic of “officially sanctioned” sexual paranoia and hysteria.
Kipnis (Filmmaking/Northwestern Univ.; Men: Notes from an Ongoing Investigation, 2014, etc.) examines the sexual culture shift among millennial university students within an increasingly bureaucratized academic system. She argues that although sex culture today outwardly vaunts women’s choice to be as libertine as they wish, the reality is much more complex. Many women are using—and in Kipnis’ view, abusing—Title IX legislation designed to prevent sex discrimination in education as a way to “remedy sexual ambivalences or awkward sexual experiences, and to adjudicate relationships post-breakup.” Drawing on documented Title IX cases, interviews, and her own experiences, Kipnis delineates a world in which “witch hunt conditions” are now the new campus norm. In one case, a troubled female undergraduate used Title IX to take aim at a respected male professor, Peter Ludlow, at Northwestern. The student, Eunice Cho, alleged that he forced her to drink and submit to unwanted groping, two actions Cho claimed led to her suicide attempt. The episode, which later included accusations of improper behavior from a female graduate student who had been Ludlow’s lover, transformed his image into a rapist who used his power and personal charisma to target “vulnerable young women.” The author’s trenchant yet witty analysis reveals how the entrance of university administrators, each with his or her own agendas and vendettas, rendered a complex situation even murkier and more byzantine. Not only did the outcome—which included Ludlow's dismissal—reinforce stereotypical ideas about males as sexual predators and females as their prey. It also strengthened traditional ideas that women were victims with no agency of their own. Though the narrative occasionally reads like an academic gossip column, it never diminishes the problem of campus sexual assault, and the author reveals disturbing trends in university culture that merit further conversation.
As in all her books, Kipnis is consistently provocative and intelligent.