Two Sizes Too Small

In a piece called “How Jezebel is Hurting Feminism”, Linda Hirshman writes:

“The Jezebels are clearly familiar with the rhetoric of feminism: sexism, sexual coercion, cultural misogyny, even the importance of remembering women’s history. But they are also a living demonstration of the chaotic possibilities the movement always contained. In its origins, women’s liberation meant lifting the restrictions of a sexist and ancient culture. From removing the barriers to women working to striking down the criminal laws against birth control and abortion, feminism was first and foremost a liberation movement. Liberation always included an element of sexual libertinism. It’s one of the few things that made it so appealing to men: easy sexual access to women’s bodies. (And to their stories about sex, which helps explain why 49 percent of Jezebel’s audience is men.)

But unregulated sexual life also exposes women to the strong men around them, and here, the most visible of the Jezebel writers reflect the risks of liberation. Even if the girls gone wild stories are substantially overstated, the emergence of Tkacik and Egan as brand emissaries of Jezebel, and its attendant increase in popularity — as well as the responsive posts from the community of commenters, who call themselves “Jezzies” or “Jezebelles” — forces feminism to confront their public sexual narrative. How can women supposedly acting freely and powerfully keep turning up tales of vulnerability — repulsive sexual partners, pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, even rape? Conservatives have long argued against feminism by saying women are vulnerable, and we need to take care of them. Liberals say there’s no justification for repressing sexual behavior.

As a generation of young women is discovering, and as polemicists from Camille Paglia to Ariel Levy have pointed out, there’s something missing in both points of view. Women can pretend they’re female chauvinist pigs, but it’s still women who are more sexually vulnerable to stronger men, due to the possibilities of physical abuse and pregnancy. These Jezebel writers are a symptom of the weaknesses in the model of perfect egalitarian sexual freedom; in fact, it’s the supposed concern with feminism that makes the site so problematic. How can Tracie, who posted this picture, criticize the men who go to Hooters? How can writers who justify not reporting rape criticize the military for not controlling … rape? It’s incoherent.”

The writer who “justified not reporting rape” is Megan Carpentier, in this post. Actually, she didn’t justify any such general thing as “not reporting rape”. She said this, about not reporting one particular rape:

“Could I have reported it? I guess. On the other hand, I was 17, in a conservative country where I didn’t speak their language or the (completely different) language of the man involved. I had 2 more days in the country. And the thing that I needed to do was not to tell the friends with which I was staying, and try to go to the police and explain and/or be castigated for going to his place, or making out, or having some sangria (or telling him I was 18), I needed, desperately, to deny it. I needed for that night to not occupy the place in my mind that it would’ve occupied if I could have called it by its name. I needed time, and healing and knowledge and I wasn’t going to get that from a foreign police station or the legal need to revisit it constantly.”


“My body is mine — it doesn’t belong to Feminism anymore than it belongs to the men who sexually assaulted me — and what I choose to do with it, or about it, is supposed to be my choice.”

I completely agree with Megan. Sexual assault is horrible. The aftermath of sexual assault is horrible. (I’d tell you a story here, but since, as we all know, “a personal, revelatory anecdote tends to abort what is supposed to be a political conversation”, I’ll refrain. Except to say that it involves being told by a police officer: Just walk down the beach tomorrow in a bikini and maybe he’ll try again. Reporting is not all it’s cracked up to be.)

When you have been sexually assaulted, you get to let your emotions work themselves out in whatever peculiar way they see fit, and unless you’re working through it by doing something truly awful, like shooting random strangers or cutting off your limbs, people who tell you that you are responding to it in the “wrong” way are as completely out of line as someone who tells someone who has just lost her spouse or her child that she’s grieving in the “wrong” way.

There are people like that — people whose heart is two sizes too small, who have no more empathy than your average tin can. I have never understood them. It’s especially odd when they go out of their way to lecture people about their responses, or to tell them they’re hurting feminism. As Linda Hirshman did.

It’s also completely unclear to me why not having reported one’s own rape is inconsistent with urging the military to do a better job of controlling it. It would be one thing if we knew that the military was doing the absolute best it could to control rape, and the only thing that stood in the way of a completely successful response was the fact that not all victims report rape. In that case, I don’t know anyone who would criticize the military. But we don’t know any such thing. And as long as there are other problems with the military’s (or any other organization’s) response to rape — the fact that some people in the military don’t take allegations of rape seriously when it is reported, or think that rape victims are whiners who ought to just suck it up (no pun intended), etc. — I can’t see why someone who didn’t report her own rape is in any way inconsistent for pointing those problems out.

I’m also puzzled by this sentence from Hirshman’s piece:

“How can women supposedly acting freely and powerfully keep turning up tales of vulnerability — repulsive sexual partners, pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, even rape?”

Um: maybe because neither freedom nor power protects you against those things? Because even if you’re the strongest, bestest feminist ever, you can still get pregnant, or be raped? Because feminism does not confer magical superpowers or complete invulnerability? Is there something here I’m missing?

One more puzzling thing: if I wanted to write a piece about how Jezebel hurts feminism, which I don’t, I would have focussed on this episode, which Hirshman discusses. In particular, I would have focussed on the fact that when Tracie is asked why she has never been raped, she says first that “maybe it’s about education”, and then: “I think it has to do with the fact that I am like, smart”. Even if we set aside the fact that she was, apparently, drunk when she said this, it does seem like an obvious starting point, a lot more obvious than the Jezebels’ “unregulated sexual life”, or the fact that one of them “could not be bothered to call the police when she was raped.”

And yet, oddly enough, in her litany of complaints, Hirshman doesn’t so much as mention Tracie’s ignorant and condescending view of rape victims. Funny thing, that.