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May 12, 2009

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Seems a good part of Carpentier's reasons for not reporting are exactly because of the demands it would have placed on her. IMHO this is a perfect argument for better official control of rape, and handling of reports around it.

Wow. Thanks, Hilzoy. Another fantastic post. I also agree about Tracie.

Personally, I think it's fucking evil to ask survivors why they didn't complain. As if most survivors aren't blaming themselves for everything anyway.

I've mostly learned about Hirshman from Hilzoy and other bloggers that take issue with her apparent habit of telling women they're hurting the movement by not being responsible enough or strong enough etc. According to Wikipedia she seems to be a decently important second-wave academic-where is she coming from, anyway?

I was kind of wondering the same thing as William Knight. My first, fairly knee-jerk response was to simply assume "It's Hirshman, so it's not only wrong but insulting", but then I realized that I don't know much about her, and the ad hominem wasn't really fair. After all, there's substantial reporting bias, I don't really follow debates about feminism, and while everytime I've encountered a discussion of Hirshman she's been flagrantly wrong she must have some value to some person - musn't she? So what is there nice to say about Hirshman?

is it okay if i dislike hirshman and dislike jezebel too?

I really don't want to defend Hirshman in this piece, so I won't. And Hilzoy's absolutely right that Hirshman lacks the empathy you'd need to say anything insightful about an issue as tricky as, say, the responsibilities a survivor of sexual assault has to herself or others.

That said, I think this argument of Carpentier's proves way too much:

"My body is mine -- it doesn't belong to Feminism anymore than it belongs to the men who sexually assaulted me -- and what I choose to do with it, or about it, is supposed to be my choice."

To be clear, I think Carpentier's right to push back against Hirshman's criticism of her. But this argument can't tell us the reason why she's right to push back. After all, a woman could (and you can occasionally here some do) use exactly this argument to justify getting breast implants. And I'm not talking about reconstructive surgery, either. If feminism means you can never criticize what a woman chooses to do with her own body, simply in virtue of it being her choice, then voila, you've found a (feminist!) defense of breast implants for cosmetic reasons.

So, two points: First, I'd say feminism is not about women's ability to make whatever choices they want to make, and to do so free from anyone else's moral assessment of those choices. Rather, feminism is about equality. I take it that this is a point Hirshman has occasionally emphasized, and it's one reason I usually read her stuff, even when--as in these recent assault/DV discussions--I end up finding her pretty offensive.

Second, I want to distinguish between two different criticisms of Hirshman: the one Carpentier makes and the one Hilzoy makes. The problem with Hirshman's critism of Carpentier is not that Hirshman's willing to morally assess the choices of another woman. Rather, it's the appalling lack of empathy in her assessment.

One of the reasons Hirschman continues to spark furious debate among feminists is precisely this lack of empathy. She seems to delight in arguing from the general principle (say, that in order to prevent rapes they must be punished, and therefore that women should report rape) to the individual choice (that woman did not report her rape and therefore betrayed the feminist project). It's possible that we younger feminists have gotten a bit mushy on the general principles now that our choices seem more open; Hirschman's article about the iniquity of women who choose to leave the workforce certainly made me think a good deal about the shape of the society we're building through our individual choices. That is, I kept thinking about her argument even after I dismissed her as an offensive crank.

And she *is* offensive, almost deliberately so. The Jezebel piece is personalized, judgmental, full of tu quoque and ad hominem arguments---my reaction to reading Hirschman always starts with "Who died and made you Jeremiah?" And yet, there is something valuable in having a cranky 2nd generation feminist show up the blind spots in our current movement. I doubt that a more polite reproach would have much effect. So, I think she's performing a useful function, although I certainly wouldn't take her as a moral model.

Just to point out, the quotes of mine that Hilzoy used are from a piece I wrote last summer about my sexual assaults, one of which I did not report (the aforementioned one at 17) and one of which I reported because it was how I got the police to come and remove the stranger that broke into my house. Both had the exact same legal result, and one I healed far faster from, but one can draw one's own conclusion which was which.

Neither quote, however, was a response to Hirshman.

Megan -- Ah, sorry. My confusion.

I know the main point of this post was not to introduce readers to this "Jezebel" thing, but I had never heard of it before, so I need to ask. [Maybe I'm getting old, but from reading this post and following some of the links, I find Jezebel (it's just "Jezebel," and not "the Jezebel movement" or something?) astonishing and confusing.] Is it a put-on or an attempt at performance art, or is it as vapid and pathetic as it seems (to me) if taken at face value?

