Why Is the New York Times Helping to Defend Sexual Assault?
The New York Times seems to be taking a leaf out of Donald Trump’s book.
Remember when the president said there were arguments to be made “on both sides” of the violent white supremacist-sparked conflict in Charlottesville? Apparently now everything is up for scholarly debate, including the (should be) uncontroversial issue of widespread sexual assault. Though a Times investigative team helped bring national attention to the accusers of Harvey Weinstein and Louis C.K., the paper's Opinion page writers are doing their best to undermine this work. Ever since the Opinion section shifted right following Trump’s election, when it poached conservative Wall Street Journal writers like climate change denier Bret Stephens and Bari Weiss, the section has taken a turn for the worse.
Now, it’s hosting all manner of defenses of sexual predators.
Take Weiss’ column from Tuesday, which is intended to pull the rug out from under hundreds of women who have accused prominent men of sexual misconduct. Her argument —that there are limits to ‘believe all women'— would better fit Fox News than the Grey Lady, but remember, this is the same paper that last week published a “fair and balanced” look into the quiet lives of law-abiding neo-Nazis. Bari Weiss’ role at the Times seems to be little more than in-house contrarian, picking at scabs that really don’t need to be opened (see her milquetoast, naive take on cultural appropriation). In the same spirit, she writes of the #MeToo movement, “The huntresses’ war cry—“believe all women”—has felt like a bracing corrective to a historic injustice….But I also can’t shake the feeling that this mantra creates terrible new problems in addition to solving old ones.”
Who are these "huntresses" she’s speaking of? She’s playing on vaguely sexist stereotypes of the angry irrational woman screaming into the abyss, or the nagging wife who complains about never being listened to. No one is saying “believe all women." It’s a very different argument than “believe women,” which plenty of people still have a hard time doing in our patriarchal country. Betsy DeVos and Donald Trump are probably raising a glass to Weiss somewhere.
Then there’s Weiss' argument that believing female accusers will create more problems. I don’t know what world Bari Weiss thinks she’s living in. But when women are still paid 80 cents to men’s dollar, and one out of five women will be raped in their lifetimes, there’s no need for her to join Team "What About The Men?" and use the men's rights rope to pull female victims into the mud. Women were already in the mud to begin with.
She continues her voyage into the imaginary world she’s cooked up: “I believe that the 'believe all women' vision of feminism unintentionally fetishizes women. Women are no longer human and flawed. They are Truth personified. They are above reproach.”
What “believe all women” feminism? Where is this imaginary manifesto? Yes, Sean Hannity and cohort should be less quick to assume that women are lying, as studies show false accusations are extremely rare. But that’s a far cry from wanting to throw away our culture of innocent until proven guilty.
Weiss then spends 10 paragraphs delving into two false accusations that have been made against Roy Moore and Al Franken. By publishing this bilge, the New York Times is essentially propping up right-wing cries of fake news by giving them highly valuable space on its own pages.
When the Times opinion section isn’t busy worrying about the fate of men, it’s implicitly defending rapists by proclaiming men are naturally violent; mere animals struggling to control constant sexual urges. This was Stephen Marche’s argument in the Sunday Review this weekend.
The Times loves big leaps of logic it assumes readers will hold onto as it flies high away from ordinary rationality, and that’s apparent in Weiss’ piece as well as Marche’s. He writes, “Through sheer bulk, the string of revelations about men from Bill Cosby to Roger Ailes to Harvey Weinstein to Louis C.K. to Al Franken and, this week, to Charlie Rose and John Lasseter, have forced men to confront what they hate to think about most: the nature of men in general.”
Has it? Really? I’ve found the most vocal of feminists in my Twitter feed calling for company-wide investigations, systemic overhalls of the sexist entertainment, food and media industries. Women are sick and tired of being treated like meat and they want solutions. They aren’t calling for esoteric explorations into the "nature of men.”
But whatever. Grab Marche’s line and let him fly you away into his weirdly eugenics-inspired wonderland. He’s a novelist and has a doctorate in Shakespeare, so that must mean he is equipped with a psychologist's knowledge of human behavior. Men, he writes, are “unwilling to grapple with the problem at the heart of all this: the often ugly and dangerous nature of the male libido.” Marche proclaims that in light of the wave of allegations, we must probe existential questions about the nature of sexuality. He writes:
“The crisis we are approaching is fundamental: How can healthy sexuality ever occur in conditions in which men and women are not equal? How are we supposed to create an equal world when male mechanisms of desire are inherently brutal? We cannot answer these questions unless we face them.”
Eyeroll alert. Only a man would use a watershed social moment such as #MeToo to wax poetic about the physical injustice of sex. How can a man and a woman ever have a healthy relationship if they're unequal in strength? Oh, gosh, I don’t know, maybe by behaving like the rational beings most of us are? Maybe by resisting the urge to commit rape, which Marche seems to suggest all men suffer from, and instead engaging in consensual sex? Just some thoughts.
In his male privilege, Marche seems unaware that his argument plays right into the hands of the “boys will be boys” line that has been a traditional defense of male violence, as Jessica Valenti points out in the Guardian. If your response to the wave of allegations is that sex is inherently violent, it's like telling those who protest the deaths of black people at the hands of police that “all lives matter.” It’s a shrug off, nothing-can-be-done answer, with a nugget of misogyny at the center, just as the “all lives” crowd are racists at their core.
The Times Opinion coverage of the sexual abuse accusations hasn’t been all bad. If you’re looking for a feminist and progressive voice on the subject, turn to most anything by Lindy West, for example. But in the span of three days, Weiss and Marche managed to regurgitate tired arguments conservatives have used for years to defend sexual assault. They're not forward-thinking just because the Times Opinion page graced them with publication. We don’t need their input. Considering all the brave, abused women coming forward to tell their stories, there are more deserving candidates for the space.