…But then, some pervert might interpret it as a come-on.
As evil_fizz recently pointed out – most people are aware of Walcott’s reputation as, well, someone who doesn’t respect certain boundaries with women. As most of the recent defenses of Walcott attest, it isn’t that anyone is denying that improprities have occurred – instead, people are saying that we should have a different standard for Walcott than we do for other people.
I am sympathetic to Ruth Padel, Walcott’s rival for the Professor of Poetry post at Oxford, who had to resign after it was alleged that she engaged in a “smear-campaign” that forced Walcott to withdraw his nomination for the post. I think she was being careless when she talked to the media, but what does it say about our priorities when Walcott only recently saw his inappropriate conduct affect his career, whereas women like Padel are automatically reduced to the status of evil trolls when they discuss information that’s already in the public domain?
As a young female journalist and aspiring novelist, I am routinely warned to never, EVER criticize men like Walcott. If I want to have a writing career, I am told, I need to shut up and smile and allow the Great Men of Letters to bask in their Greatness. Perhaps then they’ll let me sit in their laps, or something.
More importantly, we are taught to believe that certain men who Live the Life of the Mind can and should get away with demeaning women. Tom Wolfe can call young college women “sluts,” Derek Walcott can be the sort of man whom female undergraduates are explicitly warned against and not be the worse for wear, and so on. Not harassing or demeaning women is already seen as a tough business for your average man, but a man whose “brain is the size of a planet” cannot be held responsible as they are too distracted by their own brilliance to act as responsible residents of this sinful firmament – hell, poor guy was only thinking deep thoughts on Daniel Defoe when he accidentally stumbled into your pants, lady.
Odd how these excuses are only extended to men wherein their conduct with women is concerned. If Walcott was prone to picking fellow academics’ pockets or abusing his cat, would we be even having this discussion?
You know, at Duke, I was lucky enough to find myself in the company of several people I would consider geniuses, both male and female. Amazingly, all of these people, including yet another male Noble Prize winner, had a fairly easy time not harrassing me or any of the other women around. I wonder how they achieved this.
I am not for a sterile collegiate environment where nobody should be allowed to mention sex without another person in the room keeling over in shock. But I think there is a clear difference between an honest discussion, even a bit of flirtatiousness, and outright harassment. Everyone knows that one professor than young women (or young men, or both) are warned about:
These are the individuals for whom even something as a few seconds worth of eye-contact is deemed as an explicit invitation. These are the ones that will hungrily stare at an exposed bra-strap on a summer day, as if you’re naked and spread before them. They’ll gallantly offer to pay for your food when they see you shaking out the last few dimes from your wallet at the coffee shop – “Why not? I consider you a friend. You’re one of my favourite students. Pay me back later.” – and then decide that you owe them a blow-job.
You know, I believe Derek Walcott is an amazing poet. His work gives me shivers – even as I type this in the Jordanian spring sun.
I’m not going to deny that many people pile on against men like Walcott not because they actually give a damn about their actions, but because they are secretly jealous of their talent or because they relish an opportunity to put a Caribbean author in his so-called place.
With all due respect to Kelby, who can’t be having an easy time with her case being re-visited by the media, I think this defense works about as much as “Plumbers, by nature, have reckless hearts.” There’s nothing inherently reckless about being good, even great, at stringing words together to produce a work of art. I hate it when writers pat themselves on the back for it, to be honest. Some hearts are reckless, and others are not. Some people act like d-bags, and others tend to do alright.
Walcott should be held responsible for his own behaviour, but I blame this actual scandal on the petty claustrophobia of rarefied academic circles, on the curious politics of privlege, on the insistence of treating human beings as if they were gods. This isn’t ancient Greece, and nobody is raptorously squeezing out grapes onto their togas. And even then, humans that blurred the line between the mortal and divine were usually left in pieces, whether metaphorically or otherwise.
…and the furred caterpillars of judges
examining each case closely,
and then in the dark ears of ferns
and in the salt chuckle of rocks
with their sea pools, there was the sound
like a rumour without any echo
of History, really beginning.
There are no windows here to let in night.
But we, our backstage company of stacked
and Victorian glass eyes: we know that this is night.
You can’t fool us, the seen-it-all,
the past-all-care, inured to managed air
turned cold to keep the straw in us pest-free,
the DNA of hide and bone intact…