Will’s Bout with Feminists

by Andrew Johnson
Sexual-assault comments trigger outrage, calls to fire longtime columnist.

Commentators, feminist leaders, and even some lawmakers are blasting George Will for a recent column that they say trivializes sexual assault.

Will penned a column titled “Colleges become the victims of progressivism” over the weekend in the Washington Post. (The column also appeared at National Review Online and other publications). In the column, Will raises questions about the recent efforts by the Obama administration and Congress to address sexual assault on college campuses and the potential impact of fostering a victimhood mentality among students in other areas of academia as well.

Will’s most contested line is in the column’s first very paragraph: “[Colleges and universities] are learning that when they say campus victimizations are ubiquitous (‘micro-aggressions,’ often not discernible to the untutored eye, are everywhere), and that when they make victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges, victims proliferate,” he writes.

According to critics, the longtime columnist suggested that claims of sexual assault are attempts to get attention and/or the result of excessive sensitivity.

That characterization escalated to a widespread media firestorm of condemnation, demanding a range of punishments. Many critics are slamming Will; others are asking for an apology; and some want him fired.

Will’s commentary drew particular ire from self-professed feminists, many of whom didn’t pull any punches. For example, Jezebel’s Erin Gloria Ryan civilly characterized Will’s piece as “Ladies Love Being Rape Victims, Says Asshole,” and offered “a sincere and heartfelt F[***] you, George Will.” Meanwhile, at The New Yorker, Amy Davidson called Will’s take “confused and contemptuous.”

Others said Will is not concerned about the issue of sexual assault. While Will clearly states that rape must be addressed and taken seriously and only criticized the current approach, Salon’s Katie McDonough stated that Will “does not think that sexual assault on campus is a big deal.” Others joined in her in that sentiment, and launched the #SurvivorPrivilege hashtag.

Meanwhile, Georgetown professor and fill-in MSNBC host Michael Eric Dyson took it one step further: As the Washington Free Beacon noted, Dyson said women were “re-raped” and “re-traumatized again verbally and rhetorically” by the publication of Will’s column.

Some readers would like to see Will fired. The Chicago Tribune’s Heidi Stevens wrote that Will has lost “all credibility.” “I don’t see how George Will can keep his job,” she wrote.

Stevens did not say outright that Will should be let go, but National Organization for Women President Terry O’Neill wants the Washington Post to drop Will’s column after 40 years. An online petition asks the same.

Will managed to draw attention from those beyond the chattering classes as well, with some members of Congress emerging to condemn the column. Representative Jackie Speier of California wrote her own response in the Washington Post, in which she said he “laid bare the backward, Mad Men-era mentality” toward women.

Meanwhile, Democratic senators Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York tweeted their disapproval, with the former calling on Will to apologize:

Despite the backlash, the Washington Post’s opinion editor is sticking by Will and its decision to publish the column.

“I think George’s column was well within bounds of legitimate debate on an important topic,” Fred Hiatt said in an e-mail to the International Business Times. “I welcomed his perspective and I think the ensuing debate, including responses we will publish, is very healthy and exactly what a good opinion section should be offering its readers.”

— Andrew Johnson is an editorial associate at National Review Online.