Saturday, July 10, 2010

Chapter 5

Tiffany Rodriguez, dressed as usual in a long pair of jeans, t-shirt, and an unbuttoned long-sleeve flannel shirt, was sitting at her desk in her dorm looking through the latest issue of The New Dominion. She was, she knew, just postponing work on a problem that she hadn't yet figured out how to solve.

Tiffany was a senior majoring in Spanish and minoring in women's studies. She would have majored in women's studies, but there was no such major or department at NDU. The minor was known as an "interdisciplinary" one with courses and faculty drawn from several established departments. This was all the resources, Professor Ann Sweezy had told the students in the Introduction to Women's Studies class Tiffany had taken with her, which the patriarchy running the university would give to this emerging new field which it saw as a threat.

This semester, Tiffany was taking Professor Sweezy's upper division class on Current Issues in Women's Studies. This was going fine, which was not surprising: Tiffany was a serious--a very serious--student. The women's studies minor, though, also required students to enroll in an Experiential Learning in Women's Studies practicum. This was not a regular course per se, but was to be taken concurrently with a regular women's studies course. The student was required to become involved in a community- or campus-based service project which would enable the development of "competencies" in the women's studies field. A paper describing the project and what the student had learned from it was required for the practicum.

Tiffany had no problem writing papers. She was having trouble, though, identifying a project to work on related to the Current Issues in Women's Studies class. Tiffany had asked Professor Sweezy for ideas, but she refused to help, insisting that Tiffany come up with a project on her own. She had said that Tiffany was too academic and needed to become more practical. It was people with practical skills who would be the ones to advance women's causes.

Tiffany attributed Professor Sweezy's emphasis on practicality to her background in public administration. The problem for Tiffany, though, was time. She was already taking a full load of courses and working over twenty hours a week. She simply didn't have the time to serve as an unpaid volunteer for any university offices or community groups dealing with women's issues as several of the other students in the class were doing. Further, the Experiential Learning in Women's Studies practicum specifically excluded projects for which a student received payment. Being paid was allowed in the Internship in Women's Studies, but unlike the practicum which was required for the minor, internships were elective.

What Tiffany really wanted was to design a project that would benefit specific women--maybe even just one woman. She was a little skeptical about some of the projects that other women in the class (everyone in the class happened to be female) were working on which purported to help women in general, even if just in the community or on campus. Tiffany's academic nature led her to question whether volunteer work for a semester in an ongoing program would provide "added value" that would not accrue otherwise, and how this could be measured even if it did. She wanted to prove that she really was practical--more practical, in fact, than the other women in the class who were less academically sophisticated than Tiffany (surely Professor Sweezy could see this). Of course, she wasn't sure what the practicum projects were that all the other students in the class were doing. A few, like that overbearing Tricia Raditz who was in charge of The New Dominion, were being very secretive about theirs. That was not very sisterly.

Whatever they were doing, however, time was slipping away from Tiffany. Professor Sweezy told her after class today that she had to come up with something by next week or drop the practicum. But what?

Tiffany's thoughts were suddenly interrupted when her roommate, Cindy McMann, burst into the room. "That Barnes is a bastard!" she announced in a bitter voice. Cindy then threw herself onto her bed, sobbing.

Tiffany quickly got up from her chair and closed the door to their room. "Cindy, what happened?" she asked with concern.

Cindy picked herself up and sat cross-legged on her bed. Slightly calmer now, she launched into her story. "Remember the midterm I showed you on which he so unfairly gave me a B+?"

Tiffany went and sat on the edge of her own bed, nodding her head in acknowledgement.

"Well, I went to his office to confront him about it," Cindy continued, "and he just ridiculed me!"

"What did he say to you?" asked Tiffany, her eyes growing wide.

"Well, when I first told him that I wasn't satisfied with the grade he gave me, he just snapped back saying he wasn't satisfied with my exam. Then when I told him that you had read it over and that you said it was good, he just laughed at me and asked, `Who's the professor--her or me?'"

