Yesterday, in “Higher Ed Hotline” I bit off more than I could chew by taking on the vexed but always fascinating subject of free speech in the academy. One post on that topic is not enough, and I expected to return to it at some point. But I didn’t think it would be this soon, or so intimately connected to the raison d’etre of “Call Me Miss”; colleges and universities being what they are, though, for bloggers in search of something to write about, campuses are simply gifts that keep on giving.
You may have read here or here about the Columbia University professor, male, who punched a female Columbia staff member in the eye. Over drinks. In a bar. At the zenith of a lively discussion about race and “white privilege.” The professor is black and the staffer is white. But that’s about all that is black and white about this lopsided slug fest. Just for fun, let’s establish the hierarchy of victimhood. The professor gets plus points for being African American, for teaching urban planning and for having been an “activist” in his youth. He even gets points for his manhood, given the scarcity of black men in higher education in general. But he loses points for holding senior academic rank and a named professorship at an Ivy League institution, giving him significant power real and perceived over the likes of a mere staff member. The staff member (was she punch drunk? I don’t know.) of course loses points for the privileged color of her skin, but makes up the deficit by being female, single, and outranked by the professor. So here we must give the edge, victimhoodwise, to the woman.
Would the professor have used his fists to make his points if his interlocutor had been a man? Or a woman in the company of a spouse or partner? My guess is, no, he would not have. Is a right hook to the cornea what a woman can expect if she has the temerity to voice an opinion? I guess so.
This unfortunate incident is a cartoonish example of how difficult it is for single women to make their voices heard in our society. Although most of us are fortunate enough that the threat of physical violence does not keep our mouths shut, woe be it to one of us who ventures a strongly worded opinion on a subject deemed off limits for people of our persuasion, i.e., spinsters. Our views on children are treated with careless dismissiveness at best. Our narratives of solo travels met with indulgent half-smiles until the conversation can revert to where it belongs, little Susie’s soccer match or son Johnnie’s lacrosse game. And for goodness sake, if you are single, don’t you dare complain about the cost of living or the debilitating effects of property taxes. What can you possible know of economic hardship? You get to spend all your money on yourself!
Dimly lit, wood-paneled hotel bars are among my favorite places. I’ve never seen fisticuffs erupt in any of these watering holes, and I doubt I ever will. But just in case, along with my New Republic and Spectator, next time I visit the Oak Bar I’ll bring along my boxing gloves.