Thoughts from the ammo line

Last week Ammo Grrrll took up the question of microaggressions in A LIFE FULL OF MICROAGGRESSIONS. The question of microaggressions has taken shape on campus, where sensitive souls face mortal peril every day. It only makes sense that Ammo Grrrll returns this week with MICROAGGRESSIONS GO TO COLLEGE. She writes:

In the Autumn issue of City Journal, the brilliant and brave writer Heather Mac Donald, lifted the lid on the lunatic asylum that the modern campus has become in her treatment of “microaggressions”— the teeny tiny unintentional insults and nonexistent to minuscule offenses we discussed last week. The article is long, detailed, depressing, and a devastating indictment of academia’s kowtowing to the Perpetually Aggrieved Entitlement Crowd.

Capitulating to these disrespectful, willfully ignorant, gibberish-spouting thugs in college will lead to a conveyer belt of similar ideas into the workplace as surely as God made little green apples. It is readily apparent that the fewer actual obstacles women and people of color have to success, the more that have to be made up out of whole cloth.

When I read about the eggshells that today’s professors have to walk on to avoid giving any offense to the fragile, yet belligerent Snowflakes, I think of my flamboyant and wonderful college French teacher, Madame Gaumer. She would have melted a few Snowflakes. I could not forget my first day of French II class at Northwestern University even if I had had a full frontal lobotomy. (“I’d rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy.” Rim shot.)

In those days, when dinosaurs roamed the earth, if you waited for 10 minutes for your professor to show up to class, you could leave. At precisely 9 minutes after the hour, a reed thin “woman of a certain age,” smoking a smelly Gauloise cigarette, wearing 6-inch heels and a tight leather skirt, blew through the door, hair flying. She was speaking rapidly in a language I thought must be Italian, as I did not recognize a single word, despite having taken what I was pretty sure had been two years of French in high school. I had been advised to enroll in college French II rather than the introductory course.

“Okay,” I thought. “I will sit here as quiet as a mouse (comme tranquille comme une souris) as I am obviously in the wrong class, and flee at the end of the hour, never to return.” She began taking attendance and speaking to each individual at some terrifying length. Uh-oh.

Despite fervent prayer, a meteor did not hit the classroom. She called my name and asked me a question. My mind was a Magic Slate. I tried to intuit which phrase I remembered could possibly be the correct answer to her question: “The pen is on the table,” or “Margot and my uncle are going to the library.” What were the chances that she gave a crap where the pen was? And why, come to that, did my uncle spend so much time with Margot?

“Evidently I do not speak French,” would have been the appropriate answer. I was too traumatized to speak at all and feared I might either throw up or cry, neither an attractive option, even in a 17-year-old.

She must have made fun of me because the rest of the class, made up of her previous French I students, laughed heartily. In retrospect, I’m pretty sure that was a microaggression or possibly even a mini-one. Since she was a Parisian, she routinely mocked students for speaking with a South of France accent. What is it about the South in every country that elicits such condescension? She also clearly preferred the boys over the girls and flirted openly with the guys.

After that disastrous first class, she took me aside and explained that I should probably drop the class and re-register for Beginning French I. She said my only other alternative was to work really, really, really hard to catch up to the upperclassmen. She didn’t hold out much hope for me. I said the only other thing I could think of: “I have a headache, but sometimes it snows.” And then I resolved to work hard. Really, really, really. And did.

While my roommate (Drama major, legacy, astonishing binge drinker) went to fraternity parties, I stayed in our dorm room translating Proust (great) and Camus (overrated, depressing). I sat with a French-English dictionary on one side and a regular Oxford dictionary on the other, since often, even after I found out what the French word meant in English, I still didn’t know what the English word meant. It took me hours to do a short lesson from a wretchedly boring book called Village en Vaucluse. And then one day, Mon Dieu!, I was actually speaking French!

(Bonus old joke: Beautiful coed goes to professor and says, “Sir, I will do ANYTHING to get an ‘A’ in this course.” Professor: “Anything?” Coed: “Yes.” Professor: “Try studying, dear.”)

I made respectable, hard-earned “B”s for three quarters – years before grade inflation – and with a prodigous effort, made an “A” the final quarter. I have rarely been prouder of any accomplishment. And so, Mme., wherever you are in your 80s or 90s – an iron lung or a Left Bank apartment in Paris with your 50-year-old lover – I thank you for not coddling me, for making me earn the right to “esteem” myself. Merci beaucoup. The microaggrieved should be so lucky.