Hey, conservative columnists: don’t court controversy by whining about ‘privileged’ victims and then feign surprise at the backlash. Your time’s up
Feminists are used to being called hysterical over-reactors. So I wasn’t surprised to read The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf argue on Monday that the controversy over George Will’s recent Washington Post column on “privileged” rape victims was part of the Internet “outrage machine”.
There’s no doubt that online arguments can be head-bangingly awful. (I’m on Twitter, I know!) But what Friedersdorf’s column ignores is that writers like Will – out-of-touch conservative white men fearful of the shifting culture – court and revel in such controversy, perhaps knowing it’s likely their last gasp of relevance.
Let’s call it the “backlash machine”: the old guard pumping out deliberately regressive ideas about women while they still can.
Will, for example, doubled down on his original argument by falsely asserting on C-Span that sexual assault has become defined so broadly that even “remarks become sexual assault”. And on Monday, law professor David Bernstein wrote at The Washington Post that “there is one type of relationship” involving explicit consent for sex – prostitution – and that the expectation of a verbal “yes” before sex will turn everyone – not just men – into rapists. Neither of these men could possibly have believed their comments would go uncontested.
In the midst of an incredibly important feminist moment in this country – with reproductive rights on the line, a likely female presidential candidate in the next election, the work-life balance on every magazine cover and survivors using #YesAllWomen to share their stories – to bemoan all the attention those darned rape victims keep getting is to engage in some bullshit with eyes very wide open.
So, conservative columnists, spare me the suggestions that you all are the victims of mass outrage (the women! they’re coming for us!) when it’s clear you’re hoping to generate exactly this attention for your dying ideology.
If, during a moment when rape victims are speaking out in force to detail the awful treatment they endure at the hands of school administrators, police and the criminal justice system, you’re using your time, energy and published words to argue that America’s rape problem is overblown … perhaps a little Twitter heat should be the last thing you’re worried about. Being on the wrong side of history should be the first.
And if, after hearing story after story of women abused by attackers and then the system meant to protect them, you spend your time opining that poor men have to go through the trouble of getting an explicit “yes” from their partners before engaging in sexual acts, maybe you need to spend less time writing and more time on a therapist’s couch. After all, who besides a rapist thinks that getting an enthusiastic “yes” to sex is an unreasonable standard?
Telling feminists that that they’re overreacting to rape is part of a long tradition of gaslighting women who have caught on to injustices. Somehow detractors think if they say it often enough and in powerful enough places, we’ll start to doubt ourselves.