Tiffany wished Cindy had not mentioned her name to Professor Barnes. Yes, she had read Cindy's midterm over after it had been returned to her, and yes, she had said she thought it was good. But she had also emphasized that she thought Cindy should go talk to him and seek advice on how to improve her writing. Tiffany, in fact, saw the point of Professor Barnes's comment at the end of Cindy's exam calling for less description and more analysis. Tiffany had not said this herself to Cindy out of fear that they would get into an argument--as they had this past Sunday. Besides, Tiffany was not Cindy's professor; it was Barnes's job to give her guidance about her writing, not Tiffany's. But not through ridiculing her!

"He kept telling me," Cindy continued, "that I needed to write analytically, not descriptively. But instead of telling me clearly what `writing analytically' means, he just confused me--deliberately!"

"How do you mean?" asked Tiffany. She really was fond of Cindy. Cindy, of course, was not Tiffany's intellectual equal, and Cindy knew it. Tiffany realized that she wouldn't have liked her as much--indeed, not much at all--if Cindy hadn't known this. Cindy, though, seemed happy to look up to, seek advice from, and admire Tiffany in the intellectual realm--something that Tiffany found deeply satisfying. But Tiffany also admired Cindy. If left to her own devices, Tiffany knew that she would have little--if any--social life. Cindy, though, met people easily and attracted a stream of visitors to their room, some of whom Tiffany became friends with too. Tiffany knew that she would never have met them if Cindy had not been her roommate, and so Tiffany was grateful for her friendship. Nevertheless, Cindy's sociability was not always something positive as far as Tiffany was concerned. In fact, it had been the cause of their confrontation this past Sunday.

Cindy had a boyfriend. That didn't bother Tiffany, but what did was feeling pressured by Cindy to leave their room when he came to visit so that the two of them could be alone--obviously to have sex. This was not a situation Tiffany was used to. The woman she had roomed with during her first two years at NDU had not had a boyfriend; she and Tiffany would still be roommates except that she transferred to UVA. Tiffany's roommate last year did have a boyfriend, but she had always gone to visit him at his place; they were now living together.

The situation that arose with Cindy, then, was not one Tiffany had been prepared for. Each Saturday evening since the start of this school year, Tiffany had felt pressured to leave the room--sometimes quite late at night--when Cindy and her boyfriend had begun kissing on Cindy's bed. They had not actually asked her to leave. Indeed, they didn't even seem to be aware that she was still there. Each time, though, Tiffany had announced that she was going to the library and left--partly out of fear that they would copulate right there in front of her if she didn't. And each time she had been so angry at feeling pressured to leave her room when she hadn't wanted to that she couldn't do any studying, but just sat in the current periodicals section of the library looking through feminist journals. Each time there had also been the little problem of trying to calculate when it was safe to return. She tried to telephone, but Cindy had always turned her cell phone off, and so all Tiffany would get was her voice mail. This either meant that Cindy was still busy with her boyfriend and Tiffany should stay away, or that they had finished, Cindy was asleep, and Tiffany could go back.

Each time, Tiffany had returned to the dorm precisely after one hour, knocked softly on the door, and quietly re-entered their room when there was no answer. Luckily, the boyfriend had left and Cindy was asleep on each occasion. But then Tiffany felt annoyed because, after Cindy had inconvenienced her, she now felt she had to tiptoe around the room so as not to waken her. Tiffany's anger would then keep her lying awake for hours and would still be there the next morning, freshly aroused by Cindy waking up in an annoyingly happy mood.

Tiffany would never have done this to Cindy. Of course, Tiffany did not have--had never had or even felt the desire for--a boyfriend, and so was not in a position to do unto Cindy what Cindy had done unto her. It's not that she had ruled out having a boyfriend. But she certainly would never have one whom she considered to be her intellectual inferior. She had never met a male, though, who wasn't. Nor did males ever seem to recognize this deficiency in themselves--which, of course, was the most obvious proof of its existence.

