Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Almost-right advice

First up, Philip Galanes, answering the following:

My daughter lost her wallet on her college campus. Someone returned it to the campus police. (With all of its contents!) But when my daughter picked it up, the officer berated her for having a fake ID. Her driver’s license was in plain sight, so there was no need to rummage through the wallet. He told her possessing a fake ID was a crime, but he wasn’t going to charge her. (Is he even an actual police officer?) Instead, he would report her to the dean, who may put her on probation. I think he was way out of line; she wasn’t using the ID. You?
Galanes gets the essential right - the officer wasn't out of line. "[W]e’re not exactly talking about the march on Selma here." Indeed. It's not the job of police officers, campus or otherwise, to return illegal items to their rightful owners. I might have added an analogy - would you expect the campus police to return your lost cocaine, or whatever the kids are using these days*? No, you would not.

But Galanes also takes the opportunity to lecture the letter-writer on alcohol:
Of all the complexity surrounding the epidemic of campus sexual assault (for the “epidemic” angle, see the blunt new documentary “The Hunting Ground”; for the complexity, pick up anything by the brilliant scholar Catharine MacKinnon), one factor is really clear: booze. Rather than belittling the campus police, you should thank them. Underage drinking is not your daughter’s friend.
This, just... so many issues here. The first and most obvious is that "booze" doesn't magically start having a different impact on the body at 21 than it did at 20, and plenty of college students are drinking not just moderately but legally. Or is the idea that women shouldn't drink during college? Another: the absence of a fake ID hardly means underage drinking isn't taking place. Again, lots of college students are 21 and over - the notion that there'd be separate parties for classmates above and below the legal drinking age is one of the many absurdities of having it fall smack dab in the middle of traditional-college-age.

But the big one, of course, is the one Galanes is getting taken to task for elsewhere - he suggests that a woman who drinks is asking to get raped. I'd push this further and emphasize that he isn't just saying that getting blackout drunk is dangerous. He's saying that consumption of a non-zero amount of alcohol by 18-20-year-old adult women invites rape. It seems clear to me why this would be iffy even to those who are OK with the Emily Yoffe-type arguments against passing out at parties. That the drinking age is as high as it is may well be contributing to the interrelated problems of binge drinking and campus rape. (Lest you think that's a pro-libertine, out-there position, here's Ross Douthat saying the same thing.)

I get that in an advice column, there's a need for a life lesson. But why couldn't it have been one about how college students and their families shouldn't think they're above the law? About certain parenting choices, even of adult children, that encourage entitlement? It's like he almost arrives at that conclusion, but gets sidetracked.

Anyway, back to Yoffe. Here's a recent Prudie letter about interracial dating:
I am a black woman for whom culture, race, and politics are very important and sometimes painful subjects. I love my partner of two years very much. He is a white man in his late 30s who has very little experience with these matters, and our differing views have caused many arguments. Now we avoid the subject of my culture completely, and it is killing me that he does not understand this important part of who I am. Occasionally he will make generalizations and comments that I find worrying or insulting. He is not a racist, merely ignorant—he thinks we are all one as humans and should not pay attention to differences. If the playing field were equal between all people, I would agree with him, but it is not. Except for this, he is a sweet and gentle man—intelligent, trustworthy, and a blessing in my life. I love him, but I feel I am betraying my politics and community. Mostly, I just want to talk—but I can see why he avoids it, with all the shouting that’s happened. Help.
Yoffe, too, gets the essential correct - this guy is never going to know firsthand what it's like to be black, and if the obliviousness that's all but unavoidable in someone who hasn't personally experienced a certain form of bigotry (if, it sounds like, especially pronounced in dude) is a dealbreaker, the deal should be, well, broken. And what Yoffe says about the ability of someone who isn't Other in the same way you are to be "an oasis from the often troubling issues that you spend so much time on in the rest of your life" has more truth to it than some might want to admit. (To those who'd ask how I, a white person, could possibly know about such things, see the post below.) But there's also an aspect of this that comes up in all opposite-sex relationships - a man can never really get sexism (well, a man assigned male at birth, as the vast majority were), so the best a straight woman can generally hope for is a man who gets it when it's pointed out to him. Except... straight women are stuck dating men. This letter-writer is neither stuck dating white men nor stuck dating this white man.

Where Yoffe goes astray is in the last sentence: "Or you conclude having a partner who reflects your own views and experience is so central for you that you must let this good man go." It's there that she takes a stance that the letter-writer would be wrong to end the relationship for this reason. That's a man-shortage argument. (How much worse it is to make a man-shortage argument in reference to a black woman than to a woman whose race isn't specified I couldn't say.) Man-shortage arguments are ones that go like this: Men are so terribly hard to snag that if you've found one who doesn't beat you or drink away the paycheck, you should hang onto him for dear life. According to man-shortage theory, a woman should never dump/reject a man for reasons like, she's not attracted to him, she finds him boring, or - apparently - he holds incompatible views on a political issue with tremendous personal significance. Is this man "good"? It's advice-column cliché that a major complaint about a significant other will be accompanied by a disclaimer about how wonderful the person is. The disclaimer is there, but it doesn't sound as if she finds him all that wonderful.

*I'm trying to make sense of this article, a personal essay by a journalist, the takeaway of which is, as best as I can tell that she's simply too straight-edge (if that's still an expression) to properly report on campus drug use. Since when are journalists bragging about being too squeaky-clean for investigative reporting? Since when are newspapers encouraging journalists to confess to ineptitude? Why would you need to have used drugs to write about those who do? Why do readers need to know either way about a journalist's past drug use? And why the hedging about having never "really" been offered drugs in college? Is the issue that the author is - thank you, Google - a Kennedy, one of JFK's grandchildren, and thus someone born with a reputation to protect? (If nothing else, should that biographical detail make me feel better about having not been offered cool reporting assignments at 24 by any major publications?)

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