Unwanted Advances by Laura Kipnis:
I was gifted ‘Unwanted Advances’ by Laura Kipnis along with ‘Inferior’ by Angela Saini by my other half after they heard me complaining about the small number of non-fiction books I owned that were written by women. With a cover that so boldly states “I can think of no better way to subjugate women than to convince us that assault is around every corner” it obviously jumped to the top of my TBR and immediately became my current read.
Kipnis’ book covers the use of Title IX complaints, claims and investigations on American college campuses. She looks at how Title IX is being expanded to through less than clear OCR directives, activists and rogue Title IX officers. Ultimately Kipnis argues that modern feminism is broken; that women need to have more agency, or risk losing the progress that has been made through previous generations of feminists.
In all honesty, I struggled to get myself through the preface & introduction to this book; it felt heady, and lofty, too intellectual. However, once you get to the main body of the book the tone becomes a lot lighter, and the balance between narrative, personal feelings, and academic analysis is exceptionally captivating. This is an angry book, but it is not angry without cause. I can understand why the Wall Street Journal referred to Kipnis’ work as “[a] bracing book, its message delivered with fierce intelligence and mordant humour”.
I think it is important to point out that I grew up in the UK, attending a UK based university, and my only experience of American colleges is through films – which I’m sure are a 100% totally accurate account of all students lives*. Evidently, there is a culture gap between these two education systems. Accounts detailed by Kipnis are not something that I can relate to through my own experience; nevertheless, no system is without its scandal, and occasionally similar stories make national news.
Kipnis opens her book by detailing the Title IX case against a colleague at her university – Ludlow. In a nice literary flare – often missing from non-fiction works – she finishes her book with Ludlow’s dismissal hearing, bringing the reflection full circle. Throughout the work Kipnis is clear that transparency is key to her, and one of the major hurdles faced by all Title IX respondents is the lack of transparency bought in the cases against them. She freely talks about her own Title IX experiences, and isn’t afraid to open up to the reader about the impact that it had on her life.
Throughout the book Kipnis does not hold back her punches, towards the end she writes:
“If sexual parity between men and women is ever going to be a reality, these would be the issues to address. No on thinks there are simply answers or magic bullets, but insisting that men change first, or that the culture reform itself first, may pass for activism, but it’s a lot like the old female passivity in a slightly edgier wardrobe”
This is following a section of the ‘Unwanted Advances’ where Kipnis has been discussing the drinking culture on campus. As is so often the case with the books I read, I can’t help but feel there is a more comfortable middle ground when it comes to change. Kipnis has a point – we cannot expect all the change to come from men. HOWEVER, that in an of itself does not – and should not – provide the rationale for the status quo, and for women to act as the only agents of change. We need to get to a place in society where women (and men) feel empowered to talk about being a victim of sexual abuse, without the need for over codification that Kipnis has been discussing. Shortly after finishing this book, I picked up ‘We Should All be Feminists’ by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. A quote from that book that really stuck with me is …
And I would like today to ask that we should begin to dream about and plan for a different world. A fairer world. A world of happier men and happier women who are truer to themselves. And this is how to start: we must raise our daughters differently. We must also raise our sons differently.
For society to move forward and be truly equal, truly equitable – we all have a role to play, and we each need to take accountability for our actions and our education.
‘Unwanted Advances’’ in Facts:
Author: Laura Kipnis
First Published: 2018
Publishing House: Verso
Pages: 242 (239 bulk)
*note the sarcasm