Saturday, July 17, 2010

Chapter 6

Ellen Stenkovsky, the director of the Sexual Assault Services Office (or SASO, as insiders called it), was sitting on a toilet, with her pants and panties down around her ankles, in the woman's lavatory on the third floor of the Student Union Building. This, however, was just for cover in case anyone came in while she was there. It was ironic, Ellen thought, that it was sometimes necessary for her to bare her ass in order to cover it. For Ellen had not come there to use the toilet. She had come there instead to further the revolution--the women's revolution. And the weapon she would use to do this, as she had before, was the black felt tipped marker she was holding in her right hand.

There were plenty of women here at NDU who were women's rights activists. But they were not revolutionaries. In comparing the women's movement at the dawn of the twenty-first century to the socialist movement at the beginning of the twentieth, as Ellen was fond of doing, she saw most of the women's rights activists of today as being the equivalent of yesterday's social democrats. These people believed what they were doing was revolutionary, but they were really only reformists who worked within the established system. Yet how much progress could women make if they played by the rules set by reactionary males to perpetuate their own patriarchy? Not much, Ellen knew, especially when so many women sold out to the patriarchy by accepting positions of authority within it.

Ellen, though, could see through this: most of these positions possessed very little real authority. But by gratifying the egos of those women chosen to fill them, the patriarchy usually succeeded in turning them into defenders of the status quo system which had promoted them. And those few women who filled positions that really were powerful were chosen primarily for their willingness to keep other women in subjugation.

Unlike these social democrats of the women's movement, Ellen was the equivalent of a Leninist--a true revolutionary who knew that no real progress for women could be made just playing by the rules of the patriarchal system. Whatever space allowed to women by the patriarchy, of course, had to be exploited to the maximum. But there was no reason for a true revolutionary to allow the patriarchy's rules--which were illegitimate anyway--to limit her activity. It was obvious to Ellen, if not to the mere social democrats of the women's movement, that if the patriarchy maintained its dominance over women by means of the rules it had established, then the revolution was going to have to smash those rules in order to end its dominance. And that is exactly what Ellen was doing there in that stall in the women's lavatory.

But like a good Leninist, Ellen was a realist. She knew that there were limits on what the women's revolutionary movement could accomplish at present. There was no question of actually seizing control of the state, as Lenin and the Bolsheviks had done. This, however, was where she parted company with Lenin--who, no matter what he accomplished as a revolutionary, had still been a male. It was not necessary for the women's revolution to succeed by seizing control of the state in the violent, messy sort of revolution that men typically perpetrated. For in addition to everything else, the women's revolution embodied a revolution in how to make revolution! It would occur through women seizing the initiative in gender discourse, through ignoring the rules the patriarchy had established to maintain its dominance, and by creating a new matriarchal order--situation by situation, institution by institution--until one day women would control everything in the world that was worth controlling.

Ellen's battlefield was NDU. Like everywhere else, the women's revolution at NDU faced three obstacles: 1) an entrenched patriarchy--headed here by President Michaelson; 2) co-opted women who helped prop it up--such as Ruth Silverman, the chair of the Political Science Department; and 3) ineffective, play-by-the-rules, "social democrat" type women's activists--such as Ann Sweezy. Then there were women, such as Provost Jeannette Bobier (who was in charge of, among many other things, the Sexual Assault Services Office which Ellen directed) who switched back and forth between being a women's rights activist (though only, of course, of the play-by-the-rules variety) challenging the patriarchy on the one hand and defending it on the other, as her own personal career interests dictated.

Ellen was not sure what to make of the provost. It had been Bobier, after all, who had chosen Ellen, out of many applicants, to become director of SASO. But the provost was, Ellen knew, extremely stingy when it came time each year for her to allocate SASO's budget for the following year. Nor was the provost predictable when she reviewed appeals of decisions made on cases decided upon by the Sexual Assault Complaint Review Committee, which Ellen served as an ex officio member of. Sometimes Bobier upheld the committee's decision, but sometimes she overruled it. Ellen prided herself on being able to see through other people's little games, but she found the provost's to be impenetrable.

Ann Sweezy, Ellen smiled to herself, was a different sort of woman altogether. Ann was a "play-by-the-rules" women's activist, and not even a particularly effective one. But Ann actually thought of herself as a revolutionary! When she and Ellen had had lunch a few weeks ago, Ann had told her with such pride how Tricia Raditz of The New Dominion had told her she was thinking about a feature in which graffiti from women's lavatories at NDU "outing" sexual assailants would be published regularly in the paper now that she had become editor-in-chief. Ellen applauded Ann for allowing Tricia, who was extraordinarily busy with the paper, to undertake this activity (plus write a paper about the results of doing so) for her Experiential Learning in Women's Studies practicum which Tricia needed to do for the women's studies minor. Ann had taken special delight in relating to Ellen how she told Tricia that this was to be a "clandestine practicum"--something which was so sensitive that Tricia was not to reveal that she was getting academic credit for it.