I should add that I don't want to bring up the Jezebel website on my computer at work to figure this out for myself. (It would likely be blocked, anyway.) Plus I was hoping to hear from a trusted-opinion-having someone who's been hip to this for a while to get a quick demystification rather than wasting time trying figure something out that's likely to be, well, a waste of time.

"Is it a put-on or an attempt at performance art, or is it as vapid and pathetic as it seems (to me) if taken at face value?"

It's GawkerMedia: how much worse than Gawker do you take it to be?

"If feminism means you can never criticize what a woman chooses to do with her own body, simply in virtue of it being her choice, then voila, you've found a (feminist!) defense of breast implants for cosmetic reasons."

Um...wtf? Since when does anyone need ANY kind of defense of breast implants for cosmetic (or any other) reasons? I mean, they're not for me, but if a woman wants them and it causes no hardship (financial or otherwise) for her to get them, what's the problem?

Am I missing your point? Or are you really that judgmental?

hairshirthedonist, are you really saying that you haven't looked at Jezebel before asking that question?

And yet, there is something valuable in having a cranky 2nd generation feminist show up the blind spots in our current movement

There is really nothing valuable in having Hirschman periodically pop up to say that there is only one right way to be a feminist, it is Hirschman's way, and you kids need to straighten up, fly right and get the hell off her lawn.

The tired old refrain that those young'uns are too busy fucking to appreciate the sacrifices of their elders was, well, tired and old back when *I* was young enough to be Jezebel's target demographic.

...maybe because neither freedom nor power protects you against those things? Because even if you're the strongest, bestest feminist ever, you can still get pregnant, or be raped? Because feminism does not confer magical superpowers or complete invulnerability? Is there something here I'm missing?

What you are missing here is the unspoken other half of this gender role dimorphism: no self-respecting man can retain his public dignity if he admits that he was unable to prevent an assault on his person. If we assume that this is the standard that Hirshman implies feminists need to embrace then it makes (argumentative) sense.

It's GawkerMedia: how much worse than Gawker do you take it to be?

I really couldn't say, since I don't know anything about GawkerMedia. Maybe I'm a bit rare in that most of my internet time is spent reading posts and comments on ObWi (sometimes following links, especially to amygdala) or looking for specific work-related/quasi-academic/personal-interest info on technical websites or wikipedia. I'm otherwise not a big consumer of internet media. Most of the comments here containing things like "oh, brother, you're citing that [insert blogger/website]" or "what do you expect from [insert blogger/website]" go right past me, because I don't know anything about the bloggers/websites in question that are seemingly so well known to other commenters here.

There are legitimate reasons to avoid Jezebel; I haven't linked to it since someone in my blog's comments pointed me to this post.

But Hirshman's arguments are inane. Rape is not caused by "acting freely and powerfully," and cultures of sexual repression are not rape-free zones.

I don't know why Jezebel is any more of an influential turn in the history of feminism than, say, Cosmo. Its readership isn't particularly slanted towards women. The whole conceit of lurid stuff told from the point of view of a supposedly liberated woman antedates feminism by a few centuries. De Sade's stuff on libertines comes to mind. In other words, I think the real stretch here is to take this slick corporate media and confuse it for a significant turn in the history of the women's movement. In fact, if I'm going to criticize Hirshman for anything, that's it. To get her article off the ground, she's got to make Jezebel seem like it is much more significant than it really is.

Now, where's the mandatory bald wig reference?

Don't most narratives of acting freely and powerfully turn up "tales of vulnerability" even when the stories are about white middle-class heterosexual men, let alone people of color, gays and lesbians, women, working-class people and so on?

Most narratives about action or agency describe conflict over the exercise of agency because that's what makes them stories we're inclined to tell. We rarely tell stories about the quotidian exercise of freedom or choice both because it scarcely occurs to us to think of those as stories and because they don't have a natural narrative structure that makes them compelling to share with others. Most of the time, if we talk about ordinary experiences of freedom, we're talking about memories from the standpoint of a present in which we now feel somewhat deprived of past freedom ("before I had these responsibilities", "before I was ill or old", "before the rules or laws changed", "before I was punished or caught", etc.)

So when we tell stories about our exercise of freedom, we're usually telling stories about negative consequences or about conflicts that followed, even when we're subjects who have a lot of capacity to act freely.

It does not follow that the exercise of freedom commonly or ordinarily or typically creates conflicts or repression simply because that's a common feature of narratives about action. Stories about the ordinary experience of sexual pleasure or open choices in sexuality by women are much less likely to be told and circulate than stories which describe a struggle against someone trying to repress that freedom or about consequences following on action--but that doesn't mean that most women's experience of sexual choice culminates in violence, danger or repression.

