Comments on: So exactly why did you resign, again? History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present Sun, 21 Sep 2014 01:45:37 +0000 hourly 1 By: Michael Bérubé Tue, 30 Oct 2012 19:06:12 +0000 Oh, I agree that sexual abuse exists on a continuum, and what’s more, I would agree that Sandusky’s enablers worked very much the way rape culture works with regard to women. I just think that a lot of people reacted to this scandal as if it were a matter of football players sexually abusing women. (I can’t see how else to read your aside about Mourdock — surely the hideous Mourdock/Akin/Christianist justifications for rape don’t apply to the rape of children, even in their own twisted minds?)

And not that you or LadyProf have to understand anything about the context in which I resigned, but if you’re curious someday, you can check out the outraged PSU alumni on this thread from our online alumni magazine:

(Last and least, there is some injustice in the pushback to my blog post about Secretary Clinton’s 2008 campaign in Pennsylvania. I have never said a sexist word about Sec. Clinton, or indeed about any woman. That would be Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews you’re thinking of.)

By: Historiann Mon, 29 Oct 2012 00:46:33 +0000 Thanks for your further comments, Michael. I abs. see your point (made by others too) that your role as MLA President put you even more in the spotlight on this. (I didn’t know about this, not being a member of the MLA, until I got a bounceback email that mentioned it when I replied to your email last week.)

As for the rape culture: I reject the notion that child rapes are utterly and completely disconnected to the extent that writing about the Sandusky criminal conspiracy as connected to the rape culture of football in general is a “category error.” The feminist scholarship on rape, not to mention the sociology and psychology of FLDS communities, suggest that all sexual abuse is linked. (FLDS are communities in which teenaged girls’ and women’s bodies and their labor are conscripted and exploited by high-status men, and children’s bodies–male and female–are conscripted by lower status young men.

As Rad Readr suggests above, it’s important to understand the sexual privileges granted to some high status males, especially men who are successful in rising to the top of all-male hierarchies, can easily become abusive. And beyond that, all-male organizations can be conscripted into covering up crimes, whether they’re against adult women or children.

For example: See Sharon Block’s Rape and Sexual Power in Early America, especially her concept of “manufacturing consent.” Then review Sandusky’s characterization of his relationship with the boys he raped. Rapists retain an enormous amount of power to make their experience of the relationship the public understanding of the relationship. This is a privilege Sandusky retained only until the past 11 months. This is how rape works.

By: Michael Bérubé Sun, 28 Oct 2012 22:46:36 +0000 And Historiann, the problem with talking about the “rape culture that dominates many college and professional football teams” is that when you do, you assimilate the Sandusky scandal to scandals in which football players rape women (as in the case of the University of Colorado a little over a decade ago). That’s a category error, because here, football players did not rape women. (You speak almost as if they did. You are not alone in this.) What happened was that a football coach founded a charity that would give him access to an endless stream of at-risk boys who would be (a) susceptible to “grooming” by an older, trusted male figure and (b) very unlikely to be believed if they told people that Goofy Loveable Old Jerry was raping them. That is why the Sandusky scandal is more like the Boy Scouts, the Catholic Church, or the BBC’s Jerry Savile scandal than like other rape scandals involving football (none of which, to my knowledge, have involved pedophilia).

By: Michael Bérubé Sun, 28 Oct 2012 21:44:22 +0000 And I am sure B. knew already which named chair he would get to switch to when he resigned. Indeed, he may have hesitated to resign whilst negotiating.

It always amazes me when people are sure of stuff they know nothing about, and then proceed to talk about it on the internets. (There has been a great deal of that throughout the Sandusky case.) No, I did not know if another chair was available, and I did not negotiate for one before resigning. I simply asked for a meeting with my dean and told her that I had to do this. In response, she offered me one of the various Sparks chairs in the College of Liberal Arts (right now there are 15 of these — I don’t even know whether that is a fixed number).

EngLitProf has it right … I never expected anyone to think I’d made some kind of sacrifice, nor did I see that one was necessary. And Dr. Crazy (hi!) understands the position I was in, as well … there was no possibility of resigning the chair quietly, not as MLA president. Of course, I could simply have retained the Paterno title, taking it off all my correspondence and other forms of professional identification. That way I could avoid angering the Paterno family and thousands of alumni, while continuing to dodge the press … and I simply would never say a word in public about the scandal that has kept Penn State in the news for a year now. I just didn’t see that as an ethical thing to do.

By: Rad Readr Fri, 26 Oct 2012 23:27:17 +0000 @Lady Metroland, I agree. The comments about Triponey were not only unnecessary but misguided considering the demographics of the major players in this scandal at Penn State. I suspect that one reason the system could not be self-critical about its own collusion with Sandusky (or possibly even realize what was happening) was that it was an old-boy network. The one woman who stood up to them was (if I remember correctly) driven out.

And another matter, getting beyond my “it should start and end here” comment…we need to point out the complete and embarrassing failure of certain upper-level administrators to protect the president and even the university’s beloved football program. Why spend all that money on athletic directors or executive vice presidents (one of the guys was named Curley) if not to look out for those whose main job is elsewhere. In other words, once the matter went up the chain it was Curley and Mo’s job to blow the whistle. But easier said than done when faced with the (for many people) incomprehensible sickness of pedophilia and its effects on the kids. It’s not always going to be the guy in the trenchcoat at the park — sometimes it’s grandpa or the nice man who runs the Second-Mile charity. It was too close to home, and they didn’t want to face it.