How stupid Ann was! With Tricia publishing the "unwanted" poster on the back page of her paper, this was hardly a clandestine activity! All Ann really wanted was to keep her own involvement in the affair a secret. Yes, Ellen could easily see through her little game. But if Ann was blabbing about it to Ellen, she was probably blabbing about it to others too. Tricia, Ellen suspected, would in fact not say anything about this project receiving academic credit from Ann, but Ann's own big mouth might lead to her role in the affair coming to light.

All Ellen had said to Ann at the time was that she thought this was an excellent idea--one that was long overdue. Ellen had not told her that Tricia had actually discussed this idea with Ellen first. Further, Ellen had not told Ann, Tricia, or anyone else (nor would she ever tell them) that it was she, Ellen Stenkovsky, who had written the first two graffiti items which appeared in the "unwanted" poster: "Brian Smith is a rapist!" and "Oscar Garcia is stalking me!" In fact, she had done this in the exact self-same women's lavatory she was sitting in now. It was the perfect place to do this since the offices of The New Dominion were located on the same floor as SASO, and so this was the bathroom used by Tricia Raditz and other female staff members on the paper, and hence the one where they were most likely to read (as well as to, Ellen noted, frequently write surprisingly literate) graffiti.

If it were ever discovered that Ellen had written these messages, she knew, it would, at minimum, cost her her job. But just because doing this was against the patriarchy's rules did not make it wrong; in fact, it was absolutely the right thing for her to do. Nor was it in any sense dishonest. For Ellen had not made these messages up out of the blue. She had distilled them from two sexual assault cases filed last year with SASO that had not been resolved satisfactorily due to one of two problems that routinely plagued such cases.

In the first case--"Brian Smith raped me!"--the victim, Irene Pappas, had come to SASO only several months after being raped, as was typical in these cases. Irene primarily wanted counseling for herself as well as assistance persuading her professors to allow her to complete last fall's course work late (she had stopped coming to school altogether after it happened). Ellen had arranged these things for her, but while Irene admitted that she knew who her attacker was and that he had been her boyfriend, she refused to identify him either to Ellen or the NDU police. Ellen tried to persuade her to identify him since if she did not, he was likely to rape again. But as in so many such cases, Irene refused to tell--fearful, Ellen suspected, that her assailant would definitely attack her again if she did.

It had not been hard, though, for Ellen to identify him. She simply called Irene's mother, who readily told her that her daughter's relationship with one Brian Smith had turned sour a few months ago, though her daughter had not given her any details as to why.

In the second case--"Oscar Garcia is stalking me!"--the other recurrent problem was present: the young woman being victimized--Victoria Torres--had filed a complaint with the NDU police, but they could not or would not do much of anything for her. Here again, a young woman wanted to break off her relationship with a young man with a violent temper who (why were they all the same?) refused to let her go. Convinced that she was seeing someone else (which, of course, would have been her business and not his), he often waited in his car near her apartment and followed her to wherever she drove to. She tried speeding through yellow lights to get away from him, but he would just follow on the red afterward. And when she was at her apartment, she would receive harassing phone calls--often late at night--in which he would either shout at her abusively or say nothing.

Ellen had helped Victoria contact the police in every jurisdiction where this Oscar Garcia had stalked her, but they all indicated that there was little they could do unless and until he either attacked or forcibly obstructed her. Victoria had gotten an unlisted phone number to stop the harassing phone calls, but he had managed to get hold of it within days. In the meantime, Victoria was not getting enough sleep and her grades were suffering--all because, as far as Ellen was concerned, the ruling patriarchy condoned all but the most egregious forms of sexual assault.

In both cases, the "unwanted" poster had brought about positive results very quickly. Some students had apparently cut the back page from the paper and taped the poster on Smith's dorm room door. He, of course, tore it down, but the poster kept reappearing. Young women residing in the same dorm as Smith and their parents bombarded the university administration with phone calls demanding his immediate expulsion.

More importantly, the "unwanted" poster pushed Irene--as Ellen hoped it would--into filing charges against him preemptively for fear that Smith would assume that she had written the "Brian Smith is a rapist!" message in a lavatory stall. According to the story in the following week's New Dominion, his fellow students cheered when the police came and arrested him in his dorm shortly afterward. It was this public humiliation of a sexual assailant which Ellen particularly relished.

