It’s the darkest irony of the year so far. Last week, feminists, alongside many others, were praising the recently deceased Harper Lee and her extraordinary literary achievement. Yet just hours later, they were behaving like Lee’s literary villains, the outraged mob in To Kill a Mockingbird, who are driven by an ugly, singular conviction: that if enough angry people believe a man is guilty of rape, then he is guilty of rape, and to hell with due process.
In their outpouring of belief in pop star Kesha, who claims to have been sexually assaulted but has never had those claims tested or proven, these Lee-celebrating feminists did precisely what Lee’s most immoral characters did: They assumed that a man was guilty of rape on the basis of nothing more than accusation and suspicion.
The Kesha story reveals the irrational rot that has set in within much of modern feminism. Kesha spent months trying to wriggle free from her contract with Sony, on the basis that her producer, Dr. Luke, had previously sexually assaulted her. She said that continuing to work with Sony would cause her “irreparable harm.” But there’s a small problem for Kesha: These claims of rape have never been brought to criminal trial and thus remain unproven. So it’s her word against Dr. Luke’s, and he says her claims are “outright lies.” Understandably, the Manhattan Supreme Court in New York City, which presumably works from the understanding that Dr. Luke, like everyone else, is innocent until proven guilty, has rejected Kesha’s request to be released from her contract.
If you are made physically ill by the use of the word ‘alleged’ to describe someone accused of a crime, then you have a serious problem.
Feminists don’t think this is understandable. For them, the Kesha-contract lock is a crime against womankind. They’ve got the hashtag #FreeKesha trending on Twitter. And, most strikingly, they’ve rallied around Kesha as a victim of sexual abuse who has now been abused further by the court system. They casually, tyrannically assume that Kesha was sexually assaulted, which of course also has the effect of branding Dr. Luke an assaulter, despite the fact that he has never been tried or convicted of this offense. Lena Dunham, self-appointed feminist spokeswoman, says, “Lena Dunham + Lenny stand with Kesha.” And, alarmingly, she adds that she was made physically nauseous by the New York court’s “legally necessary but sickening use of the word ‘alleged’ over and over in reference to the assault [Kesha] says she remembers so vividly.”
#share#If you are made physically ill by the use of the word “alleged” to describe someone accused of a crime, then you have a serious problem. For the very basis of civilized law — and arguably of civilization itself — is that people cannot be condemned or destroyed by accusation alone. Dunham would prefer that the judge and the media simply say “Dr. Luke’s sexual assault,” with no “alleged.” Yet if such Stalinist finger-pointing became the norm, an accusation would be enough to brand someone guilty, and we would enter into very dark, unstable times.
Querying the use of the word “alleged” is also the theme of a Guardian commentary by Jennifer Gerson Uffalussy, who is shocked that the New York judge effectively told Kesha that “her own insistence of abuse wasn’t enough,” that “her words and thoughts . . . weren’t enough.” But they aren’t enough. If I say that someone punched me in the face, should that be “enough”? Enough to have my alleged puncher — with apologies to Dunham for my use of the sickening word “alleged” — punished in some fashion?
Across Twitter and in the pop world, self-styled feminists are insisting that Kesha is an abuse victim who now deserves to be liberated from her contract. Many are tweeting the phrase “I believe Kesha.” It’s meant to sound caring and female-friendly, but there is an ugly, Salem-like streak in this presumption of a man’s guilt. Discussion threads are overflowing with statements of belief in Kesha and defamation of Dr. Luke. At celeb site TMZ, one commenter says: “I believe Kesha. Maybe it’s because Dr Luke has a creepy look about him.” Yeah, a creepy look — he must be a rapist. Lock him up.
This mob mentality is alarming. And it’s becoming more commonplace in feminist circles. When Woody Allen’s daughter Dylan Farrow accused him of having abused her when she was a child, the Internet almost buckled under the weight of “I believe” declarations. One writer slammed those who presumed Allen was innocent, complaining that they were “saying that his innocence is more presumptive than hers.” But it is. That is how justice works. All of us are innocent until someone rigorously, beyond doubt, proves us guilty of a crime.
Assuming a defendant’s innocence is what distinguishes progressive societies from backward ones.
The life of porn actor James Deen has been thrown into disarray by accusations of sexual assault, none proven, which feminists have nonetheless taken as good coin. The Salem-like repetition of “I believe” in response to every accusation of sexual assault reached its nadir when Rolling Stone magazine slavishly nodded along as a female student at the University of Virginia spun out a dramatic gang-rape story invented from whole cloth. On campus, the authoritarianism of automatic belief in male guilt is wreaking terrible injustices. When I visited a protest at Columbia University staged in solidarity with “mattress girl” — a student who claimed to have been raped but never took her claim anywhere near a court — I noted the rise of “Ivy League lynch mobs.” They might be better-educated than earlier lynch mobs, but, as I argued at NRO, they share their “moral righteousness and disregard for due process.”
And now we have the knee-jerk, sentimental belief in Kesha and the presumption of Dr. Luke’s guilt. Why don’t we do away with courts entirely and simply let Dunham and other feminists weigh the guilt of accused rapists based on how strange or creepy they look?
Assuming a defendant’s innocence is what distinguishes progressive societies from backward ones. It’s the idea that infuses To Kill a Mockingbird. Atticus Finch insists that the black man, Tom, who is accused of rape must receive a fair trial. We learn later that Tom is innocent and that his accuser, Mayella, made up the whole thing. Could that be the case with Kesha, too — that she’s making it up and Dr. Luke is innocent? We don’t know. But entertaining that possibility is what makes us more like Atticus Finch than the Tom-hunting mob, which today’s feminists seem to have modeled themselves on.
— Brendan O’Neill is the editor of spiked and a writer for The Spectator.