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Unwanted Advances: Sexual Paranoia Comes to Campus
     

Unwanted Advances: Sexual Paranoia Comes to Campus

by Laura Kipnis
 

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From a highly regarded feminist cultural critic and professor comes a polemic arguing that the stifling sense of sexual danger sweeping American campuses doesn’t empower women, it impedes the fight for gender equality.

Feminism is broken, argues Laura Kipnis, if anyone thinks the sexual hysteria overtaking American campuses is a sign of gender progress.

Overview

From a highly regarded feminist cultural critic and professor comes a polemic arguing that the stifling sense of sexual danger sweeping American campuses doesn’t empower women, it impedes the fight for gender equality.

Feminism is broken, argues Laura Kipnis, if anyone thinks the sexual hysteria overtaking American campuses is a sign of gender progress.

A committed feminist, Kipnis was surprised to find herself the object of a protest march by student activists at her university for writing an essay about sexual paranoia on campus. Next she was brought up on Title IX complaints for creating a "hostile environment." Defying confidentiality strictures, she wrote a whistleblowing essay about the ensuing seventy-two-day investigation, which propelled her to the center of national debates over free speech, "safe spaces," and the vast federal overreach of Title IX.

In the process she uncovered an astonishing netherworld of accused professors and students, campus witch hunts, rigged investigations, and Title IX officers run amuck. Drawing on interviews and internal documents, Unwanted Advances demonstrates the chilling effect of this new sexual McCarthyism on intellectual freedom. Without minimizing the seriousness of campus assault, Kipnis argues for more honesty about the sexual realities and ambivalences hidden behind the notion of "rape culture." Instead, regulation is replacing education, and women’s hard-won right to be treated as consenting adults is being repealed by well-meaning bureaucrats.

