Friday, April 1, 2011

* Co-opting the Yale Feminists: "Holden Caulfield Week at Yale"

Date Rape's Pioneer: J. D. Salinger

In the 1970's at Kent State I would often be the only outsider, the only white guy, at Black United Students' meetings.  In the 1980's at the start of the AIDS crisis (then called Immune Deficiency Syndrome), at Yale I would often be the only non-member at Gay Student Alliance(?) meetings. In both cases I remained silent, uncharacteristically so.

I understood that whena  group is forming its identity, it need to exclude outsiders as decision-makers.

This type of group-narcissism is absolutely necessary if the group is not to feel co-opted.

And so, I hesitate to contribute to the feminist emboglio at Yale, which today erupted in its most aggressive form yet, with the announcement that  The University is under investigation by the United States Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights for possible violation of Title IX stemming from an alleged mishandling of several instances of sexual misconduct in recent years.

I hesitate, but as a student of American literature, I will not  decline,  to interfere.

It has fascinated me for years that the term "date rape" seems to have been coined by feminists, when in fact it first appears in the 1945 copyrighted  The Catcher in the Rye, which if you calculate the dates on pages 9 and 38, MUST  be being written (or dictated) in 1950, about a three day period in 17-year-old Holden Caulfield's life the year before (1949) when he was 16 years old.

Holden, and his creator, J.D. Salinger, have been denied their rightful place as the founders of two major cultural fashions:  boy's wearing their cap with the brim turned  backwards; and men as pioneers in avoiding date rape. (I'm sure Salinger could endure these dual disappointments, as he collected the royalties on 63 million copies of Catcher sold in his lifetime.)

The former, the brim-backwards-cap, is traditionally attributed to the famous and infamous  entertainer, Michael Jackson,  an accoutrement in his  performances of the Moonwalk, his own creation in the 1970's. 

However, it is clear that the most famous teen-ager in American literature since Huckleberry Finn, Holden Caulfield, originated the idea.

 Hear these words from Catcher: "I put on this  [red hunting] hat that I'd bought in New York that morning       . .  .    The way I wore it , I swung the old peak way around to the back--very corny, I'll admit, but I liked it that way." (Salinger, p. 17)

The second fashion or trend which Salinger and Holden get no credit for originating, is the term "date rape".

Salinger didn't invent the term, but he described the absolute minimal FEMINIST REQUIREMENTS for avoiding date rape:

Holden is furious that his roommate, Ward Stradlater, may have put on his “Abraham Lincoln, sincere voice” (Salinger, p.49) to con Holden’s friend, Jane Gallagher, into having sexual relations with him. When Holden describes himself as never having gone that far, he says, “The trouble with me is,                                         [when a girl says ‘stop’]    I stop.”(p. 94)

Now, I understand why feminists, as they solidify their group identity, decline to credit two males (J.D. Salinger and Holden Caulfield) with having championed the feminist position for equality in dating situations: they don't want to be co-opted by males.

But I do not understand why American literary critics haven't seized upon Holden as the first liberated male in American literature.  

Not only does he "stop" when a girl says "stop" but he abhors the idea of his studly roommate Stradlater using girls, and especially his friend Jane, as sexual plunder.

My hunch is that Holden is too honest for both the feminists and for the male and female literary critics:  After all, he says what no American "male" worthy of that name is supposed to say, regardless of the popularity of the recent movie Forty-year Old Virgin: "If you want to know the truth, I'm a virgin. I really am." (p. 92)

Maybe instead of a Sex Week at Yale, we need a 
Holden Caulfield Week at Yale. 

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