Laura Kipnis - "Unwanted Advances"

Laura Kipnis discusses Unwanted Advances: Sexual Paranoia Comes to Campus.

At 57th Street Books

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About the book: “Feminism is broken,” says highly respected feminist Laura Kipnis, in this incendiary dispatch from the front lines of the campus firestorms. The concept of “rape culture” smuggles in the most regressive versions of gender through the back door—and so do the paternalistic policies supposedly meant to combat sexual assault.

In her explosive new book, Unwanted Advances: Sexual Paranoia Comes to Campus this leading cultural critic asserts that what looks like radicalism on campus is backlash, not progress, and the reforms and regulations sweeping academia are leaving women less empowered than ever.

But no one dares question the approved narrative. When this tenured Northwestern University professor did dare to, in an essay on the growing climate of campus sexual paranoia, she had no idea the frenzy she’d unleash. Student protestors mobilized, marching to the president’s office with a petition demanding “a swift, official condemnation” of her article. Then two graduate students filed Title IX complaints against her, resulting in a 72-day “investigation”—and eventually an acquittal. Left with “an overpowering urge to blow the lid off it all,” Kipnis defied confidentiality strictures by writing a second essay about her experiences as an “accusee” in a byzantine and often absurd secret tribunal.

“It turns out that rampant accusation is the new norm on today’s campus; the place is a secret cornucopia of accusation, especially when it comes to sex,” she soon learned, when she was deluged with harrowing tales and confidential reports from other accused students and professors around the country. Next a trove of revealing documents fell into her lap, propelling her to the center of an especially controversial case. Part personal story, part investigative reporting, part cultural analysis, Kipnis exposes an appalling netherworld of overblown charges, capricious bureaucratic excess, rigged investigations, and Title IX vigilantes, all buttressed by the overreaching policies of the federal government. 

Unwanted Advances is a fearless and addictively readable tour of the new sexual hypocrisy on campus, and its detrimental effects on teaching, learning, and the free exchange of ideas. Kipnis doesn’t dispute that sexual assault is a serious reality. She does ask whether the flourishing sexual assault bureaucracy has any hope of combating it—and asserts that it doesn't, or not without far more honesty about taboo subjects like binge drinking, the inherent sexual conservatism of hook-up culture, and ambivalence about gender progress by both male and female students.

Taking us behind the scenes of a nationwide crisis, Kipnis deploys her trademark intellect, humor, and formidable analytical skills to blow the whistle on a campus culture that increasingly construes ideas as threats, where regulation is replacing education, and free speech is on life support. Worrisome comparisons to Salem and McCarthyism are inevitable, given the intensifying climate of accusation. Kipnis dares to question whether the expanding notion of sexual assault and the shrinking notion of sexual consent is really in women’s interests. And maybe the umbrella term “rape culture” isn’t actually doing us any favors when it comes to decreasing unwanted sex.

An up-to-the-minute consideration of both the future of feminism, and the future of higher education, Unwanted Advances is destined to incite controversy and initiate necessary conversations. Laura Kipnis, with her impeccable track record of nuanced feminist contrarianism, is uniquely qualified to bring fresh insights to these tough subjects.

About the author: Laura Kipnis is a cultural critic and a professor at Northwestern University, where she teaches filmmaking. She is the author of six previous books, including Against Love: A Polemic and Men: Notes from an Ongoing Investigation. She has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and Yaddo, among others, and has written for Slate, Harper’s Magazine, the New York Times Magazine, the New York Times Book Review, and Bookforum. Her essay “Sexual Paranoia Strikes Academe” was included in The Best American Essays 2016, edited by Jonathan Franzen. She lives in New York and Chicago.

Event Location: 
57th Street Books
1301 E. 57th Street
Chicago, IL 60637