In addition, Tiffany was frightened about the possibility of contracting AIDS. She recognized that males were so obsessed with sex that they would do anything--even risk contracting AIDS--to get it. She did not, though, understand how women could be--it had to be acknowledged--promiscuous. Tiffany had never felt such an overwhelming desire for sex that she would seek it no matter what the possible consequences. That was just not sensible. Such urges could and should be controlled.

Finally, she had too much studying and work to accomplish at this point in her life. A boyfriend--even one with progressive views--would at best be a distraction. What she really feared, though, was that a "boyfriend" would turn out to be a "boyenemy" and try to prevent her from accomplishing all the things she needed to accomplish. That's what men did to women. This had been demonstrated to her repeatedly both through the readings and lectures in her women's studies classes as well as her own personal observation. Why didn't Cindy seem to understand something as basic as this?

"At first he told me," said Cindy, "that he wanted me to tell him what I thought about Hobbes's theory of international relations. But later he said he didn't care what my opinion about Hobbes was."

The blowup had come on Sunday when Cindy's boyfriend (Tiffany could not--would not--remember his name) came back to their room. Tiffany was determined that she was not going to be forced out two days in a row. As the two of them began kissing on Cindy's bed, Tiffany continued to work on her computer at her desk. When after a few minutes Cindy asked if it wasn't time for her to go to the library, Tiffany had turned around and said, "I think it's high time you two went there--and maybe did some reading up about AIDS." Cindy and her boyfriend, obviously embarrassed, quickly got up and left the room.

Two hours later, Cindy returned alone, and the two of them had then exchanged angry words. Cindy had criticized Tiffany for not leaving the room earlier that day; Tiffany had said that pressuring her to leave the room on several occasions was far ruder. Cindy had accused Tiffany of being jealous of her for having a boyfriend, and of being too stiff to ever have one herself.

Cindy later apologized for having made Tiffany feel pressured to leave the room in the past (Cindy, much to Tiffany's amazement, said that she hadn't realized this bothered her), and promised that it wouldn't happen again. They agreed to put the episode behind them. Still, some of the things Cindy had said about her had stung.

"Oh, and you know what else he said?" Cindy continued. "He said that the view that women are inferior to men is just as valid as the view that women are equal to men. Can you believe that?"

Tiffany's eyes opened wider. Up to now, she thought that Cindy had been overreacting, even if Professor Barnes appeared to have been rude. But this was different. This was serious. It was an affront to all women. "I can't believe he'd say something that blatant!" commented Tiffany.

"And do you know what else he did?" asked Cindy. "He put his fucking hand on my shoulder! Can you believe that?"

Yes, Tiffany could believe it. It was a very pretty shoulder, especially bare like it was in the sleeveless top Cindy was wearing. "No!" exclaimed Tiffany. "He touched you like that? Was the door open?"

Cindy thought for a moment. "No, it was closed."

Tiffany knew that this was extremely serious--too serious not to do something about. "Cindy," she said solemnly, "that was a sexual assault. Professor Barnes assaulted you sexually."

Cindy looked puzzled. "I...I'm not sure..."

"Oh, come on, Cindy!" Tiffany interrupted. "A male professor touches a female student on the shoulder--on her bare shoulder--in his office with the door closed when she came to ask him to raise her midterm grade? That's a classic quid pro quo case."

"Quid pro quo?" asked Cindy.

Poor Cindy! She really wasn't very bright, thought Tiffany. But that's exactly why she needed to be protected. "You know: `You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours.' By touching your shoulder, he was signaling that he would change your grade---for a price."

"Yeah?" asked Cindy.

"Of course!" said Tiffany in exasperation. "What else?" She thought of something else. "What did you do when he touched you?"

"I...I got up and left," replied Cindy.

"Good for you!" Tiffany praised her. "But look, Cindy, this isn't over yet. You're still in his class. He might either make this little proposal again or he might retaliate against you for not giving him what he obviously wants. You've got to put a stop to him--not just for yourself, but for all women. Because you know that if he's done this to you, he's probably done it to other sisters too."

