March 12, 2023

LETTER TO THE EDITOR | Re: Re: “Lifting the FeMale Gaze”

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Last week, Laur Kim ‘23 wrote a Letter to the Editor claiming that my article, “Lifting the FeMale Gaze,” “perpetuates rape culture.” Kim constructs her entire argument around hypotheticals and assumptions, making her claims hard to defend. Kim states explicitly that “the author’s [intentions] to lift other women up” are “clear” but then accuses them of doing precisely the opposite. 

In this Letter to the Editor, Kim perverts my words to support her narrow agenda. Kim claims that my friend “confided” in me, but nowhere in my article did I give the impression that my friend was doing so. In the article, I used the term “friend” loosely, perhaps too loosely. I want to clarify here that this “friend” was a classmate with whom I had taken a number of classes and was “friendly,” but I would not consider us “friends.” I noted in my article that “she didn’t even seem wildly creeped out by her own comment,” which suggests that my classmate was not at all concerned about the situation she was relaying to me. Kim claims that “Pappas’ friend was likely describing an uncomfortable experience,” but she makes the incredible assumption that my friend was uncomfortable with the experience to begin with. As I stated explicitly in my article, my classmate’s tone was one of “nonchalance” and “indifference,” which is to suggest that she was not at all uncomfortable with her professor’s supposed ogling. I wrote that she “flattered herself,” implying that she was flaunting this claim and appeared to take pride in receiving high marks for this sort of perverted attention. 

Kim claims that my friend’s resignation to her own objectification is due to the fact that “it may feel like an impossible situation and she feels like no one will believe her, even her friends.” Kim’s claim here highlights the fact that she knows very little about my classmate’s perspective, only so much as what I gave in my initial article. For Kim to suggest that my friend was relaying to me what “may feel like an impossible situation” during our short dialogue is to reveal that Kim completely misunderstood and misinterpreted the exchange. If a woman “confided” in me with an actual concern about an experience with which she was uncomfortable, I would have replied very differently and most definitely not written an article about the situation, which would have exposed both my friend and the professor on a public platform such as The Sun.  

Kim constructs her entire argument around the hypothetical assumptions that “perhaps the professor’s harassment took place during office hours, in a more private environment. Or perhaps it had happened many times before and after the author’s experiment.” Perhaps one, both or none of these situations actually occurred. I concluded the investigation (which Kim and I can both agree was not at all thorough) after only one week because I realized that it actually didn’t matter whether or not the professor was looking at her boobs, which I do not state explicitly in the original article. What mattered was the way in which she went about making these statements that are harmful both to women and to men. When “women like her” make these sorts of statements so nonchalantly, they normalize their own objectification and victimization, and they trivialize other cases of objectification that are far more serious. The irony of this whole situation is that it is precisely these statements that perpetuate rape culture, which is what Kim accuses my article of doing. 

Kim does make a valid point when she writes, “Just because the author was not able to witness this experience does not mean that it did not occur.” Although I assert in the original article that there was no actual evidence of predatory behavior, I cannot be 100% confident about this. But, I can be 100% confident about my original claim that women should avoid the pitfall of self-victimization. If I didn’t make my argument clear in the original article, I’d like to here. My original claim was that women should not objectify or victimize themselves, regardless of what they’ve experienced. This argument stands strong with or without a male perpetrator, thus removing men from the equation altogether. Kim’s argument is based solely on the assumption that my classmate was indeed a victim, whereas mine is not. Regardless of whether or not my friend was actually ogled by any of her male professors, I would still argue that taking pride in a situation based on your own objectification and victimization, which my classmate’s tone clearly indicated she was doing, does much more harm than good. 

In the letter, Kim asks why I thought it “unlikely” that every male professor was looking at my classmate’s boobs. At first, I thought this was a rhetorical question, but, for the sake of clarity, I’ll answer it explicitly here: As a female who has spent most of her life as a student, I genuinely do not believe that the majority of male educators are abusers of power and perpetrators of sexual harassment. I’ve taken a number of classes with this classmate, all of which were taught by male professors, so I can speak additionally to the character of these men that she has accused (so much as I know them), and Kim cannot, since she knows nothing about the student or the professors about whom I’m writing. The majority of classes that I have taken at Cornell were taught by male professors, and I’ve never come to the conclusion that I received the grades that I did in those classes because of my boobs. I don’t enter every encounter with men under the assumption that they will objectify or assault me. If I did, I would become a completely paranoid and fearful version of myself, which would not at all empower me as a person or a woman. 

I would urge readers like Kim to consider how little they might know about the perspective of the author (yours truly). Perhaps only a woman familiar with the feeling of victimhood could write the original article, which was so vehemently opposed to the idea of female objectification. Most readers know nothing about me, as a writer and a woman — only as much as I present to them in my writing. I’d urge all readers to acknowledge the fact that they know very little about the point of view of the author and the situation about which they are writing. Instead of shutting down dissenting views with buzzwords accusing my article of “blaming the victim” and “perpetrating rape culture,” readers should respond with the same sort of sensitivity and nuance that they would have for writers with views similar to their own. 

Isabelle Pappas ‘23