Since Oscar Garcia lived off campus, his neighbors did not know about the "unwanted" poster. Garcia's friends (apparently he had a few), though, did see it and pointed it out to him. Assuming that it was Victoria who had written the "Oscar Garcia is stalking me!" message, he became enraged and attacked her as she approached her car in her apartment parking lot. Oscar, though, had been so busy stalking Victoria that he did not even notice that half a dozen New Dominion reporters were stalking him. As the student paper later reported, the three male reporters in the group (males were good for something some of the time) rushed Oscar and subdued him while one of the female reporters summoned the police on her cell phone. Victoria had suffered several cuts and bruises. This might not have happened, Ellen knew, if the "unwanted" poster had not been published, but nor would Oscar Garcia's stalking have been halted either. As she had been told that Lenin had once said: "If you want to make an omelet, you've got to crack a few eggs!"

Ellen had heard from Tricia that President Michaelson and the university's legal affairs office had been very unhappy about the "unwanted" poster. Michaelson had even had one of his minions call the paper's faculty adviser to "suggest" that no further "unwanted" posters be published until the legality of doing so could be "clarified." But because of the posters overwhelming popularity on campus--especially among the women--and because the first one had resulted in the arrests of Smith and Garcia, the "central administration" (as it styled itself) backed off. In fact, in his comments appearing in The Washington Post's Metro section article about the two arrests and the role played by the "unwanted" poster in bringing them about, Michaelson implied that he had known about and approved of it in advance! What a shithead! Michaelson would do or say anything if he thought it would bring him good publicity.

Tricia Raditz, of course, was absolutely elated. She was determined to do more "unwanted" posters even if--indeed, especially if--the administration objected. Ellen was quite proud of herself for not succumbing to what she considered to be the petit bourgeois temptation to brag about her role in the affair. Ellen had told no one--absolutely no one--about what she had done.

Ellen wondered, though, whether Tricia suspected something. She had commented recently how strange it was that two of these sexual assault messages should be found in the same bathroom on the third floor of the Student Union Building--not a place that received a lot of foot traffic. Ellen had responded that she was not surprised. Since this was the floor where SASO was located, this was where women would come to file sexual assault complaints. If they had it in their minds to file such a complaint, then this would be a logical lavatory to write such graffiti in if they were going to do so anywhere. Besides, Ellen had asked her, did the female staff of The New Dominion visit every other woman’s lavatory on campus as often as they did the one near their office on the third floor of the Student Union Building? Perhaps they would find as much--or more--such graffiti in them. And now that the first "unwanted" poster was out, Ellen had told her, she suspected that many more women would write their complaints about sexual assault in women's lavatories all over campus.

Ellen had not written the third graffiti item that was published in the "unwanted" poster: "Charles Truehart fondled me!" Tricia or her reporters had found this instead--which was good. Publishing this other complaint had also gotten some results. Rumor had it that Charles Truehart was being shunned by the women in his classes, who either made a point of sitting far away from him, or if they couldn't, exaggeratedly crossing their arms in front of their breasts for protection whenever he appeared to be looking their way. His former girlfriend, Cindy McMann, had slapped his face when she first saw him after seeing the "unwanted" poster, but he had not filed any sort of complaint--he didn't dare! Truehart, though, was quoted in the next issue of The New Dominion stoutly denying the charge that he had fondled anyone. Ellen was quite confident, though, that he was not telling the truth since women, she believed fiercely, never lied about these matters. Still, whoever it was who had "outed" him had not yet come forward with a complaint. She had better, Ellen thought, if she didn't want it to happen again.

In the larger scheme, though, Ellen knew that these three guys--Smith, Garcia, and Truehart--were relatively unimportant. Students all, they were just pawns whom the patriarchy could easily sacrifice while remaining firmly entrenched itself. In order to really damage the patriarchy, it was necessary to strike at its upper ranks. And thanks to Tiffany Rodriguez bringing Cindy McMann into SASO to complain about Professor Robert Barnes, Ellen exulted that she was now in a position to do just this.

In one sense, what Barnes had done to Cindy was not as serious as anything that the three males featured in the "unwanted" poster had done: he had not raped her, stalked her, or even attempted to fondle her. Cindy had been clear on this last point--Barnes had touched her on the shoulder and nowhere else. In touching her, though, Barnes had done something that none of these other males had done to their victims. For unlike any of them, Prof. Barnes was in a position of authority, and thus his behavior vis-a-vis a student had to be held to a much higher standard than was expected of a male student vis-a-vis a female student.

