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#MeToo's gender victim: NYU professor Avital Ronell is on leave for a year
The #MeToo movement turns against its own protagonists: The professor and Derrida student Avital Ronell, who teaches at New York University, is said to have sexually molested a student. Now she has to take a year off.
A controversial Title IX case in the USA - the word creation names the generic term for complaints about sexual misconduct at US universities - has come to an end for the time being: The comparative literature professor, gender and feminism scholar and Derrida student Avital Ronell became suspended from teaching for one year during the summer vacation from New York University (NYU). After eleven months, a NYU investigative committee found the lesbian Ronell guilty of sexually molesting and academically disadvantaged her gay graduate student Nimrod Reitman. The NYU did not consider the allegations of sexual coercion and stalking to be fulfilled.
The case caused a sensation a few weeks ago after a group of prominent intellectuals, including the feminism icon Judith Butler, the postcolonialism theorist Gayatri Spivak or the Lacan-Hegelian Slavoj Žižek, wrote a letter to the university administration that influenced the current Title-IX -Have tried to take proceedings - with questionable support for the perpetrator. The fact that the group defended Ronell without knowing the facts, but with defamatory attributes for the victim, because Ronell was a woman, feminist and great scholar, was regretted in some places as a hypocritical double standard. Because precisely such privileges are rightly criticized by the #MeToo movement.
The fact that Ronell will not be dismissed and that Reitman was not right on all points makes the NYU judgment a lazy compromise from which new schemes are already sprouting. Reitman has announced that he will be suing the university for a lot of money. That can be interpreted as an indication of his monetary calculation right from the start, but that is how the American legal system works.
Elsewhere, the question of how the affair is interpreted has philosophically interesting blossoms. In the course of her own defense, Ronell had argued that the verbal stumbling block (she suggestively called Reitman her “cock-er spaniel” or her “amazing and beautiful Nimrod” - after the biblical king, where “nimrod” also means something like idiot can) are part of a gay code, a “hyperbolic queer dialect” that differentiates itself through “bombastic and kitschy communication”. All right? So no sexual harassment, but a semantic misunderstanding, a misunderstood language game.
Others do not see private language at work, but rather cultural incommensurability: The 66-year-old Ronell comes from a culture and epoch that is passé and no longer fits into the university landscape of the USA in the 21st century. When, as Benoît Peeters claims in his biography of Jacques Derrida, Ronell had an affair with his 16-year-old son Pierre in 1979 as a 27-year-old student of Derrida in Paris, then nobody but Papa cared. 40 years later, in the Puritan United States, a fraction of it is enough to be charged.
Aside from the cultural paradigm shifts in legal philosophy are making the rounds. Ilan Safit, a “visiting scholar” at NYU, told the online magazine “Salon” that, due to historically evolved power structures, it made a difference whether a man or a woman was charged with sexual misconduct. If you take this really seriously, nothing less than the question of equality between men and women before the law arises.
In this light, the Ronell / Reitman case turns out to be as fruitful as it is terrible. And it seems like the affair isn't over yet.
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