Unwanted Advances is a risk-taking, often darkly funny interrogation of feminist paternalism, the covert sexual conservatism of hook-up culture, and the institutionalized backlash of holding men alone responsible for mutually drunken sex. It’s not just compulsively readable, it will change the national conversation.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times - Jennifer Senior
[Unwanted Advances] is invigorating and irritating, astute and facile, rigorous and flippant, fair-minded and score-settling, practical and hyperbolic, and maybe a dozen other neurotically contradictory things. Above all else, though, Unwanted Advances is necessary. Argue with the author, by all means. But few people have taken on the excesses of university culture with the brio that Kipnis has. Her anger gives her argument the energy of a live cable.
The New York Times Book Review - Jill Filipovic
[Unwanted Advances]…is polemical and often outrageous…And yet I loved reading it. Kipnis's book is maddening; it's also funny, incisive and often convincing. Her observations on "the learned compliance of heterosexual femininity," how campus hookup culture remains "organized around male prerogatives" and the necessity of allowing ambiguity to exist in sexual relationships reframe feminist visions of consent, sex and male sexual entitlement…Kipnis pushes her argument beyond the realm of what's reasonable in part, it seems, for professorial aims—to force readers to really consider their position and to see if they can fully defend it, or at least to think beyond feminist platitudes. It is a discomfiting process, and surely many feminists will come away, as I did, deeply disagreeing with her; others will, as I did, nonetheless find her book a persuasive and valuable contribution to the continuing debate over how to deal with sexual assault on college campuses.
Publishers Weekly
02/13/2017
In this courageous, thought-provoking polemic, Kipnis (Men: Notes from an Ongoing Investigation), a feminist cultural critic and professor at Northwestern University, targets the overzealousness of Title IX investigations on college campuses and shows how they’re undermining academic freedom, free speech, and gender equality. After being at the center of a 72-day Title IX investigation herself (the author was accused of creating a “hostile environment” on campus following the publication of her essay on sexual paranoia in the Chronicle of Higher Education), Kipnis uncovered a “netherworld of accused professors and students, rigged investigations, closed-door hearings, and Title IX officers run amok.” The book focuses on one investigation of a well=known philosophy professor at Northwestern University, but Kipnis draws in numerous other examples to highlight the current climate of “criminalization” of sex on campus due to the 2011 expansion of Title IX’s mandate to encompass sexual misconduct. The guidelines for this are vague, leading to unfair trials where investigators aren’t accountable to anyone. She argues for more honesty about the sexual realties on campuses. Without diminishing the gravity of sexual assault, Kipnis’s readable and judiciously reported work illustrates how the “sex-as-danger preoccupation on campuses now” is infantilizing women rather than empowering them. Agent: P.J. Mark, Janklow & Nesbit. (Apr.)
Terry Castle
“Laura Kipnis has written a brave, disturbing, yet scrupulously fair book: a brilliant and pragmatic manifesto for a kind of ‘adult’ feminism that rejects the campus cult of female victimhood.”
William Deresiewicz
“...Kipnis is everything the academic bureaucrats she writes about are not: brave, honest, judicious, mature, and self-aware, with a seasoned understanding of both sexual politics and campus politics. She has struck a mighty blow for sanity, equality, and academic freedom.”
Meghan Daum
“...[C]hilling, shocking, meticulously reported, eminently readable, and in places perversely hilarious...most of all it is a crucial piece of a burgeoning conversation about threats to free speech and intellectual freedom on college campuses...Kipnis’s voice is as clarion as her insights are astute.”
Hanna Rosin
“Laura Kipnis’s new book is a revelation: a great work of investigative journalism and a thorough examination of a case that feels like it couldn’t happen in America... Kipnis makes you fear for a whole new set of reasons.”
Lawrence Weschler
“This book is harrowing; this book is hilarious (like Dorothy Parker channeling Franz Kafka); but the main thing it is is BRAVE. On top of which, it is urgently necessary.”
BookForum
“A wry, pragmatic analysis…The greatest pleasure Unwanted Advances affords comes from Kipnis’ keen sense of human psychology.”
Jennifer Senior
Unwanted Advances is necessary. Argue with the author, by all means. But few people have taken on the excesses of university culture with the brio that Kipnis has.”
Jill Filipovic
“I loved reading [Unwanted Advances]…force[s] readers to really consider their position and to see if they can fully defend it, or at least to think beyond feminist platitudes…a persuasive and valuable contribution to the continuing debate over how to deal with sexual assault on college campuses.”
Bookshelf
“....riveting read...,Unwanted Advances is a bracing book, its message delivered with fierce intelligence and mordant humor.”:
Geoff Dyer
“Clarity of expression and the uncompromising vehemence of her thoughts make Kipnis the best polemical investigator writing today, which both sells her short and raises an unexpected question: how come reading her, however uncomfortable or complex the subject, is always such a tremendous pleasure?”
Salon.com
’It is precisely the gray where Kipnis summons her strongest stroke, swimming the murkiest depths of our sexual psyches...Even if the current is choppy and the shore miles off, the journey seems more important than ever, and one feels grateful to tread behind her.’
Library Journal
03/01/2017
Kipnis writes sharply and presents valid points, but they're hamstrung by the text's tendency to drift into statements that sound uncomfortably close to excusing the mind-sets and behaviors that allow sexual assaults to continue.--Kathleen McCallister, Tulane Univ., New Orleans
Kirkus Reviews
2017-02-06
An argument for how the "recent upheavals in sexual culture on American campuses" are symptomatic of "officially sanctioned" sexual paranoia and hysteria.Kipnis (Filmmaking/Northwestern Univ.; Men: Notes from an Ongoing Investigation, 2014, etc.) examines the sexual culture shift among millennial university students within an increasingly bureaucratized academic system. She argues that although sex culture today outwardly vaunts women's choice to be as libertine as they wish, the reality is much more complex. Many women are using—and in Kipnis' view, abusing—Title IX legislation designed to prevent sex discrimination in education as a way to "remedy sexual ambivalences or awkward sexual experiences, and to adjudicate relationships post-breakup." Drawing on documented Title IX cases, interviews, and her own experiences, Kipnis delineates a world in which "witch hunt conditions" are now the new campus norm. In one case, a troubled female undergraduate used Title IX to take aim at a respected male professor, Peter Ludlow, at Northwestern. The student, Eunice Cho, alleged that he forced her to drink and submit to unwanted groping, two actions Cho claimed led to her suicide attempt. The episode, which later included accusations of improper behavior from a female graduate student who had been Ludlow's lover, transformed his image into a rapist who used his power and personal charisma to target "vulnerable young women." The author's trenchant yet witty analysis reveals how the entrance of university administrators, each with his or her own agendas and vendettas, rendered a complex situation even murkier and more byzantine. Not only did the outcome—which included Ludlow's dismissal—reinforce stereotypical ideas about males as sexual predators and females as their prey. It also strengthened traditional ideas that women were victims with no agency of their own. Though the narrative occasionally reads like an academic gossip column, it never diminishes the problem of campus sexual assault, and the author reveals disturbing trends in university culture that merit further conversation. As in all her books, Kipnis is consistently provocative and intelligent.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780062657862
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
04/04/2017
Pages:
256
Sales rank:
64,441
Product dimensions:
5.70(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.70(d)

Meet the Author

Laura Kipnis is a cultural critic and a professor at Northwestern University, where she teaches filmmaking. She is the author of six previous books, including Against Love: A Polemic and Men: Notes from an Ongoing Investigation. She has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and Yaddo, among others, and has written for Slate, Harper’s, the New York Times Magazine, the New York Times Book Review, and Bookforum. Her essay “Sexual Paranoia Strikes Academe” was included in The Best American Essays 2016, edited by Jonathan Franzen. She lives in New York and Chicago.

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