And from what Cindy had told her (with frequent prompts and reminders from Tiffany), it seemed clear to Ellen that Barnes had not met that higher standard. The incident Cindy related possessed all the elements of a quid pro quo sexual harassment case: 1) they were in his office discussing her grade--the very thing that he exercised control over; 2) the door to his office was closed (Cindy couldn't remember which of them had closed it); and 3) after ridiculing her so much that she started crying, he then touched her shoulder and suggested that she could improve her grade after all. The clear implication of this, of course, was that he would raise her grade if she provided him with sexual favors.

Victims of sexual assault were usually distraught when they came to SASO, but Cindy seemed more distracted than usual. Instead of answering Ellen's questions about the incident with Professor Barnes, Cindy seemed intent on grilling Ellen for information on whether the person who had written "Charles Truehart fondled me!" had filed a complaint against him with SASO and who she might be. Although not strictly ethical, Ellen had finally told Cindy that nobody had filed a complaint against Charles as of yet just so Cindy would concentrate on describing the incident with Barnes.

Despite Ellen's and Tiffany's urging, Cindy had not been prepared to file a formal, written complaint at that meeting. As was her privilege, she had just made an informal, oral statement. As in previous quid pro quo sexual harassment cases where the student had only filed an informal--and hence, anonymous--complaint against a professor, Ellen advised Cindy not to go back to Barnes's office without first notifying SASO, but to attend all remaining classes in her course with him religiously. She should even try to learn to write analytically, as Barnes had suggested (Cindy appeared crestfallen at this, but Tiffany offered to give her some tutoring). Ellen explained that it was essential for her to do everything possible to get an "A" in his class legitimately. By doing this, it would be more difficult for him to discredit her complaint about receiving a low grade due to her refusal to comply with demands for sex with a claim that the low grade was due instead to lack of attendance and poor performance on assignments. Cindy had agreed and the meeting ended with Ellen admonishing her to report any further untoward behavior on the part of Professor Barnes to SASO immediately.

All this had taken place last week. But while Cindy was willing to wait until the end of the semester before pursuing the matter any further, Ellen was not. She had, of course, received complaints from students about unwanted sexual advances from professors in previous years. Many of these cases had been far more serious than Cindy's charges against Professor Barnes. It had been highly gratifying to Ellen that she had been able to help get some--though by no means all--of these jerks fired. Doing this, however, took a long, long time due to the patriarchal insistence on "due process" which discouraged female victims from filing or pursuing complaints against male professors who assailed them sexually.

Now, however, there was the "unwanted" poster which could be used to expedite such cases. And just as Ellen's "outing" of Smith and Garcia had resulted in their quickly being arrested, she calculated that "outing" Professor Barnes would force the central administration at the university to deal with his case far more quickly than it would through the ordinary complaint channels which the patriarchy obstructed through shrouding them in "confidentiality." Ellen saw through that little game! The patriarchy, though, could not protect one of its own so easily if a case received negative publicity.

What, though, should she write on Cindy's behalf? Ellen had at first thought of "Prof. Barnes fondled me," but this was too similar to what had been written about Charles Truehart. Nor was it quite accurate. She also considered writing, "Prof. Barnes hit on me," but this overstated what Cindy had actually said--Ellen was far too scrupulous to do this. But then, sitting there on the toilet, Ellen was inspired to write, "Prof. Barnes touched me inappropriately." This was indefinite, yet suggestive. Yes, this was perfect. It would definitely shake up the patriarchy--provided, of course, that Tricia or someone else from the paper saw it before the Spanish-speaking janitorial staff--being unable to distinguish serious from frivolous graffiti (in English anyway)--scrubbed it away.

* * *

Three hours later, Ellen was back in her office, waiting for the call from Tricia that had not yet come. It was six o'clock in the evening. Regular university offices were closed, but The New Dominion staff was just settling down to work. And so, she anxiously noted, was the janitorial staff that, a quick trip into the corridors of the third floor revealed, had just arrived off the elevator. Luckily, they had started at the opposite end of the floor.

Ellen did not want to be the one who brought any of these sexual assault graffiti items to Tricia's attention for fear that this would eventually result in her being suspected of being their author. Nor did she want to have to write the message again after the janitors washed away the original. She had no way of knowing whether anyone had seen what she had written yet, and she didn't want to risk anyone growing suspicious after seeing the same message appear again after being erased. There would be no reason for anyone to suspect Ellen in particular, but she didn't want any doubt to arise over the integrity of the sexual assault graffiti.

It was getting late. Ellen decided that she had better call Tricia and tell her she had just seen a new message in the women's lavatory when the phone rang. It was Tricia!

"Ellen!" said Tricia breathlessly. "I've been meaning to call you all afternoon! Did you see it? There's been another message in the women's room right here."

"You're kidding!" replied Ellen, feigning surprise.

"I'm not kidding," said Tricia. "And it's not about just some small fry student either. This time, we've caught a big fish professor!"