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The New York Times Uses its Op-Ed Pages to Make Fun Of Sexual Harassment

Why is the Times running an op-ed from professional antifeminist Katie Roiphe declaring that sexual harassment isn't serious?

Herman Cain's campaign has raked in donations from loyal GOP supporters even after a handful of damning sexual harassment (and worse) allegations have surfaced. 

Penn State students rallied and rioted on behalf of their coach even after it was revealed that he failed to report a witnessed child rape to the police.

Our rape culture, our misunderstanding of the way assault and harassment demean and hurt victims, is worse than ever. Denial is running rampant.

You'd think our national op-ed pages would rush to publish some feminist-minded pieces by professional victim's advocates pushing back against this pervasive culture, arguing that we take sexual assault and harassment more seriously, that we update our attitudes to reflect our laws and update those laws, too, if needed.

What we got instead, in the  New York Times, was a column by professional antifeminist Katie Roiphe, sounding a lot like Don Draper, with the essential message that sexual harassment is just ladies who can't take a joke.

The headline is, " In Favor of Dirty Jokes and Risqué Remarks"  and the URL spells out "Sexual Harassment? What on Earth is That?"

There's nothing as fresh, cutting-edge and original as calling harassment victims humorless! I knew that '90s nostalgia was in style again, but I didn't expect this type of Anita Hill-era retread. 

Now, as much as it would be lovely for all of the world's many humor-loving feminists to ignore this high-placed concern trolling and go back to making jokes in environments where it's actually appropriate and simultaneously maintaining the fight for respectful and safe public and workplaces (a distinction most normal, socially well-attuned people can make) we do have to stop and address her charges.

Because unfortunately, these kinds of contrarian arguments--so popular at the New York Times and like publications--are dangerous. They get swallowed up and absorbed by the mainstream culture and become used as weapons, allowing people who should know better to dismiss those who raise legitimate concerns about rape and harassment and abuse of power as "no fun," "man-hating" and "anti-sex." This stereotype as anyone who has seen or heard about a SlutWalk (or talked to most self-identified feminists in the last 50 years) can tell you, is simply not true.

Before we deconstruct the argument, let's take note of its arguer's history. Katie Roiphe has been described by Rebecca Traister as the "enfant terrible" of the feminist movement, dogging women's advocates ever since 1991 when she published The Morning After, a book that tried to discredit the notion of acquaintance rape on campus. (Parodying the content of that book, the Awl's Choire Sicha once memorably introduced her thus: "Katie Roiphe—whose first book, You're Actually Just a Whore: Raping Doesn't Happen at College, was so ridiculous that she should never have been published again.")

The monikers go on, but you get the idea. Insert feminist idea, expect a knee-jerk Roiphe retort, one filled with allusions to her own delightful rapport with the male gender, unlike those other feminists who are always killing the buzz with complaints like "rape is bad."

Anyway, on to her argument this weekend in the classic Roiphe vein, denouncing the fuss over the Herman Cain harassment allegations. She writes, essentially, that sexual harassment laws mean that dirty jokes have been criminalized, no one can have any fun at work, and the long arm of the law now prohibits flirty, bold women (presumably like herself!) from parrying innuendo for innuendo. Instead, in a world as bleak as 1984's dystopia, all would-be wits must become silent desk-drones lest they and their repartee-partners be hauled off in chains and booked at their local precinct.

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