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Life Arts    H3'ed 5/22/15

I Support Katie Roiphe's Moral Stand

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The relationship of professor and student, and the responsibility.
The relationship of professor and student, and the responsibility.
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Duluth, Minnesota (OpEdNews) May 22, 2015: Katie Roiphe (born in 1968) understands that men of various ages may like to have sex with young women, and in principle, she is not against that. However, in her article "Why Professors Should Never Have Affairs With Their Students" at Slate Magazine online (dated May 21, 2015), she finally articulates why professors should never have affairs with students. Good for her. It's great that she has finally figured this out and said so in print.

Roiphe is herself a professor at New York University. She recognizes that "[i]n the classroom intellectual crushes are useful."

In the context of psychotherapy, this kind of crush is known as transference. In the context of psychotherapy, the psychotherapist today is now expected to carry this crush/projection responsibly -- rather than attempt to have an affair with the client.

Roiphe even says, "I feel for some of my students a kind of love, but it's something more parental, more protective than romantic love."

In the context of psychotherapy, Roiphe's "kind of love" "for some of [her] students" is known as counter-transference. In the context of psychotherapy, the psychotherapist today is expected to act responsibly toward the client, rather than act out his or her crush by having an affair with the client.

Unfortunately, the fashionable feminist Roiphe works with a time-stamped framework. She characterizes certain male professor lotharios as engaging in "the most boring and conventional fantasies of a prefeminist time" -- such as the fantasies involved in the 1956 Broadway musical and the 1964 Hollywood movie "My Fair Lady," based on George Bernard Shaw's 1913 play "Pygmalion."

In Ovid's "Metamorphoses," Pygmalion is a sculptor who falls in love with a statue he has sculpted.

But in Shaw's play "Pygmalion," the male Pygmalion-like character is a professor. Roiphe is writing about male professors. Surely it is relevant that Shaw made his Pygmalion-like character a professor

Even though Roiphe explicitly dismisses "the most boring and conventional fantasies of prefeminist time," surely it is relevant that "My Fair Lady" was a hit on Broadway, as was the movie subsequently.

Surely "the most boring and conventional fantasies" in "My Fair Lady" expressed fantasies not just about male professors but also about female students in the late 1950s and the 1960s -- Roiphe's "prefeminst time."

Roiphe seems to imply that male professor Lotharios wouldn't want to be seen as retrograde enough to indulge in in fantasies from "prefeminist time." Anti-60s conservatives are anti-60s. Feminists are anti-prefeminist time. Long ago, Christians made it fashionable to refer to B.C. and A.D., which fashionable biblical scholars have updated to B.C.E and C.E. (meaning, respectively, Before the Common Era and the Common Era).

But Roiphe is silent about the role of young women students who get involved in affairs with male professors. Surely young women students who have affairs with their male professors may feel that they have made a romantic conquest.

In any event, it may be a fantasy for Roiphe to think that we should disregard "the most boring and conventional fantasies of prefeminist time."

The fantasies in "My Fair Lady" may express deeper psychodynamics than Roiphe imagines. After all, the American and British cultural conditioning that shaped the fantasies express in "My Fair Lady" in the late 1950s and the 1960s may be at work still in American and British culture today, despite the obvious cultural impact of the feminist wave in the 1970s and subsequently.

Roiphe points out, correctly in my estimate, that "there's a cheap frisson to the incest taboo . . . yet most of us manage to resist it."

Like Roiphe, I do not recommend acting out incest.

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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; Ph.D.in higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)

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