Hirshman should know better, and I rather suspect she does. She mainlines tendentiousness with the enthusiasm of a junkie.

"Maybe I'm a bit rare in that most of my internet time is spent reading posts and comments on ObWi . . ."

I suspect hairshirthedonist and I are in the minority.

Like him, I mostly follow the ObWi community and the links take me to places I otherwise might not go. I am also left feeling lost when bloggers are mentioned casually, etc. Heck, I really didn't know who Perez Hilton was until the Miss California thing popped up in the news. Geeze, how did I surive not knowing?

P.S. A nitpick: When beginning a comment by responding to someone else's comment, please remember to use quotes; makes it much easier to follow. Thanks.

Mary -- Let me try to explain what I mean. Am I that judgmental? Well, it depends on what you mean by judgmental.

If judgmental means running around wagging your finger at everyone who does anything wrong and getting in everybody's face all the time, then no, I'm not that judgmental. But I do think it's possible to form considered assessments of the moral or political value of various kinds of actions and behaviors.

Take breast implants as an example. You ask what the problem with them is. Here's a possible answer. Suppose you think that certain beauty standards can be, and often are, harmful to women. Not harmful in some abstract, attenuated sense, but harmful in the sense that they directly contribute to serious mental distress in some women, and physical harm in cases of some women with eating disorders. Further, suppose you think that the more time, money, and invasive surgery women invest in trying to meet those standards, the more the standards get reinforced. (To be sure, this isn't--by a long shot--the only mechanism that reinforces the standards. But suppose it one.) If you start from these two premises, then it seems to follow that--other things being equal--getting breast implants contributes a little bit to the overall reinforcement of standards that ultimately harm a lot of people. And that's the problem with breast implants.

If that's right, then it would be better for women to seek ways of feeling and being attractive that don't involve invasive surgeries that allow them to approximate otherwise impossible ideals.

Now, to be clear, I don't think it follows from any of this I or anyone else should go around telling women with breast implants that they're bad people. Here's where empathy and understanding, among other things, comes in. But just because we don't want to be jerks doesn't mean we have to give up on trying to understand and assess the moral terrain of our lives.

For what it's worth, my frustration with Hirshman is often my sense that she's not interested in figuring out considered moral or political assessments of things without being a judgmental jerk about it.

"P.S. A nitpick: When beginning a comment by responding to someone else's comment, please remember to use quotes; makes it much easier to follow. Thanks."

I've been using HTML italics tags to indicate quotes from other comments, but lately they seem effectively to disappear (and sometimes reappear) at random. I think I will use quotes from now on for the sake of reliability. Or maybe both, just 'cause I like the look of italics, even if they only show up intermittently.

"hairshirthedonist, are you really saying that you haven't looked at Jezebel before asking that question?"

Yeah. I thought that was pretty clear. It's the main reason I had to ask. I had no awareness of Jezebel whatever before reading this post this morning and, given what I read this morning, didn't think it a very good idea to research it myself at work. Is that hard to understand? Are you being funny? Am I just being stupid? ...???

I guess I asked, hsh, because you framed your question so tendentiously. FWIW (as you can confirm when you get home), Jezebel is a mixed bag -- both silly and serious items, with a lively comment section. Good discussions, for example, of young-adult fiction.

Forgive me if this is far afield . . .

I do not know if she considers herself a feminist. But Elizabeth Edwards has always struck me as a strong and smart woman, much more than her husband, and someone worth listening to.

That said, other than money -- and I believe the Edwards have plenty of it -- I cannot figure out her motivation for the tell-all book she wrote and is now heavily publicizing, airing her family's dirty laundry.

And while I have always thought she has dealt with her cancer with uncommon grace and strength, this just seems cheap to me.

How ironic. Amp is boycotting Jezebel over a post where Megan urges a woman who has been badly hurt by her boyfriend to dump the guy because he's a rapist. (Some third party objected to Megan's using the victim's letter as fodder for a post, even though the victim published the letter on the internet in an open forum. The ostensibly boycott-worthy offense was Megan telling the third party to pound sand. The third party felt it was inappropriate for Megan to allow her commenters to give unsolicited advice in Jezebel's moderated comments section when the other poster had sought advice in a different forum.)

Linda Hirshman is mad at Megan for explaining why she didn't report her own rape at age 17.

Megan can't win for losing.

I read Jezebel every day. Hirshman's criticism of the site is about a year out of date. Since the drunken rape joke debacle, there has been massive turnover at Jezebel and the whole tone of the site has changed. It's a lot less confessional and shock jocky than it used to be.

