I continue to be fascinated–nay, obsesssed–with “Beauty Myth” feminista Naomi Wolf’s claim in the current issue of New York magazine (yes, the article, The Silent Treatment, is finally on the Internet!) that Yale literary scholar Harold Bloom placed an unwanted hand on her thigh one evening more than 20 years ago when Wolf was a Yalie undergrad. (See Is Naomi Wolf Off Her Meds?, Feb. 23, and The Other Charlotte’s Wicked Witch Day: Naomi Wolf and Omarosa, Feb. 20.) Maybe my obsession is due to the fact that my husband, like Wolf, went to Yale, and he, like Wolf (sort of), had Bloom for an adviser–but Bloom never laid a hand on his thigh! Then again, Bloom never had to read my husband’s poems, either, which was Wolf said Bloom was doing, or supposed to be doing, when that two-decade-old incident de la cuisse occurred. I think that Bloom (if he actually did what Wolf says he did) was just trying to get out of having to plough through the 20-year-old Wolf’s ditties.
Wolf’s account of the evening’s events is hilarious. Evidently, she and her roommate and her roommate’s live-in boyfriend invited Bloom over for a candle-lit dinner in the fall of 1983, when Wolf was a Yale senior. Bloom arrived with a bottle of Amontillado in hand, and soon enough the foursome was making merry with the sherry. As the evening wore on, the roomie and her boyfriend tactfully disappeared. That was when Wolf took out her manuscript of poems, which Bloom was supposed to be grading in some sort of independent-study project:
“He did not open it. He did not look at it. He leaned toward me and put his face inches from mine. ‘You have the aura of election upon you,’ he breathed.
“I hoped he was talking about my poetry. I moved back and took the manuscript and turned it around so he could read.
“The next thing I knew, his heavy, boneless hand was hot on my thigh.”
His “boneless” hand? Really? Furthermore, as Wolf explains, a hand on the thigh was no big deal as far as she was concerned–if the hand belonged to a strapping fellow 20-year-old Yale undergrad and not some icky 50-year-old professor:
“I was sexually active’and not even especially modest. An unwanted hand on a thigh from a date was nothing.”
So Wolf, upon feeling the “encroachment,” as she calls it, from Bloom’s ancient cartilaginous fingers, lurched to the kitchen sink and lunched:
“I turned away from him toward the sink and found myself vomiting.”
I have a feeling that sherry malfunction had something to do with Wolf’s sudden disgorgement of her dinner, but Wolf claims that the onslaught of nausea was due to a “moral crisis.” It was a moral crisis about which Wolf did nothing about for many a year. She declined to file a grievance under Yale’s sexual harassment procedures, which were fully in place in 1983, because “I was terrified of being in a room alone again with Bloom.” (She did, however, receive a B from Bloom for the late-night scansion session–not bad for a course in which she didn’t have to do any work–and she also got a letter from Bloom recommending her for a Rhodes scholarship.)
About a year ago, however, as Wolf reports, God told her to rat out the old prof:
“Every Yom Kippur, Jewish tradition requires a strict spiritual inventory. You aren’t supposed to just sit around feeling guilty, but to take action in the real world to set things right. We pray, ‘Ashamnu. Bagadnu. We have acted shamefully . . . behaved wickedly.’ The sin of omission is as serious as the sin of commission.”
So Wolf got on the phone to Yale–and became Very Miffed when Yale officials informed her that the university’s two-year statute of limitations for filing sexual harassment complaints had run out some 18 years ago. Then the Yale officials stopped returning her numerous phone calls–imagine treating the great Naomi Wolf that way! So Wolf embarked on her NY magazine article, a grand expose of what a headline for the article calls “sex and silence at Yale.” Her theory was that professors like Bloom routinely make passes at students attending Old Blue, and that the Yale administration knows all about but does nothing to stop these horny profs, a state of affairs that “damages” Yale’s institutional mission.
Trouble is, for all her grand aims, Wolf was able to find only four (!) other female students in a 20-year period who reported sexual harassment that Yale failed to redress sufficiently. One woman reported that in 1985, when she was a Yale senior, a professor (not, apparently, one of her own professors) put his hand on her knee during a drinking session at Mory’s, the popular Yalie beer hangout. On another boozy evening, this time in 1992, a law student claimed to have been undressed and sexually penetrated after she passed out in her apartment while drinking wine with a professor (again, not evidently one of her own teachers). In 1997, a Yale Divinity School student claimed to have been sexually exploited by a prof who she said was acting as an unofficial mentor to her (the prof says that the sexual relations were consensual, and the woman sued Yale but not him). And in 1999, a fourth female Yalie said she was sexually assaulted–not by a prof but by another student.
Oh, and in 1996, Yale’s grievance board found that an assistant math professor had had consensual sex with a freshman he was grading. The university allowed him to finish out his teaching term because he would have been hard to replace on the spot.
That’s it, folks. That’s the expose. Perhaps Yale has learned its lesson–which isn’t that its campus harassment policies are inadequate, but that You’d Better Not Ignore Naomi Wolf’s Phone Calls. But I prefer to think that the Yale administrators, like most readers of Naomi’s article, are having a good chuckle instead.