Judith Levine has a must-read on the intellectual climate that prompted some to attack any early skepticism of the Rolling Stone story:
On Jezebel, Anna Merlan expressed her opinion with characteristic Jezebelian eloquence: “‘Is the UVA Rape Story a Gigantic Hoax?’ Asks Idiot” And typically, readers chimed in with gender-baiting: “But never mind Erdely’s months of work. Two guys who have no idea what they’re talking about don’t believe it. Case closed.” “Newsflash: Most libertarians are misogynist/racist white men.”
Lovely, innit? The way in which these individuals use race and gender as ipso facto damning aspects of people’s identities does not seem to jolt them into any self-awareness. These crusaders against bigotry are awfully fond of it when it can be used to dismiss critics. But what I see most acutely is the sense – prevalent on the left these days – that there are no fair-minded people out there, that all men are potential rapists or rape-denialists, that patriarchy is so powerful there’s no chance at all that someone could actually believe, say, that there is a serious rape crisis on many campuses but that the Rolling Stone story is too flawed a piece of journalism to defend:
I will say that even if Erdely had done a more thorough job, none of her doubters would believe her. They’d find some other reason to hate.
— Amanda Marcotte (@AmandaMarcotte) December 3, 2014
Which is to say that these writers are not liberals in any meaningful sense of the word. Deep down, they simply don’t believe people are open to persuasion. Which is why they need to rely on graphic exaggerations, emotional blackmail or endless circles of victimology to make their case. So anyone who might question the specific details of an alleged rape are “rape-denialists” or “rape-truthers” rather than, you know, journalists. And that particularly includes women who may not
tow toe the party line:
Vanquished bodies litter the blogosphere. Canadian journalist Anna Duckworth knew CBC radio host Jian Ghomeshi well; he’d been her generous mentor for years. So when accusations began to surface that he had sexually brutalized numerous women, she spoke up. She stressed that she didn’t think his accusers were lying. All she asked was that her friend be assumed innocent until proven guilty.
Duckworth’s attackers “made me feel great shame for coming to Jian’s defense,” she wrote on Huffington Post. “Some went as far as to call people like me misogynists, victim blamers and perpetrators of rape culture.” In a short piece, the word “shame” appeared six times.
Over the years, Cathy Young, a Newsday columnist and contributor to Reason, has written and spoken widely on false accusations of rape and the threats to justice in a kind of overzealous feminist jurisprudence. Young is a feminist who also cherishes individual liberty (you can’t blame her; she grew up in the Soviet Union). Her reporting is meticulous. She never claims that rape is not real, though she is interested in why someone might lie. But Young’s work is repeatedly twisted and she is tarred as, among other things, an “anti-feminist victim blamer.”
I also feel that this climate subtly makes errors like the Rolling Stone story more likely. And Lizzie Crocker fears that culture of victimhood is making it more difficult to find the truth behind stories like Jackie’s:
The problem with valorizing the victim, as a “victim culture” does, is that anything that runs contrary to the victim’s narrative is cast as an attack on that person. Question them, and you are colluding in exacerbating the awful effects of their trauma. Question their actions or motives and you are “victim shaming” and “victim blaming.”
Of course, the flip-side of a victim is a bully, and it is notable that today, everyone rushes to be a victim—the right wing under attack from the left, the left under attack from the right, bigots still seeking to attack gay people, and claiming they cannot voice their bigotry. “Playing the victim” used to be a term of scorn, now it’s a daily modus operandi to score any number of political and cultural points. Question those taking on the mantle of victimhood and you are immediately cast as some kind of aggressive, unfeeling oppressor.
The sad consequence of a culture of victimhood is that it obscures real victims and obscures the genuinely felt experiences of those victims, whatever they have endured.
Couldn’t put it better myself. Previous Dish on illiberal feminism here. Update from a reader, who notes the classy apology from Merlan (which we highlighted last week) and makes some key distinctions:
I appreciate this discussion, I really do. But as a person who has voraciously consumed everything I could find on the UVA story, I feel it important to note that once the Rolling Stone story was retracted, Anna Merlan offered a sincere apology to both Richard Bradley and Robby Soave. I think all of us have gone off half-cocked at some point in our lives, and Merlan showed some class by owning up to her mistake and apologizing.
I will add that that while there has been some of the usual illiberal ranting and raving (see e.g. Marcotte), there has also been a lot of great writing on the RS piece by feminists and liberals at DoubleX, TNR, Feministing, and the New Yorker, among others. It seems that quite a few liberals, leftists, and feminists still care about the truth. That has been an enormous relief and so gratifying to see. I had begun to wonder if the left believed the narrative really was more important than the truth. I’m relieved to see that many people on the left still think the facts are important, and are still dedicated to getting those facts right.
I was one of your first subscribers, and I’ll be the last one to bail. Just keep doing what you’re doing.