Romance, Sex, Love, & Marriage: Necessities to Negotiate
When it comes to teaching courses that reflect different dimensions of diversity I get all kinds of responses to various things I do or would like to do. At first glimpse a reaction that might arise from people discovering the fact that I teach a Philosophy of Romance, Sex, Love, and Marriage (R, S, L & M) course is why a philosophy professor that directs a diversity center would think he is qualified to teach such a course. Well, you can’t separate elements of gender, socio-economic class, heterosexism and privilege from the subjects of romance, sex, love, and marriage! Even racism and ability visit these conversations readily. So, when I first cogitated teaching a philosophy course on R, S, L & M there was anxiety that the take on my desire to teach it would be that I was seeking to teach a titillating course, but one without substance. Yes, unfortunately, haters abound! Yes, regretfully some people live to find fault with others as a defense mechanism for their own inadequacies (lack of confidence/courage). If doers don’t because haters won’t, then doers don’t and haters won’t. Who wins? No one! Who loses? Well, if professors get too wrapped up in what some of their colleagues possibly say, then they won’t “do” what they should do, and those “haters” won’t do it either, thus the students lose. Well, we just can’t have that, can we!
Fortunately for me, as a young professor at SUNY Plattsburgh, my confidence was intensified from mentors like Dr. Beth Dixon, department chair of the Philosophy program and Dr. Dave Mowry, director of the SUNY Plattsburgh Honor’s Program, who both were extremely generous in granting a young brother an opportunity to hone his teaching skills. There is a specific relationship between my confidence in engaging a wide array of audiences and Dr. Dixon giving me my first teaching opportunity, followed by Dr. Mowry allowing me to design courses with exceptionally talented Honor’s students. When I think of the timing of certain events in my career it scares me sometimes. If I had arrived at a different time at SUNY Plattsburgh, in terms of teaching, I might have never developed my pedagogical techniques because of stodgy academicians who would have felt it necessary to reel in my creativity instead of encouraging it. You can’t possibly doubt that such egocentric personalities exist on college campuses. There isn’t anyone of us that attended college that couldn’t round up the usual suspects to fill out that lineup. Some say that luck is the residue of preparation. If that is the case, I don’t know how I prepared to meet Dixon and Mowry, but I was lucky I did. Oh, and if anyone wants to blame someone for the R, S, L & M course, start with Dixon and Mowry for giving me the opportunity to teach at SUNY Plattsburgh, and Dean Dr. Kathie Lavoie and Provost Dr. Robert Golden for assisting me in keeping the class alive once it became necessary for me to start teaching it as an interdisciplinary philosophy course. While I am framing colleagues as scapegoats to get myself off the hook, I must also blame Dr. Tom Moran for consistently believing in my vision. Now, my hands should be fairly clean having affixed the blame on this heavyweight cast of characters!
My thinking also was that those same students that I had the pleasure of teaching about diversity and social justice who had never been immersed in constructive conversations about diversity and social justice might also never have been immersed in proactive conversations about romance, sex, love, and marriage. I had never had any structured opportunities to discuss romance, sex, love, and marriage in a class room setting with others interested in the subject matter. How might my perspective have been different if I had an opportunity to consider how the two lovers Heloise and Abelard, John Paul Sartre, Simone De Beauvoir, Socrates/Plato, Martin Buber, Arthur Schopenhauer and others had engaged these topics. How might my perspective have been different if I had discussed many of their perspectives through the lens of Mel Gibson’s ability to read women’s thoughts in What Women Want? How much more skilled in the art of seduction/romance might someone be if they had access to how some men/women interpret the infamous hotel bar conversation between George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez in Out of Sight, or the opening encounter between Denzel Washington and Sanaa Lathan in Out of Time? Would I have more/less appreciation for the extremely different type of romantic sensuality portrayed in Nine 1/2 Weeks or Secretary? How different might my interpretation of marriage have been if I had extensively discussed the intricacies of the relationship between Tea Leoni’s and Adam Sandler’s characters in Spanglish?
I hope you feel free responding to any/all the various questions I have implied/asked above and the more specific ones I am asking below. The R, S, L & M course begins in four weeks, so I am getting in the mood for it. Join me?
ROMANCE: Most of us would admit to having been romanced, but what does it really mean to be romanced, or have romance? Is the concept of romance a universal notion that everyone somehow intuits similarly? What is your definition of romance? When does friendship transition into romance? Must friendship end or necessarily suffer when romance begins?
SEX: Most mature young college aged students have either had sex, or are thinking about it because they anticipate it happening. But how does sex differ from love making. What is the difference between sex, and love making in terms of gender or heterosexism? Can they all occur within a given moment in a relationship? Under what circumstances do they occur separate from one another? Is romance a prerequisite for sex or love making? NOTE: Keep in mind this is a family show so creative phrasing is paramount if you choose to elaborate/explicate sex!
LOVE: Who hasn’t been in love, desired love, or lost love? Who hasn’t declared love and wished they could take it back, or regretted the opportunity to express it, though being too cowardly to say it? Who hasn’t given up tremendous opportunities or made humongous statements about what they wouldn’t do for love? Was this ever you?
MARRIAGE: Many of us are the products of marriage. If we aren’t, in a relatively Judeo-Christian society we are judged as less than, when in actuality we were underprivileged this way by birth. Many of us point to marriage as the end-all, be-all moment of our lives because our society prepares us for the monumental moment of matrimony without any thoughts on marriage’s devilish downside, divorce. Marriage is often considered good or bad, based on certain societal criteria, but marriage affords many the social trappings to express themselves with others in ways that they may never be able to express themselves outside of a marriage. Marriage also further sanctions procreation, though many attempt to create without being a pro. What might be some of the other societal underpinnings associated with marriage that might assist/undermine the advancement of social justice?
Do you think there might be value in taking such a class in today’s society? (Apparently the students belive there is. The course is currently taught as an upper division elective and it filled almost immediately with my phone still ringing off the hook with students jockeying me for the opportunity to take it.) What is the upside/downside to such courses? Assist me in romancing this sexy topic that more of us would love to engage if we weren’t married to societal convention. I’m waiting!!!