Sunday, November 13, 2011


Really? Have we really stepped into the Wayback Machine and gone back in time ten or fifteen years, when one of the easiest way to get an op-ed into a "liberal media" publication was to declare yourself a feminist-who-hates-feminism? Are we really back in those days again? Are used copies of Camille Paglia's Sexual Personae really going to start going for more than, um, a penny?

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you veteran Paglia-wannabe Katie Roiphe in today's New York Times. Watch as she completely ignores the actual charges leveled against Herman Cain, which, if true, really rise to the level of sexual assault, and argues that all this fuss about sexual harassment is much ado about nothing:

...The problem is, as it always was, the capaciousness of the concept, the umbrellalike nature of the charge: sexual harassment includes both demanding sex in exchange for a job or a comment about someone's dress. The words used in workshops -- "uncomfortable," "inappropriate," "hostile" -- are vague, subjective, slippery. Feminists and liberal pundits say, with some indignation, that they are not talking about dirty jokes or misguided compliments when they talk about sexual harassment, but, in fact, they are: sexual harassment, as they've defined it, encompasses a wide and colorful spectrum of behaviors....

The creativity and resourcefulness of the definitions, the broadness and rigor of the rules and codes, have always betrayed their more Orwellian purpose: when I was at Princeton in the '90s, the guidelines distributed to students about sexual harassment stated, "sexual harassment may result from a conscious or unconscious action, and can be subtle or blatant." It is, of course, notoriously hard to control one's unconscious, and one can behave quite hideously in one’s dreams, but that did not deter the determined scolds....

At this point, Roiphe should be able to produce a list of Dreyfuses whose lives have been ruined by being brought up on charges of unconscious harassment. If she knows of any, I'd love to hear about them. In fact, what's more likely to happen on college campuses -- at least with a certain class of young men accused of acts far worse than mere harassment -- is this, as the Times reported yesterday:

... A student raped in her dorm room [at Arizona State] in 2004 learned that the accused football player had been expelled from a summer program for threatening, grabbing and sexually harassing several women on campus. He had been readmitted within weeks at the insistence of his coach....

Marquette is under investigation by the Education Department for possible violations of the Clery Act, apparently in connection with a case in which four athletes accused of sexual assault were said to have met with the coaching staff to discuss the episode before they were interviewed by campus police. And according to the local district attorney, the campus police never told local law enforcement or prosecutors about the case, or about a second sexual assault complaint against another athlete five months later.

In two cases -- one at Dominican College in Orangeburg, N.Y., in 2006 and another at Notre Dame in 2010 -- freshman women committed suicide after their complaints of sexual assault against athletes were mishandled....

And as for students who aren't jocks? Gosh, I bet there's been such a chilling effect that there hasn't been any consensual sex on any U.S. campus in a generation! Yeah, that must be the consequence. (I say that because the language she found so inhibiting at Princeton still shows up on campuses today, not just at, say, Williams College, where you might expect it, but at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. So, um, has all sexual activity stopped at those institutions as a result? If you know, tell me in comments.)

And, of course, even if Roiphe is right that there's something excessive and chilling about what's in university sexual harassment policies, does she have any evidence that this extends to, oh, say, the National Restaurant Association when it's deciding whether to pay out tens of thousands of dollars to settle a harassment complaint? Are those folks really going to tap into, um, critical gender theory in making their decisions? (In looking at Roiphe's bio, as well as the capsule bio that's appended to her op-ed -- "Katie Roiphe is a professor at the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at New York University" -- I find no evidence that she's ever had a full-time real-world office job in her life.)

Roiphe writes:

In our effort to create a wholly unhostile work environment, have we simply created an environment that is hostile in a different way? ...

Is the anodyne drone typing away in her silent cubicle free from the risk of comment on her clothes, the terror of a joke, the unsettlement of an unwanted or even a wanted sexual advance, truly our ideal? Should we aspire to the drab, cautious, civilized, quiet, comfortable workplace all of this language presumes and theorizes? At this late date, perhaps we should be worrying about different forms of hostility in our workplace.

Yup -- the real hostility is trying to deal with sexual hostility! Complainants are the real harassers! And please note that there really are only two choices, according to Roiphe: a totally unpoliced free-for-all or fascist repression. It's Mad Men or the Taliban -- there's no third option, no possibility of a reasonable, balanced approach somewhere in the middle. Or at least that's her posture, because she still thinks saying so is daring and provocative.


Or, as TBogg puts it on Twitter:

With a history of dismissing date rape, I imagine Katie Roiphe found writing a defense of sexual harassment an amusing divertissement

That's an allusion to her earlier work.


UPDATE: Kiersten Mareka writes the post I wish I could have written on this subject.


spectral_ev said...

thank you for this. I also responded to Roiphe's recycled lines, after visiting Occupy Providence.

Condescending-- that about office drones. Has she ever had a real job and lived on the paycheck?

c u n d gulag said...

I remember this same stuff from the women that were herded together in all of the papers to defend the noble Clarence Thomas from that dastardly slut, Anita Hill.

"Should we aspire to the drab, cautious, civilized, quiet, comfortable workplace all of this language presumes and theorizes?"

No, you fucking twit, we want a workplace where women have to run around as if the men there are all Harpo Marx's, running after them, hard on their trail.

"At this late date, perhaps we should be worrying about different forms of hostility in our workplace."

Since I find gross stupidity to be a form of hostility, I completely agree.

PurpleGirl said...

I always wonder if Katie Roiphe writes such backwards trash as a way to hurt her mother (Anne Roiphe, a first generation feminist).

Tom Hilton said...

Hey, Katie: 1991 called; it wants its silly stereotypes back.

(Seriously: since Thomas/Hill, an entire generation has gone through sexual harassment training at their workplace--training that, if done at all well, includes a thorough debunking of the caricature she presents here. How the fuck is this shit coming back now?)

Steve M. said...

Seriously: since Thomas/Hill, an entire generation has gone through sexual harassment training at their workplace

Yup -- and they still manage to find ways to flirt, go on dates, get into relationships, and/or have meaningless but fully consensual sex with one another.