The sexual harassment of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Test text:

Recounted in “‘It’s about time’: Ruth Bader Ginsburg praises #MeToo, recounts harassment in Sundance talk” (WaPo):

[When] Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a young, studious college kid taking a chemistry class at Cornell University… One day, as she was preparing for a test, she told her professor she felt uncomfortable with some of the material.

“He said, ‘I’ll give you a practice exam,’” Ginsburg recalled in an interview Sunday with NPR’s Nina Totenberg at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.

When Ginsburg went to class the next day, she discovered that the professor had actually just slipped her an advance copy of the real test. “And I knew exactly what he wanted in return,” she said. “And that’s just one of many examples.”

I need more context to accept that inference,* though of course I’m making an inference. She’s saying that her Cornell chemistry professor — a real person, whose name could be looked up — on his own motivation, imposed the means of cheating on an exam on her, expected her to discover what he had done and meant for her to interpret it as obligating her to have sex with him? I’m too wary of inferences to say I know exactly what RBG means, even as she’s alive today and subject to further questioning, but she is very sure of herself and knows exactly what this now-safely-dead man meant 60+ years ago.

I’m imagining a context where I would, like her, be exactly sure. When Professor X hands her the real exam and says “I’ll give you a practice exam,” he says the word “practice” with a strong “if you know what I mean” inflection, and there would also have had be sexual innuendo in the surrounding conversation or in his gesturing toward her — or maybe in something she said. But if it was so obvious, why did she take the exam? Why didn’t she say, “No, thank you. I don’t need the ‘practice’ exam. I need to see what I can do on my own”?

What did she do when she realized she had unwittingly (wittingly??) cheated on the exam?

“I went to his office and I said, ‘How dare you? How dare you do this? And that was the end of that.”

Is that really enough to undo the advantage you accepted over the other students?

To the extent that this is a sexual story, I do want to see it in the context of its time. I think it was accepted as part of the culture that professors could chose students to draw into sexual relationships with them, that it was considered a perk of the job, and that professors were proud of what they got.


* WaPo isn’t withholding any context, as you can see from the video, which I’ve clipped to the relevant spot:

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Author: (Ann Althouse)

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