#11 Bad Idea: A Regret

In 1993 I took a course in feminist theory of literature. Unsurprisingly, I was one of three men enrolled in the class. The third guy never spoke, sat in the back and disappeared after about four weeks. The other guy was a gnomish fellow with a downy red beard and a smooth sculpted wave of hair that looked inescapably like a preacher's wig. He was a fundamentalist Christian, and I can only assume that he had taken the course in order to follow Christ's example of hanging out with tax collectors and prostitutes.

Because I was the only other man in the class, he viewed me as an ally and a secret sharer. He took to sitting next to me, making small talk and occasionally floating a timidly misogynistic joke to test the reception. I chose not to respond to the jokes, which I thought would shut him up, but instead he took it as silent encouragement. I should have known that jerks need friends so badly that you basically have to kick them in the teeth to keep them away from you. And the truth was that, beneath the conservative surface, a confused loneliness and a mass of unconscious, unexamined desires turned like a restless sleeper.

Anyway, one day the class was talking about the Lacanian notion of the phallus, and what Lacan was actually talking about (it's not easy to have a clear discussion when you keep throwing the word phallus around) when the red-haired guy leaned over and whispered, just loudly enough for his voice to carry, "If women ran the Pentagon, would the missiles be shaped differently"? The question was so grotesquely asinine, and so far removed from the actual discussion, that I had no adequate response. So I barked out "Shush!", like an angry governess. A couple of heads turned in our direction. The red-haired guy drew back in his seat, utterly confused, and I realized that I had been too kind to him, to the point where he viewed me as being complicit.

The bad idea, in this instance, was not to stand up and drag him by the ear out of the classroom, kick him in the head and maybe whip him with scourges or something. That would have been the right tactic.