A couple of weeks ago in class I found myself shifting uncomfortably in my seat, unfortunately not due to any intriguing challenge to my perspective. My English professor, who is extremely intelligent, concluded an anecdote regarding the derogation of her field by people who were–as she so charmingly put it–“too stupid to understand” the connections of classical literature to everyday lives with a facetious remark about how some individuals in society should be prevented from reproducing.
While I empathize that in the context of the discussion she was merely expressing her frustration with those who contend against literature as relevant, and while I have most certainly shared in these exasperating experiences of defending from disparagement my choice to pursue a BA in English, I found her comment toward the “average person” unwarranted if not cruel. Her sentiment is not unique; I’ve heard it throughout the course of my life referenced casually in conversations with intellectuals, whom I suspect have internalized the violence of historically proposed reproductive policing that aimed to prevent disabled and/or poverty-stricken women from having children through compulsory sterilization. The targeted demographic included women of color, in righteous protection of “racial integrity” and “weeding out the ‘unfit.'”
Even before acquiring any knowledge of this history, these comments would offend my very sense of morality in that they are obscenely egotistical, suggesting that the speaker decides who is granted the privilege of reproductive freedom and bodily autonomy–a class of people in which one would arrogantly include oneself.
OF COURSE I’ve told people that they’re obtuse to even ask such a question as “How is that [literature] relevant?” but I would never even think to tell them they don’t deserve to have children. (wtf?) Once you’ve leveled, what need is there for an arbitrary attack, other than to cheapen your position and advertise your misanthropy? I’d like to think I wouldn’t view myself as better than someone just because I’ve read Greek tragedies in fairly good translations.
I wanted to say something, but the fluid manner in which she was speaking (as though it were a lecture) made it nearly impossible to interrupt her politely.
Disturbingly, her anecdote had specified the setting as a “rural area” and a sense of classism was evident. This tendency of liberal intellectuals to promote equality but derogate the “average person” in their elitism has long been a source of disquiet for me. Despite belonging to the English department, where I had always felt warm and welcome and freed from judgment, a familiar sense of alienation and loneliness emerged from within me. She wasn’t being judgmental–at least, she’s not a judgmental person–and she wasn’t talking about me, but I suppose the feeling surfaced from the evidence that we may not be quite as alike in respects to what is or isn’t considered tactless and inconsiderate. Sadly, the consensus of class seemed to agree with her.