“The foundations and the codes [on campuses] have been rewritten behind closed doorways such that the majority intercourse will be charged as one thing felony,” says feminist creator and Northwestern College movie professor Laura Kipnis. “It reinforces a conventional femininity that sees ladies as needing safety, sees ladies’s sexuality as one thing that’s endangering to them.”
Kipnis’ new e book is Undesirable Advances: Sexual Paranoia Involves Campus, which explores the madness of sexual conduct codes and attitudes at American universities. It grew out of Kipnis’ personal expertise of being investigated underneath Title IX of the Training Amendments Act at Northwestern for a 2015 essay she printed in The Chronicle of Larger Training.
She sat down with Purpose’s Nick Gillespie to speak about feminism, intercourse on campus, her private expertise with Title IX, the dismissal listening to of her former Northwestern colleague Peter Ludlow, which Kipnis has characterised as a “witch trial,” and her uneasy new alliance with conservative and libertarian teams.
Learn an excerpt from Unwanted Advances.
Watch Matt Welch’s 2015 interview with Kipnis.
Edited by Paul Detrick. Shot by Jim Epstein and Kevin Alexander.
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This is a rush transcript—check all quotes against the audio for accuracy.
Nick Gillespie: This book grows out of your 2015 inquisition for an article you wrote in the Chronicle of Higher Education of all places that some of your students said created a hostile workplace or invaded their safe space. The controlling metaphors in your book are McCarthyism, Satanic ritual, child abuse, witch trials. Summarize your case and why you are thinking about it in these terms?
Laura Kipnis: Okay, a slight correction, it wasn’t my students who brought me up on charges or marched against the article. It was other students who I had never met, which is to say it’s not all students and that’s something that gets forgotten. It’s a cadre of activists.
Nick Gillespie: And they were grad students, right?
Laura Kipnis: It was two grad students who brought me up on Title IX complaints. There had been this protest march before that against the first essay, which I think was largely undergrads. As far as the metaphors, this is something I have been thinking about and trying to puzzle out because I do think there’s this growing climate of sexual paranoia on campus that has fueled these Title IX inquisitions, partly because as people probably know the federal government, the Department of Education dictates that colleges and universities have to conduct these tribunals on campus, but to try to minimize or lower sexual assault and create an atmosphere on campus of gender equity. There are good reasons behind this and everybody does know that sexual assault has been a problem and oftentimes an unaddressed problem, so just to say all of that, but …
Nick Gillespie: Your piece, the first piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education, it was basically you were reflecting on your experience as an undergrad and grad student and a looser sexual morality on campus between students and professors or just more broadly … How can people, how could they get upset at that in the sense of somehow then you being on their campus was threatening?
Laura Kipnis: Yes, well part of the promise is I tend toward irony. You’re not supposed to be ironic about these things, so there had been this new regulation prohibiting professors and students from dating. Even if they were in different departments or different schools or different campuses, so I thought that went too far because we already had regulations against non-consensual sex, but this was prohibiting consensual relationships, which to my mind was addressed at women and at impeding women from doing things they might want to do. It was like a protectionist … I called it “feminist paternalism.” Around the same time there was all the stuff about trigger warnings going on and so I was writing about this atmosphere of regulation that I thought was infantilizing students as opposed to promoting their ability to function in the world after graduation.
Nick Gillespie: As a feminist, was it infantilizing all students or was it specifically kind of denying sexual agency to female students?