On any given day, Jezebel hits at least three or four serious news stories that would warm the cockles of any feminist's heart--everything from Taliban attacks on school girls in Afghanistan to eating disorders to disability in older women, to comprehensive sex ed--to name some examples from the past week or so.

Lindsay, the victim asked Megan to take down or correct her post and Megan first agreed and then refused.

Sorry, I misunderstood.

What kind of correction was the victim asking for? Was there a mistake in Megan's original post?

Hirshman not only has a very narrow view of what feminism is, but seems to belive in the Green Lantern Theory of feminism: the only reason why feminist principles aren't adhered to is that women lack willpower. So she spends a lot of time complaining about women's treachery and feebleness when they fail to live up to her standards. More realistic feminists accept that questions of power mean that individual women don't always do what might be in their collective best interests. Ignoring power in this way means that Hirshman repeatedly come across as a bully.

I also think it's closely connected to her uncritical embrace of US style capitalism, which has the same narrow-minded view of success as assured if you only work hard enough: see for example http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2006/jan/14/familyandrelationships.usa where she has as one of her moments of fulfilment the year she 'racked up 2,700 billable hours as a labour lawyer'.

Here is a link to the original correspondence between the OP and Megan. Here is a link to the communication between Megan and a third party, in which Megan reneged on her commitment to update the post. Apparently Megan refused to communicate this change of heart directly to the OP.

Take breast implants as an example. You ask what the problem with them is. Here's a possible answer. Suppose you think that certain beauty standards can be, and often are, harmful to women. Not harmful in some abstract, attenuated sense, but harmful in the sense that they directly contribute to serious mental distress in some women, and physical harm in cases of some women with eating disorders. Further, suppose you think that the more time, money, and invasive surgery women invest in trying to meet those standards, the more the standards get reinforced. (To be sure, this isn't--by a long shot--the only mechanism that reinforces the standards. But suppose it one.) If you start from these two premises, then it seems to follow that--other things being equal--getting breast implants contributes a little bit to the overall reinforcement of standards that ultimately harm a lot of people. And that's the problem with breast implants.

If that's right, then it would be better for women to seek ways of feeling and being attractive that don't involve invasive surgeries that allow them to approximate otherwise impossible ideals.

SE, I wonder if you've ever read Carol Hanisch's new introduction to her essay, "The Personal Is Political"?

Our demands that men share the housework and childcare were likewise deemed a personal problem between a woman and her individual man. The opposition claimed if women would just "stand up for themselves" and take more responsibility for their own lives, they wouldn't need to have an independent movement for women's liberation. What personal initiative wouldn't solve, they said, "the revolution" would take care of if we would just shut up and do our part. Heaven forbid that we should point out that men benefit from oppressing women.
Recognizing the need to fight male supremacy as a movement instead of blaming the individual woman for her oppression was where the Pro-Woman Line came in. It challenged the old anti-woman line that used spiritual, psychological, metaphysical, and pseudo-historical explanations for women's oppression with a real, materialist analysis for why women do what we do. (By materialist, I mean in the Marxist materialist (based in reality) sense, not in the "desire for consumer goods" sense.) Taking the position that "women are messed over, not messed up" took the focus off individual struggle and put it on group or class struggle, exposing the necessity for an independent WLM to deal with male supremacy....

In September of 1968 -- six months before "The Personal Is Political" was written, the Miss America Protest brought home to many why the Pro-Woman Line theory we were developing was so important when it came to taking action outside the group. In another paper entitled "A Critique of the Miss America Protest" I wrote about how the anti-women faction of the protesters detracted from our message that ALL women are oppressed by beauty standards, even the contestants. Signs like "Up Against the Wall, Miss America" and "Miss America Is a Big Falsie" made these contestants out to be our enemy instead of the men and bosses who imposed false beauty standards on women.

The idea of "The Personal is Political" was never meant as a club to beat individual women with, but as a way of looking at the individual choices of women within the overarching framework of the patriarchy. An individual woman who chooses to get breast implants is not the enemy; the system which presents that choice to her as the way to get along is.

IOW, you can sit there and blame women who get breast implants all the livelong day for oppressing you, but by doing so, you're disappearing the patriarchy, which is what those women are responding to in the first place. Which is exactly what Hirshman is doing by blaming rape victims for not reporting their rapes instead of the system which punishes them for doing so.

I think more to identify which sex is more vulnerable we must first know the concept of respect, who knows him knows that the vulnerability is not always a defect.

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