by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
The latest cover story of The American Scholar, Phi Beta Kappa’s quarterly journal, features a commentary on the #MeToo movement from author Sandra Gilbert, described in the editor’s note as “an esteemed literary critic with unassailable second-wave feminist credentials.” (I’m assuming someone other than me understands the “second-wave” reference.)
Most of the article will surprise no one who reads this forum regularly. Gilbert references glass ceilings and gender pay gaps. She throws in a little anti-Trump language as well.
But there is one piece of the article that stands out from the rest. Gilbert suggests at one point that women might want to take some responsibility for their actions.
Two recent stories that went viral confirm my queasiness about what such commentators as Masha Gessen, Katie Roiphe, and Daphne Merkin have basically defined as a new puritanism. In the first, which takes place on the Stanford campus, a male freshman gets drunk and flirtatious with a woman at a party and is found on top of her unconscious body next to a Dumpster. It will be later ascertained that she had been penetrated by a foreign object—his fingers. She has imbibed three times the legal limit of alcohol. He has had twice the legal limit. When passersby rebuke him, he tries to run away, claiming he needs to vomit. The victim remembers nothing, not even a drunken phone call to her boyfriend. The young man is convicted of sexual assault with the intent to commit rape, sent to jail for six months, and released after three. …
In the second, a woman known only as Grace tells babe.net the story of her dinner date with the comedian Aziz Ansari. They dine, drink, retire to his apartment. She allows him to undress her, and he seats her, naked, on his kitchen counter, then undresses himself. Each performs oral sex on the other. Then, not surprisingly, he wants to go further. But she is disturbed, and though they get dressed, sit on the sofa, and watch an episode of Seinfeld, he allegedly “kissed her again … and moved to undo her pants.” She goes home in a huff—no, in an Uber—and tells her tale online.
Because of when I came of age, I may be too old to understand either of these stories. The Stanford victim, I forgot to mention, had downed four whiskies before she went to the frat party where she met the young man; her mother drove her to the party, perhaps because she was too sloshed to drive herself? She was older than the guy (she was 22, he 19), had a boyfriend in Philadelphia, and had chosen to drink herself into oblivion.
Grace, in the babe.net story, was perfectly willing to take off her clothes and sit on the kitchen counter of a strange man (it was their first date) and to engage in mutual oral sex. Was that not, too, a choice to make herself available?
Please, I’m not a Victorian moralist. I’m a 21st-century feminist (well, basically, a 1970s feminist) who wants women to make choices and who has fought to make choices myself. Perhaps I’m not with-it enough to understand a culture in which you can drink too much and suppose that other equally drunken strangers will just take care of you—a hookup culture in which even if you take off your clothes and hang out on someone’s kitchen counter, you shouldn’t expect him to expect something more from you.
To the extent that stories like this get entangled in #MeToo, we might expect young men to say #Who, me?