Mansfield Fox

Law student. Yankees fan. Massive fraggle. Just living the American dream.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Orthodoxy Reasserts Itself

There was a fascinating moment in my Corporations class yesterday, a thirty-second span in which one could almost see the left-orthodoxy of Yale Law, challenged, reassert itself with terrible might.

We were discussing the mandatory accountant rotation provision of Sarbanes-Oxley (briefly: no one accountant can work for the same corporation for more than five years consecutively) and the professor was criticizing the provision as probably useless, since rotated-in accountants would still be eager to please their bosses, and you might inadvertently rotate out hard-nosed diligent accountants in favor of chummy, lax ones. One of the students (a male 1L) countered that the provision still had some anti-capture value, in that it would decrease long-term socialization effects (accountants' families wouldn't be going to corporate picnics for 10, 15 years, etc). (It wasn't an especially insightful comment, but that's not the point.) What got the poor boy in trouble, though, and shook the philosophic foundations of the Yale Law School to its core, was how he phrased his point. He referenced: "accountants' lives, their wives' lives, their kids' lives...."

This, you see, was a bridge too far. A faint hiss went out from the classroom, followed by people, not whispering nor shouting but both (shouspering?) "...or their husbands' lives...." For you see, in one (I assume) inadvertent turn of phrase, he had committed a cardinal sin: he had failed in his duty to always speak in a gender-neutral manner. (It's the same rule that requires that in all examples where the person is generic, or their gender is unknown, the female pronoun must be used.) His words had implied, or could have been construed to imply, that accountants are men. We know, in fact, that women can be accountants, and that if we fail to constantly affirm this the forces of counterrevolution, waiting over the border, will swoop back in armed with coat-hangers and corsets.

So class came to a halt for a moment as the professor tried to figure out what was going on. The student, who is - I believe - a conservative or libertarian, said, "Oh, that Yale Law," before accepting his fate and adding the "or their husbands' lives," to his comment. And thus, order was restored to the universe, and everyone was able to get back to their primary business: not understanding Sarbanes-Oxley.

I'm going to remember this story, I think, whenever anyone tells me that the big problem liberals have is that they're too nice, and too unwilling to judge other people. I probably won't share it, but at least I'll have a nice chuckle.

The meta-ironic twist at the end of the story is this: it wasn't until this morning that I realized that the shouspering faction in the class were themselves engaging in a 21st Century academic thought-crime. You see, they were presuming that anyone married to a "wife" was necessarily a "husband", and that "husbands" were male, and from there the assertion that accountants are male, and thus the thought-crime of non-gender-neutrality. But that line of reasoning itself contains a thought-crime: the thought-crime of heteronormativity. What reason do we have to presume that wives aren't married to other wives? Perhaps the accountants of the example were lesbians? To assume that anyone with a wife must be a male husband reeks of the kind of heteronormative bias for which Jada Pinkett Smith was recently denounced. You heard it here first, folks: Yale Law School is a den of heteronormative bigots.