On occasion I’ve wondered just where on earth Terminal Degree is teaching. Now we know: a Mordecai Richler novel from the 1970s. Just read her story. I’ve never been at an academic gathering that got that badly out of control. But, as she says, nothing good happens after midnight, and we all know what happens when you mix alcohol and musicians.
We’ll just sort of assume that Loud Guy’s future in academia doesn’t look too good. But still, Terminal is left with a decidedly icky after-the-party vibe that has to do with the fact that she was a woman being hassled in that way that guys always seem to want to hassle women — shoving a stinky handful of crude up under her nose and seeing what she’ll do. Terminal asks a bunch of questions for which I have no good answer, but which I’ll throw out there for Dial M’s perceptive readership:
Do you laugh to show you’re “one of the boys?”
Or do you act disgusted by every crude statement?
Or smile and understand that “boys will be boys”?
Do you risk looking like a prude and leaving when the conversation gets too rough?
Or do you ask a bunch of half-drunk (or, in Loud Guy’s case, very drunk) guys to remember that you’re in the room?
Or do you wait for one of the guys to be a gentleman and change the topic, rescuing you from the discomfort?
And if you’re a feminist, and usually a strong woman, shouldn’t you be able to handle it yourself?
And why the hell are they grabbing your leg, anyhow?
Oh, right. Because you’re the only female in the room. And since you laughed at the first off-color joke, and since you’re willingly hanging out as the lone female in a room of men, your body must not be off limits, right?
Gene Simmons put Terry Gross to the NPR interview version of this; it’s interesting how she dealt with it. I heard an interview with her about the notorious Gene Simmons incident, and she said that she couldn’t just say “oh my goodness, Mr. Simmons, what a terrible thing to say!,” because that would have been to fall into the trap that Simmons had laid for her. I have to say, listening to the show, she’s pretty tough, and I suspect that Simmons has tried to suppress this interview not because he feels sorry for what he said but because he got his ass kicked. Like MF Doom says, he picked the wrong thug to test. But of course she didn’t have Simmons grabbing her leg in a room full of drunks, so the situation isn’t exactly parallel to Terminal’s.
My teaching assistant for the undergraduate music history sequence at UT last year used to talk to me about how students would test her in a different way. I’ve heard this from other graduate students — if you’re a woman, undergrads are constantly testing you to see if you’ll push back. My undergrad music history class had about 70 students, and the lecture hall had about three times that many seats, and of course they would always sit at the very back, which I hate, so I made them sit only in the first six rows. After a week they did this without my having to tell them to. But every time I went out of town and my TA would take the class, they’d be sitting at the back again, and she’d have to bring them down to the front all over. Of course, students are always testing their teachers anyway, whether you’re a man or a woman or a prof or a grad student, but this little detail stuck in my mind, because nothing quite like it ever happened to me in all the years I was a TA back in graduate school. I’m wondering what your collective experience on this is.