Culture

Feminists Seize the Moment for Sisterly Revenge

Participants at the Women’s March in Los Angeles, Calif., January 20, 2018. (Reuters photo: Patrick T. Fallon)
And Katie Roiphe gets bashed for documenting the reaction of women who see and disapprove of the overreaction.

Women aren’t automatically credible when making accusations of sexual misconduct. Getting very drunk with a man could lead him to make a pass at you, or vice versa. Power is and as always has been a turn-on for women. Not every woman gets sexually harassed. Not every male sexual transgression is serious enough to merit his losing his job.

It’s all common sense. And yet Katie Roiphe must be counted as courageous for saying such things in her thoughtful Harper’s essay “The Other Whisper Network: How Twitter Feminism Is Bad for Women.” On social media, Roiphe finds herself being scored all over again, having been vitriolically denounced last month when rumors about the contents of the essay hit the Internet while it was still being written.

Roiphe detects a gleeful overreaction in the wake of the revelations of sexual misconduct by powerful men in the media and entertainment industries.

After the 2014 mass shooting in California carried out by a man who said he was sexually frustrated and hated women who rejected him, feminist writer Rebecca Solnit made what might be the mother of all slippery-slope arguments when she said, “I think it’s important that we look at all this stuff together,” meaning all kinds of male misbehavior. “It begins with these micro-aggressions; it ends with rape and murder.” Never mind that the killer in question had been prescribed antipsychotic medication to treat schizophrenia. Mansplaining, massacre, it’s all very much part of the same continuum. Feminists like these are pushing for a sort of Singapore of sexuality, where the equivalent of spitting out your gum on the sidewalk earns you a flogging because otherwise how will you learn your lesson? Since depriving a man of his livelihood is not as bad as sending him to prison, they claim, we need not be unduly concerned about due process. “I get the queasiness of no due process. But . . . losing your job isn’t death or prison,” wrote Dayna Tortorici, an editor at n+1, in one particularly chilling instance of the problem Roiphe cites. The idea of group guilt is becoming so widespread that apparently liberal men have begun  scourging themselves: One feminist’s husband asked her, “How can you even want to have sex with me at this point?” This kind of blanket condemnation is properly labeled ludicrous when applied to any group other than the chief target of feminist ire, which is straight white men. Are all peace-loving Muslims supposed to interrogate themselves on the assumption that they might be terrorists deep down inside?

It’s hard to escape a sense that feminists see the moment as one of sisterly revenge against men in general. Big-eyed Timmy didn’t call or even text you after that drunken hookup junior year? Well, you can’t do anything about that but you can delight in the fall of Lorin Stein, the Paris Review editor who apparently lost his job for no reason other than having had affairs with willing staffers and whose career now looks like the equivalent of a hapless business that got burned down because it happened to be located in a riot zone. Stein is, or was, a highly regarded figure in the literary world and his high status was surely attractive to many women. Dating consenting women, even professional subordinates, isn’t ordinarily misconduct, so feminists are falling back on calling it “an abuse of power,” as though workplace affairs weren’t as old as the workplace and as though women don’t use attractiveness to climb the status ladder. “Champagne anyone” was the Twitter reaction to Stein’s ouster posted by Moira Donegan, the creator of the “s****y media men” spreadsheet that crowd-sourced anonymous allegations of sexual misbehavior, seemingly for the purpose of destroying the careers of those on it. Stein, New Yorker writer Ryan Lizza, and several other men who subsequently lost their jobs were on the list.

Women feeling uneasy about all of this are feeling immense pressure to remain silent from peers, Roiphe points out, noting that she spoke to more than 20 professional women for her piece but none wanted her name to appear in it. Does it give feminists pause that women feel petrified to speak up? Is a movement that effectively silences even mild dissent by mostly like-minded people something to be proud of?

Women feeling uneasy about all of this are feeling immense pressure to remain silent from peers

Feminists are fixated on an endless victimization narrative that skeptics such as Roiphe find tiresome, disempowering, and unpersuasive. Sexism exists, Roiphe allows, but “is it the totalizing force, the central organizing narrative, of our lives?” At some point it begins to sound more like an excuse than a cry for punishment of male oppressors.

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