"Maybe I should file a complaint," said Cindy. She suddenly laughed. "I overheard him say that he is going up for tenure this year. I wouldn't mind doing something to mess that up for him!"

"So he's going up for tenure, is he? That's important to know," observed Tiffany. "It means we have some leverage over him. I know that once they get tenure, it's almost impossible to get rid of them no matter what they do. If something is going to be done about Barnes, it has to be done now."

"Perhaps I should say something to the chair of the Political Science Department, Dr. Silverstein," mused Cindy. "She's a woman! I had gone to her office to complain about Barnes just after leaving his office. She was in some meeting. I waited fifteen minutes until it was over, but then she ran out saying she couldn't talk to me because she was late for something else. I'll call her office now and make an appointment."

"Forget her!" Tiffany said emphatically. "Professor Sweezy told us in class that Silverstein had sold out to the patriarchy here long ago. Why else would the male powers-that-be let her become chair of the department? They put her there, Professor Sweezy told us, because she was willing to keep other women down."

Cindy laughed again. "I'm not surprised if the male powers-that-be don't consider her a threat, considering Silverstein looks more like a man than a woman," she said.

Tiffany frowned. She wished she could teach Cindy that for a woman to criticize another woman's appearance was neither progressive nor sisterly. Tiffany and Professor Sweezy, by contrast, had criticized Silverstein on principle, so that, of course, was different. But Tiffany decided not to take this up with Cindy just now: she had to go one step at a time with her.

"Let me show you something," said Tiffany who then got up from her bed, picked up the copy of The New Dominion from her desk, and sat next to Cindy with it on the other bed. "Have you seen this yet?" asked Tiffany, showing Cindy the inside back page of the paper. There was a quarter page ad that read, "Report sexual assault and other unwanted sexual behavior to the Sexual Assault Services Office" along with its room number in the Student Union Building, phone number, and e-mail address.

Cindy took the paper in her hands, giving the ad a cursory glance. She then closed the page over and looked at the very back page. "Hey, look at this!"

The outside back page was done up to look like a wanted poster from the days of the "Wild West." Instead of reading, "Wanted!" however, the banner headline at the top read, "UNWANTED!" In smaller type underneath appeared, "Sexual Predators at NDU Revealed!" And in smaller type still was printed, "The female staff of The New Dominion witnessed the following cries of pain written on the walls and the stalls of the women's lavatories at NDU."

And below this in quotation marks:

"Brian Smith is a rapist!"

"Oscar Garcia is stalking me!"

"Charles Truehart fondled me!"

At the bottom of the page was printed, "Don't tolerate unwanted sexual behavior! Out it!"

"I don't fucking believe it!" shouted Cindy.

"It's a sad comment on what women have to endure here," observed Tiffany. "You see, you're not alone."

"Did you see this about Charles Truehart?" asked Cindy.

"Is he someone you know?" asked Tiffany.

"Surely you haven't forgotten," said Cindy. "He's my boyfriend! But it looks like he's been hitting on someone else at the same time! God, men are all assholes!"

Tiffany was embarrassed. Yes, of course: that was his name. Secretly, though, she was glad that he had been "outed." Now Cindy would no longer be entertaining him in their dorm room.

"You know what I think?" asked Tiffany. "I think you should report this incident with Professor Barnes to the Sexual Assault Services Office. If you like, I can go over with you to lend moral support. Do you want me to call and make an appointment?"

Cindy nodded her head. While Tiffany talked on the phone, she just sat on her bed staring at the unwanted poster page. After putting the phone down, Tiffany came back over to where Cindy was sitting. "It's all set!" she said cheerfully. "You have an appointment next week!"

And, Tiffany thought, she herself finally had a project for her women's studies practicum, one that she knew Professor Sweezy would approve of: helping guide Cindy through this sexual assault crisis she was experiencing.