Feminist Accused of Sexual Harassment
Halfway through this remarkable and peculiar book, the feminist academic Jane Gallop tells a story about two dazzlingly brilliant professors who were on her dissertation committee when she was in graduate school in the mid-Seventies, and whom “I did my utmost to seduce.” The men were reluctant at first: “Both of them turned me down, more than once.” However, “over the years, I did what I could to sway them. Trying not to be too obnoxious, I watched for opportunities that might present themselves, prepared to take advantage and press my suit.” Finally, both men bowed to the fate better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick. “I had sex but once with each of them,” Gallop reports. “Neither of these became a ‘relationship.’ It was just what is called ‘casual sex.”’ She adds, “To be honest, I think I wanted to get them into bed in order to make them more human, more vulnerable…. I was bowled over by their brilliance; they seemed so superior. I wanted to see them naked, to see them as like other men.” And, most important of all,
Screwing these guys definitely did not keep me from taking myself seriously as a student. In fact, it seemed to make it easier for me to write. Seducing them made me feel kind of cocky and that allowed me to presume I had something to say worth saying.
The occasion for this reminiscence—and for the writing of Feminist Accused of Sexual Harassment itself—was a scandal at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee in 1992. Two women graduate students filed charges of sexual harassment against Gallop, claiming that she had tried to seduce them and, when she failed to do so, had retaliated by harshly criticizing the work of one and refusing to write letters of recommendation for the other. Gallop denied the charges and was eventually cleared of them. After a long investigation, the university found no evidence that Gallop had attempted to get the students into bed with her or that she had dealt with their work unfairly. But in the case of one of the women the university found Gallop guilty of violating a rule forbidding “consensual amorous relations” between professors and students and put a black mark on her record.
Gallop, as may be gathered from her encounter with the two professors, is not one to meekly accept defeat. As she wore down the professors’ resistance, she gamely goes to work on the reader to whom the merits of her idea of pedagogy as a sort of Sixties love-in may not be immediately apparent. “I sexualize the atmosphere in which I work,” Gallop writes with the matter-of-factness with which another teacher might speak of charts and slides. Further, she calmly tells us, she habitually forms intense, sexy, even sexual relationships with certain of her students. Her extracurricular activities with students have ranged from shopping for clothes to going to bed. Although she actually stopped sleeping with students in …