by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Lately I’ve been thinking that future generations will look back on the recent upheavals in sexual culture on American campuses and see officially sanctioned hysteria. They’ll wonder how supposedly rational people could have succumbed so easily to collective paranoia, just as we look back on previous such outbreaks (Salem, McCarthyism, the Satanic ritual abuse preschool trials of the 1980s) with condescension and bemusement. They’ll wonder how the federal government got into the moral panic business, tossing constitutional rights out the window in an ill-conceived effort to protect women students from a rapidly growing catalogue of sexual bogeymen. They’ll wonder why anyone would have described any of this as feminism when it’s so blatantly paternalistic, or as “political correctness” when sexual paranoia doesn’t have any predictable political valence. (Neither does sexual hypocrisy.) Restoring the most fettered versions of traditional femininity through the back door is backlash, not progress.
I didn’t mean to stumble into the middle of all of this, and I hope that doesn’t sound disingenuous. Sure, I like stirring up trouble — as a writer, that is — but believe me, I’m nobody’s idea of an activist, quite the reverse. Despite being a left-wing feminist, something in me hates a slogan, even well-intentioned ones like “rape culture.” Worse, I tend to be ironic — I like irony; it helps you think because it gives you critical distance on a thing. Irony doesn’t sit very well in the current climate, especially when it comes to irony about the current climate. Critical distance itself is out of fashion — not exactly a plus when it comes to intellectual life (or education itself). Feelings are what’s in fashion. I’m all for feelings; I’m a standard-issue female, after all. But this cult of feeling has an authoritarian underbelly: Feelings can’t be questioned or probed, even while furnishing the rationale for sweeping new policies, which can’t be questioned or probed either. (I speak from experience here). The result is that higher education has been so radically transformed that the place is almost unrecognizable.