PC Culture

Being Bigger Than the Person You’re Asking Out Deemed Title IX Violation

(Robert Galbraith/REUTERS)
This article has been retracted.

Editor’s Note: This article and its headline originally stated that a male student at the University of Missouri was found in violation of Title IX because he asked a female student on a date and “was perceived as having power over her.” The article accurately quoted the deposition of the Title IX case, but it left out relevant details. In fact, the male student had made repeated, unwelcome advances toward the female student and was found in violation of Title IX for stalking her. He is suing the university and alleging that its Title IX office engaged in arbitrary enforcement and racial discrimination, but his lawsuit does not contest the fact pattern left out of this article. We are retracting the article and we regret the error. The article, including the initial editor’s note, is below.

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A student at the University of Missouri was found to be in violation of Title IX in part because he asked another student out on a date and is physically larger than she is.

According to a document about the case, the male student was deemed to have violated civil-rights law — and was guilty of sexual harassment — because he asked a female student out on a date that she did not want. Why? Because he was bigger than her, and his “physical size” meant that “he was perceived as having power over her.”

The deposition gained some attention after it was shared by KC Johnson, a Brooklyn College professor, on Twitter.

It’s not clear from the documents what kind of punishment, if any, that the student faced for his violation — but the fact that an official even deemed what he did to be a violation is scary enough. To be fair, the document does report that the male student had also been pestering the female student for dates and wasn’t leaving her alone — which is, obviously, unacceptable — but the fact that his physical size was enough to constitute a violation-worthy power imbalance is absolutely ludicrous.

Sexual harassment and discrimination are both very serious issues, and it’s important to have policies in place to protect people from them. This, however, is quite clearly a total abuse and misuse of Title IX.

So what if he was bigger than her? Spoiler alert: Most men are bigger than most women. If it’s a violation to ask out a woman who is smaller than you, then both men and women are going to have a lot fewer options in their romantic lives.

The way in which this kind of thinking hurts men is obvious: They risk violating a law, and potentially being punished for it, over what every sane person could agree is normal human behavior. What may be less obvious, though, is that it hurts women, too. For one thing, a lot of women like going out on dates, and men being too afraid to ask them out on dates for fear of being in violation of Title IX could easily result in fewer of them. Yes, the women could always ask out the men that they are interested in — assuming, of course, that those men are larger than they are — but the truth is, a lot of women don’t like to do that. Personally, I know that I strongly prefer for a man to ask me out rather than the other way around. Is that based on some kind of abstract social construct? Maybe it is, I don’t know, but I do know that most of the women I have talked to would agree with my preference nonetheless.

Aside from the practical consequence of potentially fewer dates, this sort of philosophy hurts women in yet another way, too: It makes us appear weaker and less capable than men, strictly because of our size. Think about it — this sort of interpretation of Title IX suggests that women are too fragile to be able to handle the seemingly innocuous experience of being asked out on a date that they don’t want without having administrative help to handle it. This, to me, is not feminism. To me, feminism should emphasize the strength of women; it shouldn’t portray us as incapable of handling normal social interactions on our own. Turning down a date that you don’t want is hardly a fun experience, but I have faith that the vast majority of women (yes, even college students) are perfectly capable of handling it on their own. Policies should reflect this reality — and they certainly shouldn’t harm both men and women in their attempt to solve problems that don’t even really exist.

Editor’s Note: This article and its headline have been updated since its original publication to reflect that the Title IX violation allegation was only in part due to the asking of another student out on a date.

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