Daniel Abramson, a Vassar STUDENT (who we must assume thinks of himself as some sort of highfalutin version of Mystery) had signed up to teach this mini-course, which was available to all students for zero credit. The course description for the now-cancelled class read:
This course aims to take a critical look at dating across lingual/cultural barriers. Experts in each local will be brought in to the class for instructional purposes. Coming out of this class students should feel informed enough about different mating rituals to approach women of different national backgrounds.
The course was canceled after only one class. The first class of The Language of Ladies was titled "Orienting Yourself for Women of the Orient," which, of course, raised some red flags. According to Ming Tseng, a guest columnist for the Vassar student paper, the class itself was no better than the title:
Audience member Reese Wong '10 said, "Some points Dan made about body language, politeness, common greeting customs, and the manner in which phone numbers are exchanged in Japan were valuable tips for people traveling to Japan, but I took offense to many of the stereotypical ways that Japanese women were described." In the guest lecturer's presentation, Japanese women were characterized as shy and giving, among other essentializing descriptions. The instructor admits that he did not collaborate with the guest lecturer and read over the presentation; therefore, he takes full responsibility for allowing those stereotypes to be reinforced.
Although she does not support the racist undertones of the course, Tseng is of the opinion that the incident should be viewed as a "teaching moment" that can open dialogues about race and gender.
Abramson himself has spoken out about the course, and apologized for the first class, which he admits "proved to be insulting" after all. He claims that he did not intend the discussion to take the turn that it did, and says he hopes to learn from the experience so that such a situation won't occur again in the future.
However, some students seemed to really like the class. Alexander Holodny, another guest columnist for the Miscellany News wrote,
Forums such as The Language of Ladies serve not as secretive manipulation schools, but rather as safe environments for men to discuss strategies to find substance in their lives. There is nothing wrong with being interested in your sexuality, despite the proverbially forbidden nature of sex. Especially if, in taking interest, men create a positive environment that enables them to internalize the essence of sexual interaction.
While I can completely understand how this course may have felt like a "safe environment" for men, I fail to see how this is any different from the rest of our fucking culture. Even at a liberal school like Vassar, surely there is some space where men can talk amongst themselves about men stuff, like "mating rituals" and how to "take" a woman to bed.
Holodny went on to defend the course, claiming that it was an accurate representation of cultural differences and thus should not be considered offensive. He argued that "the fact that Japanese women, in the general sense, tend toward shyness and generosity should not be interpreted as an offensive assertion-it's a merely an observation," one that could potentially help a man who is looking to "mate" with an "Oriental" woman. He ended his piece by asking the ladies of Vassar "Wouldn't it be refreshing to meet guys who feel grounded, confident, lively and playful? Guys with swagger?"
[Image viaLarry Miller's Flickr]
Mini-Course Raises Issues Of Sexism And Racism [The Miscellany News]
Canceled Mini-Course Was Crucial Safe Environment For Male Students [The Miscellany News]
Mini-Course Was Intended To Teach Multiculturalism [The Miscellany News]