A few years ago we were told that the “Occupy” movement would usher in a “new way of living.” Of course it did no such thing—how could it, as the entire movement was based around sleeping in parks and not showering? Oh, well, at least the spirit of “Occupy” has remained alive and well on the left. Take, for instance, a recent piece in the Daily Californian, a student-run newspaper serving the University of California, Berkeley, and whatever Marxist-Feminist coffee shop cooperatives are located nearby. “Occupy the syllabus” declares this article; the authors claim to voice “major concerns about social theory courses in which white men are the only authors assigned.” If you’re interested in the often-exhausting fundamentals of academic social liberalism, the whole thing is worth reading; if you want a nice little microcosm of the entire article, however, you can read the following paragraph:
Sometimes, we were so uncomfortable that we had to leave the classroom in the middle of lecture. For example, when lecturing on Marx’s idea of the “natural division of labor between men and women,” the professor attributed some intellectual merit to this idea because men and women are biologically distinct from each other, because women give birth while men do not. One student asked, “What about trans* people?” to which the professor retorted, “There will always be exceptions.” Then, laughing, the professor teased, “We may all be transgender in the future.” Although one might be tempted to dismiss these remarks as a harmless attempt at humor, mocking trans* people and calling them “exceptions” is unacceptable.
I would like to address the wacky gender theory which is the focus of this vignette, but first it is worth spending a little time on the frankly pathetic opening admission: “Sometimes, we were so uncomfortable that we had to leave the classroom in the middle of the lecture.” I myself have been highly uncomfortable within academic settings; most liberal arts environments are generally hostile towards and dismissive of young white men, with the result that the students (and even a professor or two) in a number of my classes at VCU were openly and unapologetically nasty towards me and other whites. It was uncomfortable—but I was able to recognize it for the stupid progressive hangup that it was, and I never had to “leave the classroom in the middle of the lecture.” It’s also highly likely that the source of the authors’ discomfort was entirely imaginary. Nearly all college professors are exquisitely sensitive and deferential towards what the authors call “marginalized people,” and it’s just not probable that the average professor (at UC Berkeley, no less!) would ever intentionally or even unintentionally insult a member of a privileged campus identity group. If you have to “leave the classroom” at UC Berkeley because you felt “uncomfortable” due to some perceived social justice slight, it’s probable that you shouldn’t be at college at all—you’re simply not a grownup or a serious person.
On that note, it is equally bizarre to read about the students getting upset over their professor’s little “trans*” slip-up. Even if we are to accept the students’ premise, their distress is still nonsensical. For starters, transgender people are exceptions: at most, 5% of people identify with the label. Secondly, the professor was in no way at all “mocking” transgender people; at worst, he was attempting a lame joke, probably because he felt uncomfortable and embarrassed. The professor’s behavior, in other words, was not in any way “unacceptable.” All of that is kind of irrelevant, of course, because the professor was correct at the outset: women do give birth, and men don’t. There’s no crossover; a man can not give birth, and if a person gives birth that person is by definition female. This is a biological fact. The student’s objection was meaningless and incorrect, and the only mistake the professor made—the only “unacceptable” thing he did—was not point this out.
What is doubly strange, of course, is that the authors of this article are arguing for a better education: their current learning environment, they claim, is “epistemically poor,” and they bemoan that they must “accumulate debt” for such a lackluster product. And yet if we were to fashion the kind of educational atmosphere for which they advocate, we would be left with something both useless and repellent: a college that is hostile to science and fact, full of students that are oversensitive to fake slights, and run by a professorship that is scared and cowed by an angry and irrational student body. This would, as per Occupy’s mission, be a “new way of living;” it would also be a demonstrably worse way to live, as well.