Severe or Pervasive

“So what you really are is the guru of bad sex for the university, right?” says I to Wifey.

“Women’s advocacy, if you don’t mind. And we’re professors, not gurus.”

So the debate is on. For background, Wifey is a full professor in the Writing Studies Department at the University of Minnesota. She has also taught courses in the Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies Department. Her specialty you can gather from the titles of her three full-length publications. The first was Victim Advocacy in the Court Room. The second, Rhetoric and Communication Perspectives on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, and she currently has a contract for a third book to be titled The Victim’s Voice in the Sexual Misconduct Crisis. She has published over 50 related articles as well. For these works, she has interviewed judges, prosecutors, sheriffs, and advocates regarding the Lethality Assessment Protocol (LAP) given by law officers to women to determine what immediate steps should be taken to protect them in domestic assault complaints. She has obtained and is reviewing all 156 Victim Impact Statements in the recent sentencing hearings of Larry Nassar, convicted of multiple sexual assault crimes against young women athletes at Michigan State University. She has also studied and written on the Minnesota Sexual Offender Program (MSOP), considered the most severe post-incarceration program in America for sex offenders, a virtual life sentence. In addition, she volunteers regularly at women’s advocacy organizations such as WATCH and TUBMAN.

These publications are scholarly in nature, not what you’d call page-turners. To Kill a Mockingbird or Lolita they are not. I myself, being just a poor, country high school teacher, had no idea what I was getting into when, late in life, I married this dynamo. Nevertheless, because I spent 40 years correcting student papers of one kind or another, I have a certain skill in proofreading. And so it has fallen to me to proofread the pages of these tomes as they come cascading off the computer of... her nibs. This I can do without really understanding what’s passing before me at all. Some of it, however, is disturbing indeed to an old man in decline.

“What’s this phrase, ‘severe or pervasive’ that keeps coming up, Sweetie?” I ask.

“It’s a standard used by courts to determine if a situation legally qualifies as sexual harassment,” says she.

“Really? That seems a little nebulous, doesn’t it? I mean a tooth ache could be severe or pervasive. Your fascination with this topic, in fact, is severe and pervasive.”

“Don’t worry it to death. It’s the court’s definition... their standard, not mine, OK?”

“No, but really... are you telling me that if sexual harassment doesn’t come up to two common English words, it’s not legally harassment at all? Suppose it’s only “mild or occasional” harassment? Is that legal?”

“If you insist, maybe so. In fact women face ‘mild or occasional’ harassment every day in the work place... unfortunately. Most of it goes unreported, you know.”

“Well, that’s exactly my point. They’ve picked the wrong two words. They’re not inclusive enough. Maybe ‘all or any’ sexual harassment should be the standard for legal intervention.”

“Sure. Then you guys would all be in jail.”

“No, but think of it this way. You... I mean the courts... have picked two words to define illegal or bad sexual conduct, right? I say that’s impossible. If you can do that, what two words would you use to define good sex... I mean legal sex.”

“And by legal sex you mean what exactly?”

That’s the problem, isn’t it? But let’s say I mean exactly adult, married, Christian, missionary-position sex. What two words will you and the courts use for that?”

“Well, it wouldn’t come before the court, would it? They needn’t define it at all.”

“But if you don’t hesitate to define illegal activity with two words, why can’t you do the same for legal activity? Be fair. C’mon, two words.”

“Legal sexual activity? How about ‘arousal and receptivity’ then?”

“Oh, my God! ‘Arousal and receptivity!’ That’s more X-rated than ‘severe or pervasive’ by far, isn’t it?! ‘Arousal and receptivity’ should get you three-to-five at least... by the sound of it!”

“Now you’re being silly. Go do the breakfast dishes.”

“You’re giving up! C’mon, two words.”

“OK, marital sexual activity. How about ‘uncoerced and loving.’”

“Ah, see now that’s clever! ‘Uncoerced’ is good. I’ll give you ‘uncoerced’ But ‘loving’ opens Pandora’s box. I mean, love runs the gamut from eros to caritas, doesn’t it... lust to caring. So when you use loving, we have to ask who’s loving whom and who’s loving what exactly.”

“You’re a massive complex of SHAME and GUILT, aren’t you. What happened to you?”

“Every parent in my generation was a complex of SHAME and GUILT. Where did they tell YOU babies came from... the stork, rainbows, kissing, the Keebler elves? Even in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve ‘... saw they were naked and were aSHAMEd and made aprons of fig leaves to cover themselves...’ as I recall. You may as well argue any kind of sex at all... married/unmarried, legal/illegal, severe/pervasive, uncoerced/loving... all of it... makes JESUS cry.”

“I see. Tell me, does proofreading these books for me make you feel SHAME and GUILT?”

“It’s worse than SHAME and GUILT. It makes me SQUIRM.”

“Well, you just go do the dishes then. I’ll find a nice graduate student to proofread for me.”

“On the other hand, reading this stuff helps me in a certain way. It lets me think through things ‘severe and pervasive’... and I think I’ve discovered what God really intended.”

“What God intended? I hate to ask. What?