There’s a lot of discussion on the Web today about the horrifying story from Egypt involving CBS reporter Lara Logan, who was apparently sexually assaulted by a crowd of men in Tahrir Square in Cairo while covering the events there. That by itself is saddening enough, but as Echidne of the Snakes notes, the story immediately prompted torrents of the most vile comments in almost every venue, divided between overtly racist slurs on Egyptians or Muslims as a group and victim-blaming aimed at Logan and all women regarding her appearance, her working in a “man’s field”, why she should have stayed at home, and so on.
One of the most noted (I’m not sure why the most notable, except that it involves a liberal, therefore was of course singled out) incidents was yesterday’s Twitter comment by (then) NYU Fellow Nir Rosen. He wrote dismissively about the assault while using it as an opportunity to call out Logan for her previously uncritical pro-war/pro-military reporting, and then walked his own comment back with a series of lame half-apologies. This has been jumped on all over the Web, and appropriately so. Rosen himself resigned from NYU today (no doubt with more than a bit of a push from above), finally issuing a real apology at the end (expanded on in a revealing interview).
That incident has been the focus of a lot of commentary, aside from the discussion of the original story itself. Rosen was condemned from the left and the right. Numerous feminist and mainstream media writers have said much of what should be said about his comments, as you can count on them to do, but the right wing too was shocked, shocked, at this display of insensitivity to women.
Jim Geraghty at National Review Online posted repeatedly on the issue (“Perhaps we can channel that frustration and anger towards righting a wrong closer to home. To some other outrage… say… the reaction to Logan’s assault from [Rosen]“), calling vaguely on NYU to do something about it, snarkily predicting that nothing would happen, and later admitting he was wrong. Somebody named “Eyeblast” at one of the Breitbart sites claims that “Almost everyone was shocked, appalled, and deeply sympathetic for Logan, except for one man. . . . These are not the kinds of things anyone should say”, and, predictably, encourages people to complain to Rosen’s employer. Da Techguy declares Rosen’s firing “A Smart Move by NYU” but attributes it to the fact that Logan wasn’t with Fox News (he also declares that offensive statements from the “far left” are usually ignored, not bothering to note the dozens of liberal bloggers who have been on the Rosen story from the beginning, or the many more right-wingers who have treated it in the most repulsive ways).
Even Rosen’s own former boss found it necessary not merely to accept his resignation but to then issue a public statement trashing him after he left:
Nir Rosen . . . crossed the line . . . deeply distressed . . . strongly denounce . . . cruel and insensitive and completely unacceptable. . . apologized, withdrawn his remarks, and submitted his resignation as a fellow, which I have accepted. However, this in no way compensates for the harm . . .
The consensus, then, from right-wingers and media magnates both, is that comments like R0sen’s are not just reprehensible, but unacceptable – a firing offense for those who make them, and thus, obviously, inadmissible in reasonable discussion of the subject to which they refer. That’s a good sign, I think, and in fact I concur. (I’m not sure about this business of hounding people out of their jobs, but the right wing seems to like punishing people in that way, so what the hell.)
Just to be clear, let’s review exactly what Rosen did that was beyond the pale:
- He spoke dismissively of a misogynistic assault on a woman.
- He spoke disparagingly of the pain and harm she suffered through this assault.
- He implied that she deserved abuse because of what she believed or how she acted.
- He stated that physical assaults of this type are appropriate for people like her and should be inflicted on others.
- He stated that a certain abuse of women does not deserve sympathy because it is so common.
- He jokingly suggested she asked for it to draw attention to herself.
There was more, but that was most of it.
And apparently, now, it is agreed that these kinds of statements or beliefs – either individually or at least taken together – are unacceptable and unendurable: in fact, may not be permitted in anyone who enjoys a certain degree of prestige or influence. Both right and left are in agreement on this point (though it is useful to note again the vast disparity in the frequency or viciousness of such comments, being ubiquitous on right-wing blogs and apparently almost unique to Rosen among left-wingers, as well as Rosen’s repeated and apparently sincere apologies as against the absolute lack of remorse by right-wingers; Jeffrey Goldberg draws an equivalency by comparing Rosen to the simply unhinged Debbie Schlussel ["How fitting that Lara Logan was 'liberated' by Muslims in Liberation Square while she was gushing over the other part of the 'liberation'. Hope you're enjoying the revolution, Lara!"], but notably nobody has whipped up a campaign of complaint against Schlussel, nor has she apparently been denounced by any of the mainstream right-wing media she writes for).
