Tuesday, June 9, 2009


I live on a farm for the weekends and I love to sit on my 150 year old front porch and rock in my white wicker rocker and look at the cows in the next field. I often try to read a book on the porch, but soon become distracted by the one bull in the field. He is so ridiculous that he makes me laugh. When the barn door opens he prances into the field and makes a God awful screech and tears toward the dozens of cows who amble over to the opposite fence to get away from him. The cows hover together as though the bull is a nuisance and it is best to simply get away from him and not make eye contact. Sometimes, for absolutely no reason, he begins kicking his back legs in the air and bellowing. Then he charges into the middle of the huddled kine and they all scatter to be as far away from the bull as possible.

All the cows recognize the sound of the farmer's truck as he comes over to milk them and put them in their stalls for the night. They all amble toward the barn as he drives up the long driveway. The bull butts in front of them and never lets them in first and turns around and screams enraged epithets at them. None of the cows argue-- they just look the other way as you would if someone was a perpetual bully that you had to live with. Sometimes he tries to mount them and they always do a little two step to get away from him the second he starts any mating behaviour. They try not to hurt his feelings. They just pretend that there is a patch of grass on the other side of the field that they urgently have to investigate. He may go on to pester them and then they get mad and jump away and shake their heads as in 'No means no'.

I was telling the farmer how funny I thought it was that the bull has such bad mating habits and how he has no idea how to be charming. The farmer said, "Oh I know he is always making a fuss about something and pounding his chest in front of the ladies." I indicated that the cows think he is royal bombastic pain. The farmer started laughing and said, "I know he is such a show off. His name is Arnold, after Arnold Schwarzenegger who comes out guns blazing. The funny thing is that I have never had to buy that expensive sperm in a bottle like many of the other farmers have to resort to because, believe it or not, every one of these dozens of cows will be pregnant by good ol' Arnold come the spring." He said that they pretend to hate him "but they don't hate him that much."

I was shocked, but like the farmer, not that shocked because I thought of a scene in graduate school when I was in the psychology department thirty years ago that reminded me exactly of this field of cows. There was a single ( as in twice divorced) randy older (back then old meant 35-40) male professor who used to 'come on to' most of the female graduate students at various symposia and parties. I'll call him Professor Gold. He would use pathetic ploys like singing slow songs, albeit off key, in your ear when he asked you to dance. All of the female grad students used to huddle in the ladies washroom at the Christmas party and say that they would rather have sex with a lab rat than Professor Gold.

The neuropsychology department had several hard core feminists who wore blue work shirts and farmers jeans with bibs. Remember this was thirty years ago and there were not that many females in graduate school. We were a distinct minority. One day I went into the mail room where all graduate students went daily to pick up their mail and there was a huge sign with an empty sign-up-sheet below it that read: I SLEPT WITH DR. GOLD AT B.F SINNER'S ANNUAL BIRTHDAY PARTY AND HE GAVE ME HERPES. PLEASE SIGN IF THIS HAPPENED TO YOU. The graduate student was one of the aforementioned no nonsense girls from Neuropsychology. She signed her name. We all gathered around the sign and I said , But she thought Dr. Gold was a buffoon. I don't get it!" Someone said, "Well I guess she didn't hate him that much." This was.of course, before there were any laws about teachers having personal relationships with students. The words 'sexual harassment' had not been invented.

The drama did not end there. Within a week many other female graduate students had appended their names to the list and said that they too had herpes. Finally there were so many women that the list had to have another paper stapled on to the end of the sign-up-sheet so the other girls who had slept with Professor Gold could add their names. There was a comment section as well.( After all psychologists in the making knew how to write questionnaires.) The comments read 'What a scum bag' and 'It's all about numbers isn't it professor liar'. My favorite was "Fortunately I didn't get herpes, all I did was waste an evening or should I say one and a half minutes' Then she signed her name.

Clearly Professor Gold did not count on someone telling on him. His assumption 30 years ago was that no one would do that. Clearly he'd been infecting people for years and counting on their shame to work as a silencer. He would have been right if it had been 40 years ago but lots had happened to women's psyches in the 60's and 70's that he hadn't counted on. Every week when I went into the mail room new women had added their names. It was like in the move, Spartacus, when each of the men stands up and says 'I am Spartacus' Then another says 'No I am Spartacus.' This was the modern equivalent. 'I slept with Professor Gold' 'No, I slept with professor Gold.'

I admired these women so long ago who were not that worried about what other people thought about them. They knew it was worth warning others about a potentially life long sexually transmitted disease. They were heroes as was the Spartacus protectorate.

Aside from the tragedy of those women getting herpes, there was also an interesting sociological phenomenon buried within the situation. All of those women pretended in front of their colleagues, the other female graduate students, that the Lothario who was always obliviously on the make, was nothing but a nuisance. Yet Professor Gold's tactics were actually working since somehow, somewhere these women were sleeping with him. Professor Gold and the Arnold the bull knew far more about the female species than I will ever pretend to know.


  1. This is great. I was pretty tickled by the whole bull story, but really amazed when you drew the connection to your grad school professor. Outrageous! So glad things have evolved a little bit since then.

    I do love how the farmer has the bull's psyche pegged!

  2. When I was in graduate school I was amazed how many middle- to late-middle-aged (and none-too-attractive) professors were sleeping with or married to attractive young women. The young women were former or current students. Offhand I can think of four such instances, and these were professors I took classes from, which means there were probably more I didn't know about.

    One of my professors was in his mid 50s and was married to a woman in her late 20s who had been one of his undergraduate students. She was his third wife; the second had also been a student. One of my fellow students, an attractive, very talented woman who went on to a successful career, was dating a professor who was short, bald, potbellied, and an alcoholic. You might think it ended because she found someone more appealing, but in fact she caught him "in the act" with a friend and fellow student.

    I admit that as an undergraduate I flirted with, and was flirted with in return, by a 32-year-old assistant professor. In retrospect I'm embarrassed to have been such a cliche.

  3. Janet and Lesley,

    Loved your comments. We have all done the "professor thing." I dated one for year who was much older. Everyone thinks Freud exaggerates but I really buy into the idea that the whole professor thing is an abuse of power. We little grad students transfer our longing for admiration from our father, to these father figures and there were always letchy professors waiting in the wings to play the role. How else do you explain the almost universal phenomenon? As one professor said to me in the 60's-- "It's a job perk."