By: Lady Metroland Fri, 26 Oct 2012 17:58:55 +0000 I think the essay *was* very clarifying, though not in the way Bérubé intended. Two things stood out for me. One Historiann already pointed out, about the stubborn refusal to see that yes, college football culture *is* relevant to what happened. The second, though, was his decision to sneer in the general direction of Vicky Triponey.

A woman who did, in fact, stand up against that culture. Did you know that no one really liked her? That everybody, just everybody, that she was a phony? That none of the right people ever thought she was anybody atall?

God, all he needed to add was that if only her TONE had been different, then, maybe then, people could have taken her screechy complaints seriously.

This was a totally unnecessary part of the essay, given its manifest purpose. But wow did it betray a lot of latent content: yep, that’s totally how those sick patriarchal situations flourish for years.

By: Historiann Thu, 25 Oct 2012 21:13:54 +0000 Hi, RadReadr! I’ve been wondering about how you’re thinking about all of this, but now I know: “I just think this conversation needs to start and end with child abuse.”

Yes. This is what was buried under compliments for the Paterno family and under aspersions cast on anyone who has problems with big-time college football. Berube benefited directly from a system that condoned the rape of children for decades. This is a morally and politically uncomfortable situation to find oneself in, I am sure, especially someone as thoughtful about profound issues as Berube has been in the past. I appreciate that he sees more complexity (particularly w/r/t the small-town, tight community he lives in) in the football program’s and university administration’s conspiracy to conceal Sandusky’s crimes, but do your warm feelings for Mrs. Paterno or your ressentiment for people who send their children to liberal arts colleges that remain astonishingly free of athletic team rape scandals really matter by comparison?

By: Rad Readr Thu, 25 Oct 2012 20:44:51 +0000 Yes, some members of the MLA were wondering whether Berube would retain the Paterno chair, but I also agree with the early comments that the essay was a bit long and did not clarify his reasons sufficiently. And the defensive tone didn’t work very well given everything that has come out about Penn State’s role in the events. I think when an institution screws up, it’s better to take responsibility, apologize, and think first about those who were hurt.

I read Berube’s essay on the same day that Victim #1 went on 20/20 and spoke at length about his experience. This kid went to school officials with his mom, and the principal told them to “go home and think about it.” The school system, the police/DA, and Penn State were reluctant to go after Sandusky because he was such a big man on campus – and that university has a lot of influence in the area. A lot of institutions failed, and it speaks to the inability of a community (perhaps reflective of society at large) to deal with the issue of child abuse. I just think this conversation needs to start and end with child abuse. It’s unfortunate that people have talked so much about Paterno because it deflects focus from the systemic issues — and everyone else who didn’t want to or know how to respond to this situation.

Hi Historiann.

By: Historiann Thu, 25 Oct 2012 14:52:57 +0000 I think people at Duke U. would be surprised to learn that lacrosse teams are never subjected to scrutiny in the way that big football programs are. But in any case: the reason football programs are subjected to more scrutiny and public attention is that 1) college football players have been accused of rape more often lately than players of any other sport, and 2) the money in this so-called “amateur” sport explains public interest in it.

Hell, if volleyball coaches were paid millions of dollars a year, if there were such a thing as big-money pro volleyball, and college volleyball matches were on the teevee all day on Saturdays, then we’d doubtless hear about abuses and crimes committed by the coaches and players on those teams. But it’s not like that for volleyball–it’s only like this for two men’s sports.

My point is that it’s weak and defensive to say “but but but consider all of the other teams out there who *might* have pedophiles on their staffs! Let’s investigate the Dartmouth crew team and the Wellesley tennis team!” Sure! If there’s credible evidence of rape and coercive sex, absolutely. It too should be national news. But does the possible existence of rape and sexual abuse in every college sport really mean that there’s no meaningful, special connection worth considering between big-money NCAA football and sexual abuse? To make that argument is willfully to misunderstand how sexual power operates in our communities.

By: Dr. Crazy Thu, 25 Oct 2012 04:46:49 +0000 It’s worth noting that Berube kind of HAD to write an essay because he’s the current president of the MLA. If he were just some obscure dude with an endowed chair, sure, he could have just resigned and let it be: the reason that he needed to explain his rationale is because this happened at the exact moment that he is also the most prominent person in his (my) field right now. That’s not saying that the Chronicle needed to publish it, but there is a reason why he couldn’t resign in silence.

While I wasn’t necessarily moved by Berube’s explanation, as Madwoman was, I did get it, and I did finish the essay understanding why he resigned, and I felt like I got the “point” of his writing about his experience. And I didn’t feel like he was being an apologist for Division I Football, or like he was being an apologist for Paterno. (I actually thought that his point about the discourse on college sports – where people deride football or basketball but have no problem with, say, lacrosse or soccer or tennis – was a good one.)

That said, I did feel like trading one endowed chair for another, at the same institution, seemed like a sort of six of one, half-dozen of another sort of a thing. Do I think that he should have to sacrifice his way of life to take a stand? No. But I do wonder at what is really achieved, if his problem, at least in part, is how the administration handled this issue, by just switching titles. If Penn State handled things in an unethical or inappropriate way, how does switching chairs at Penn State send a message?

Point is: Berube did what he had to do, as president of the MLA, in writing an essay about his decision; in terms of the decision itself, one can quarrel with whether he should be lauded or derided for it. I don’t think, however, that it’s fair to beat him up for an essay that he pretty much had to write, and an essay that carefully considers the confluence of issues that come into play surrounding this particular case. (One can disagree with the way that he considers those issues, obviously. I’m just saying that one can’t dismiss his take out of hand.)