Read free
Srinivasan, Amia. Sex as a Pedagogical Failure
2020, Yale Law Journal 129 (4)
Expand entry

In the early 1980s, U.S. universities began regulating sexual relationships between professors and students. Such regulations are routinely justified by a rationale drawn from sexual-harassment law in the employment context: the power differential between professor and student precludes the possibility of genuine consent on the student’s part. This rationale is problematic, as feminists in the 1980s first observed, for its protectionist and infantilizing attitude toward (generally) women students. But it is also problematic in that it fails to register what is truly ethically troubling about consensual professor-student sex. A professor’s having sex with his student constitutes a pedagogical failure: that is, a failure to satisfy the duties that arise from the practice of teaching. What is more, much consensual professor-student sex constitutes a patriarchal failure: such relationships often feed on, and reinforce, women’s second-class standing in higher education. As such, these relationships can thwart the legal right of women students, under Title IX, to exist in the university on equal terms with their male counterparts. Whether or not we should ultimately favor such an interpretation of Title IX—whether or not, that is, it would render campuses ultimately more equal for women and other marginalized people—it is clear that university professors need to attend more carefully to the sexual ethics of their own practice.

Comment: Srinivasan made international headlines in 2021 with her book, The Right to Sex (2021), which includes an adapted version of this essay. In the midst of the #MeToo movement and global reckoning with cultures of sexual harrassment, she turned a sharp, philosophical lens towards many of the topics regarding power, sexuality, and feminism that not only had been brushed under the rug in popular media, but had also been largely considered irrelevant for philosophical investigation. This essay would make for fruitful discussion in courses or reading groups specifically focused on feminist themes, or could be used in more interdisciplinary contexts to study the #MeToo movement and the current state of modern feminist thought (other essays on similar topics can also be found in the book). For the purposes of offering the version of the essay in its most academic form, this entry cites the earlier version which was published in the Yale Law Review in 2020.

Export citation in BibTeX format
Export text citation
View this text on PhilPapers
Export citation in Reference Manager format
Export citation in EndNote format
Export citation in Zotero format
Share on Facebook Share on LinkedIn Share by Email
Can’t find it?
Contribute the texts you think should be here and we’ll add them soon!