Author: Irene Ogrizek

Campus Counsellors and the Politicization of Sexual Assault

A few years ago, a student came to my office in tears. Earlier in the day she’d stood in the doorway of the computer lab, telling me she didn’t think she would make it through class. Her face had been swollen and tear-stained. She was a confident young woman, so her appearance surprised me. When I expressed concern, she said she would drop by my office later. It was the last day of the spring semester. When she showed up, she told me she’d been sexually assaulted several days earlier. We’d established a good rapport over the semester, and so I did my best to console her. She seemed convinced her life had been ruined, but did not want to go to the police. A visit to a rape crisis centre had left her shaken. Her new view of herself was distressing. I’m not sure what inspired me, but I asked her how old she was. When she said 21, I asked her if she wanted to do some math. I reached for a pen …

Laura Kipnis, Camille Paglia and the Redefinition of Sex

Reading Laura Kipnis’ Unwanted Advances is challenging. Not because Kipnis isn’t a gifted writer, but because her experience with Title IX administrators, today’s campus equivalent of a morality squad, is downright noxious. What landed her in trouble was an article she wrote, “Sexual Paranoia Strikes Academe” (Chronicle of Higher Education, February 2015). Many of us who remember the heady days of 70s and 80s campus life appreciated her candour about sex, especially when it came to the empowerment we felt then. Young campus feminists today, groomed to see themselves as victims disagreed, claiming they found the article “terrifying.” A campus petition to sanction Kipnis at Northwestern followed, as did a Title IX inquiry. Kipnis’ cautionary tale dovetails with Camille Paglia’s collection of essays, Free Women, Free Men. Paglia also draws inspiration from her own life, although her analyses focus more on shifting cultural Zeitgeists, the kind that empower or disempower women. Loosely, both books form a subjective (Kipnis) and objective (Paglia) look at how current iterations of feminism are curbing freedoms and diminishing the quality …

Feminism Needs to Talk About Responsibility — Not Just Rights

At the age of 47 I suffered what I now like to think of as “The Year of Living Stupidly.” Unlike Sigourney Weaver in the film that inspired me, I did not live dangerously, although there was certainly a lot of drama. That was the year I suffered my last serious crush. The man was a volunteer at an organisation I feel passionately about. He was also an artist and writer, a fellow seeker in the creative arts. He was also a schmuck, although it took me almost a year to see that. My knowledge of unruly passions, which I joyously cover in my poetry classes, did give me some insight into my condition. However, managing it outside the classroom was something else entirely. I’m bringing that year out of the darkness and into the light because it’s time for the conversation around women’s rights and responsibilities to change. It’s especially time for those of us who can claim elder feminist statesmanship to ask tough questions of younger women who are dragging bewildered men into court, all in the name of micro-regulating the sex …

Students, Sex, Social Media and Why the Steven Galloway Affair Is so Murky

On a frigid night a few years ago, a friend dragged me to an event at a popular Montreal bar. Students of a local graduate program in creative writing were giving a reading. My friend and I sat close to them. I watched as pitchers of beer came and went and the students danced attendance on an older man, perhaps an instructor or organiser of the event. As the night went on and inhibitions were lowered, evidence of unruly feelings became obvious. Most creative arts departments are proverbial hothouses as far as egos go and this group was no exception. They were living proof of that punk axiom: eventually, love would tear them apart. The emotions I saw guaranteed it. Although I teach literature, I’m wary of university creative writing programs: they may be prestigious and even profitable, but I suspect they are more about buying access to agents and less about incubating talent. The students I heard that night read about relationships — with some texts directed at others in attendance — and yet …

Pronoun Wars: Gender Theorists go Head-to-Head with Jordan Peterson

Canada’s new Bill C-16 has free speech advocates worried. At issue is the introduction of social construct definitions of gender identity and gender expression into our country’s Human Rights code. The bill makes it illegal to target those who identify or express themselves differently from their biological gender. Specifically, it protects against genocide and the public or willful incitements of hatred. It’s troubling that those last two offences, which are closely related, have also been added to Canada’s criminal code. They compel speech when it comes to gendered pronouns, and do so with imprecise language, creating the potential for multiple interpretations. Disregarded also is the semantic chill surrounding the pronoun issue, a chill that far exceeds the defined acreage of the written law. As Jordan Peterson, the embattled University of Toronto professor believes, “the PC police are already living in [our] heads.” It’s an opinion he successfully argued in a debate held at the University of Toronto last Saturday. Less successful were the two women who went up against Peterson. First was Law Professor Brenda Cossman, director of the …

When Accusations Abound Who Will Protect the Falsely Maligned?

Here’s a snapshot of my life, taken when my stroke-afflicted mother lived with me. I’d returned from errands and was just shutting the front door when I saw her in her wheelchair. The back of it was pitched forward at a steep angle and when she shifted slightly, I knew what was coming. I ran toward her, fell to my knees, and caught her just as she started sliding down. Because of her almost total paralysis, her fall would have gone unbroken. Her head would have hit the seat of the chair first, then the metal foot brace, then the floor. Either she would have suffered a head injury or broken bones, likely in one of her hips. When I shouted for the personal support worker, I was panicked. Paralysed bodies are like dead weight — they are heavy and I wasn’t sure how long I could hold my mother up. The worker, a visible minority and recent immigrant, was sitting on the couch behind my mother and couldn’t see what was happening. She slowly …