A Taboo Worth Keeping
I am the author of one of the pieces Jonah Goldberg addresses in his article “The Taboo Cliché” (September 30). While I don’t speak for the other authors he discusses, I know that in the case of my Washington Post op-ed (“The Unintended Consequences of Laws Addressing Sex between Teachers and Students,” August 30), his extremely reductive approach utterly misses my point and trivializes the topic. I did not write this piece out of any desire to gain Internet infamy as the poster child for sexual relations between students and teachers, but rather out of concern for whether the societal reaction to certain types of sexual activity does more damage to the victim than the experience itself. There is ample authority for this position, which is quoted in some of my longer responses to my critics.
By reducing the topic to flippant sobriquets and puerile puns, Mr. Goldberg sidesteps the more interesting and subtle points about taboos. Taboos create an impermeable wall around certain activities that extends even to rhetoric and dialogue. It is not unreasonable to suggest that in some cases this distorts the societal responses to these topics in ways that are not uniformly healthy and beneficial. Not so long ago in this country, interracial marriage was one of these taboo topics. The media response to my piece by both the Right and the Left was noteworthy for the extremes to which most commentators went to misrepresent my logic, perfectly illustrating the type of journalistic opportunism and hysteria that ensues when someone challenges an accepted narrative about a taboo.