Very well. We have a standard, and a consensus. It is, of course, an explicitly feminist standard, built on the work so many pro-women’s voices have done in claiming for women a space in the public square, the rights of autonomy and independence, the right to personal ambitions and careers of their own, and the right to be sacrosanct in their bodies, free from sexist notions of how they must look and act or how they deserve to be treated because of their bodies and what they look like or how they are used. That vision has now become universal, passionately embraced (though unacknowledged, of course) by the reactionary wing that fought every element of women’s independence, and which publicly despised for centuries the narrative of women as active in and authoritative over their own bodies, their own freedom, and their own lives. As with so much of liberal progress, the feminist narrative has now been silently claimed by conservatives who pretend they were always down with the idea of strong and independent women demanding sexual autonomy and freedom from misogynist sexual oppression. The radical ideal has become the consensus standard – naturally, just when it defends a pretty white woman who adheres to the right-wing line, but better late than never.
So I hope that we’ll see that consensus standard enacted by those who have called so loudly and with such heartwarming feminist sympathy for it to be applied in Rosen’s case. Having successfully destroyed what is apparently 100% of the left-wing writers who reacted misogynistically (though apparently from geopolitical, not gender-political, motives) to the Logan story, will any of the wingers on this warpath spare a thought for even a single one of the conservatives who have done the same and worse? Have any of them got a single thing to say about Schlussel? About Robert McCain? About Jim Hoft? All of them explicitly blamed Logan for refusing to accede to misogynistic constraints on her behavior (while throwing nauseating amounts of racism and liberal-bashing into the mix – they can’t seem to maintain a coherent bigotry narrative on a story with as many red-meat elements as this one). It goes without saying that none of the wingers are going to call out Michelle Malkin or Pam Geller or the rest for their racism and Muslim-bashing, but will any of them stand up to their cohort on its pro-patriarchal misogyny and oppressive victim-blaming? The standard they have adopted in this case demands that they do so. And it’s unthinkable that they weren’t entirely sincere in adopting that line, isn’t it?
Finally, though, and more importantly, I hope we’ll see that standard employed in the rest of the (many) contexts in which the partriarchy harms women by stripping them of their physical security, bodily integrity, and sexual autonomy.
- It’s wrong for a patriarchal culture to subject women to rape when they venture “out of their place”. The right wing agrees (today). It’s at least as wrong to force women to bear a rapist’s child against their will, by constraining their right to control their own bodies, or their access to safe, simple, and legal services allowing them to do so. The right wing agrees, of course . . . right?
- It’s wrong for a patriarchal culture to restrict women’s freedom through constant insecurity about their bodily safety and integrity. The right wing agrees (they say). It’s just as wrong for women to be forced to live their lives in fear that their control of what happens to their bodies will be stripped from them any time they choose to use, or not use, them as the patriarchs dictate. The right wing agrees, of course . . . right?
- It’s wrong for a patriarchal culture to respond to women’s bodily appearance with threats of violence or abuse as a controlling measure. The right wing agrees (when the culture is brown and the woman is blond). It’s just as wrong for women to be subject to constant judgment and criticism about how they use or display their bodies, in keeping with values they choose for themselves. The right wing agrees, of course . . . right?
- It’s wrong for a patriarchal culture to dismiss women’s fears, anxieties, depression, and insecurities, resulting from pervasive danger, abuse, and disparagement, as irrelevant or unimportant. The right wing agrees (when one of their own has been insulted, once). It’s just as wrong for women to be forced to live in a world in which the patriarchy claims the right and the power to dictate women’s lives to them, in every respect, regardless of harm or suffering caused, and on the basis of values hostile to those women as such, which the women have no power to reject. The right wing agrees, of course . . . right?
- It’s wrong for a patriarchal culture to stifle women’s sexual natures, and punish their sexual autonomy, through misogynistic ideology, primitive religion, legal oppression, and the constant threat of violence. The right wing agrees (when they get to pick the culture in question). It’s just as wrong for women to be forced to live in a world in which exactly that is done every goddam day, to every woman, in every country, by every fucking jerk with a backwards point of view and a sense of entitlement. The right wing agrees, of course . . . right?
In these and so many other ways, our new consensus waits to be applied to the daily content of the lives not just of prominent pro-war talking heads but of every woman in this country, right here and now, and every woman elsewhere. And of course the right wing – with its new-found feminist sensibilities, its sympathies for independent women beset by patriarchy and misogynist religion, its shocked perception of rape as a crime of political violence and oppression, its eager desire for women’s sexual autonomy – will live up to its newly-professed ideals. They will begin to recognize the ways in which exactly the kinds of sentiments which, in a matter of hours, they punished Rosen for hinting at are ubiquitous throughout our society’s history and today. And they will extrapolate from the case of Logan to the uncountably more common everyday terrors, dangers, assaults, oppressions, and insecurities that make up daily life for every woman in America and the world, and they will adopt the same insistent demand for accountability in those cases, against those women’s assailants, and their enablers, and those who mock.
Of course they will. Right?