Sexual Paranoia Comes to Campus; Intellectual Freedom Takes a Curtain Call

May 03, 2017

Laura Kipnis

Wednesday, May 3, 6:00PM–8:00PM, Room 1425, SFU Harbour Centre

Sponsored by SFU's Institute for the Humanities

Feminism is broken if anyone thinks the sexual hysteria overtaking American campuses is a sign of gender progress. I say this as a longtime feminist, who was rather surprised to find herself the object of a protest march by student activists at my university for writing an essay about sexual paranoia on campus. Then I was brought up on Title IX complaints for creating a "hostile environment." Defying confidentiality strictures, I wrote a second essay about the ensuing seventy-two-day investigation, which propelled me to the center of North American debates over free speech, "safe spaces," and the vast federal overreach of what’s known in the U.S. as “Title IX.” In the process I uncovered an astonishing netherworld of accused professors and students, campus witch hunts, and a sexual bureaucracy run amok. Without minimizing the campus assault issue, I argue that there has to be more honesty about the complicated sexual realities and ambivalences hidden behind the notion of "rape culture." Instead, regulation is replacing education, and women’s right to be treated as consenting adults is being repealed by feminist paternalism and well-meaning bureaucrats. 


Laura Kipnis’s latest book, Unwanted Advances: Sexual Paranoia Comes to Campus, arises from her experience becoming the subject of a campus protest march and then a Title IX investigation for writing an essay, and her own subsequent investigation into the convoluted factors that led to this turn of events. When not battling paranoia and would-be censors, Kipnis is a cultural critic and former video artist whose work focuses on sexual politics, aesthetics, emotion, acting out, bad behavior, and various other crevices of the American psyche. Her previous books—which include Men: Notes from an Ongoing InvestigationHow to Become A Scandal; and Against Love: A Polemic—have been translated into fifteen languages. The essay that started all the trouble, “Sexual Paranoia Strikes Academe” was included in The Best American Essays 2016, edited by Jonathan Franzen, who praised its professional risktaking. Kipnis is a professor in the Department of Radio/TV/Film at Northwestern University, where she teaches filmmaking.