Appalling feminist reaction to harassment claims

Avital Ronell, a world-renowned female professor of German and Comparative Literature at New York University, was found responsible for sexually harassing a male former graduate student, Nimrod Reitman.

A group of colleagues, including Judith Butler, has written a letter in her support that looks just exactly like the crap that has been used to dismiss sexual harassment claims for decades.

“We testify to the grace, the keen wit, and the intellectual commitment of Professor Ronell and ask that she be accorded the dignity rightly deserved by someone of her international standing and reputation,” the professors wrote.

Professor Ronell also does precisely what all the sexual harassers do, and claims that he’s inventing this “because he just wasn’t smart enough. “His main dilemma was the incoherency in his writing, and lack of a recognizable argument.” ”

The parallels to all the other cases I’ve been involved with are striking and clear. A powerful person is found to have* abused her power over a subordinate. She is now retaliating, and her powerful peers are closing ranks to insist that she is so famous and talented that she should be above the law. She should not.

Read more details of the case here.

*Actually, this is the one bit that’s rarer. All too often, they get away with it entirely.

11 thoughts on “Appalling feminist reaction to harassment claims

  1. That is interesting. I don’t know why it should be surprising that a woman in power might sexually harass subordinate. I suppose it’s because I am sort of inherently attached to the male oppressor narrative.

    So I appreciate the opportunity to be able to confront my own biases. Thx.

  2. I’m struck by the narrowness of our assessments of other people’s natures. The letter writers, and many of us (including me) who hear accusations against someone whose work we respect or whom we like, think that our own experience with the accused person is sufficient to allow us to rule out the possibility of their behavior badly with other people or at least to doubt that the bad behavior took place. It seems hard for us to imagine that someone we approve of in one set of contexts could act wrongly in another context. We have a touchingly simple-minded idea of people’s consistency.

    Another parallel is the idea that the victim misunderstood the “joke”, or that the interchanges were consensual. The alleged perpetrator is unaware that there was any problem. Indeed. That lack of awareness is itself a problem.

    Another parallel is the difficulty people have in saying “I’m sorry”. Why is that so hard? Say “I’m sorry.” Say “I was wrong to do what I did.”

    The appeal to the alleged perpetrator’s intellectual achievements is beneath contempt, not to mention irrelevant.

  3. ‘The Title IX Report concluded that there was not enough evidence to find Prof. Ronell responsible for sexual assault, partly because no one else observed the interactions in his apartment or her room in Paris.” That is a puzzling sentence. Does NYU require corroboration?

  4. Not surprising is it that the one who doesn’t get away is a self-identified queer woman. As the claimant is also gay (and the holder of a fellowship at Harvard, not too shabby), there is a lot that does not compute and that might even be interpreted as mean-spirited. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if a simulated mother-child relationship is what was really going on here.

  5. I’ve been following this story mostly because of the sheer irony of it in the post-Weinstein age. I think the most important point in this post, one I’ve not seen enough of, is that these harassment, abuse and assault situations are ultimately about power relationships.

  6. Ah, Professor Butler. First with the Hypatia Letter, and now here, we can always count on you to do right.

    Whoops, I was thinking of someone else.

  7. Avital Ronell and Asia Argento revelations on essentially the same day. Do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do has killed the #Metoo movement.Thank you Hippocrates.

  8. Thank you. Real women are tough enough and honest enough to face facts. “Feminists” who reflexively defend an abusive woman based only on style points discredit on the larger group.

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