Category Archives: feminism

Salon keeps up the Hunt witch-hunt

As I wrote in my last Newsday column, while Sir Tim Hunt’s “girls in the lab” jokes at a women in science luncheon at a conference in Seoul were tacky and dumb, the savaging to which the British Nobel laureate has been subjected — which includes being forced to resign from the University College of London and from several prestigious science committees, including one he co-founded — is not only absurd but utterly disgraceful. Even The Guardian, which faithfully toes the feminist party line these days and which initially ran a gloating response to Hunt’s resignation, followed up with two sympathetic articles by the paper’s science editor Robin McKie.

But now, along comes Salon, where Scott Eric Kaufman slams evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins for defending Hunt in a letter to the Times in which Dawkins criticizes Hunt’s joke but quite rihtly deplores “the baying witch-hunt that it unleashed among our academic thought police: nothing less than a feeding frenzy of mob-rule self-righteousness.” The headline on Kaufman’s piece refers to Hunt as “misogynistic.” While Kaufman doesn’t use that word in the text, he implies that Hunt actually is in favor of gender-segregated labs and insists on treating Hunt’s clumsy initial attempt to explain his remarks in a comment to BBC Radio 4 as an admission that they reflected his actual views (i.e. that “girls in the lab” are trouble because you fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and they cry when you criticize them). Yes, Hunt “admitted” that love in the lab had happened to him and had been disruptive; it sounds like he was more self-deprecating than anything else. (He later told The Guardian that his comment to the BBC was a recorded message after midnight, when he had just found out that his remarks had caused outrage.)

What Kaufman does not to mention is that Dawkins is far from the only scientist to speak up on Hunt’s behalf. His other defenders include prominent female scientists such as Cambridge physicist Dame Athene Donald, who has described him as “immensely supportive” of initiatives to promote gender equality in science; biologist Ottoline Leyser, also of Cambridge, who has said she was quite certain that Hunt was “not a sexist in any way”; and physiologist Dame Nancy Rothwell, who has pointed out that he had “trained and mentored some outstanding female scientists.” Nor does Kaufman see fit to acknowledge that Hunt’s wife and colleague Mary Collins, an immunologist who describes herself as a feminist, has said she is “extremely angry” about the backlash, which has “badly tarnished” her own relationship with University College.

What a dishonest hit piece.

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Filed under academia, feminism, science

Anita Sarkeesian, book (& film) critic

So, I can’t really properly judge newly famous media critic Anita Sarkeesian’s videogame criticism because I’m not a gamer.

I can, however, judge her reviews of books and movies, and if her 2012 video about The Hunger Games is any indication, her commentary runs the gamut from the banal to the laughably wrong.

Oh, and before you go on, there be spoilers here for The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay. Proceed at your own risk.

Here, I should add that I think The Hunger Games is not only an excellent series, but one of the best works of fiction in recent years in its approach to gender. (Yeah, Suzanne Collins’s writing style is a bit flat, but I actually think it works well for this kind of novel.) In Katniss Everdeen, it gives us a three-dimensional, active female protagonist whose struggles don’t have anything to do with gender. I love that Katniss is trying to protect Peeta as much (or more, actually!) as he is trying to protect her. (I could have done without the love triangle and frankly I think Gale is one of the books’ least interesting characters, but hey, nothing is perfect.) I love that while Katniss is a fighter, she’s not somehow magically stronger than all the guys. I love that it’s never at any point suggested that there is something uniquely horrible about forcing girls as well as boys to fight to the death; the Hunger Games are horrible, but female victims are never treated as more worthy of sympathy or horror than male ones.  I love that there’s no bullshit about the Panem power structure being oppressive because it’s “male.” I love that the rebels are led by a woman, Anna Coin, and that she turns out to be just as bad as the people she’s fighting. (Which, gender aside, is also a commentary on many revolutions.)

And now, here’s Anita Sarkeesian.

Okay, first of all, unrelated to gender: at about 55 seconds in, Sarkeesian makes a passing comment about how the premise of the book is unrealistic because there’s no way people would give up randomly selected kids to participate in a fight-to-the-death spectacle without a fight.

Has she actually read the damn books? Because I think it makes perfect sense in the context of the Hunger Games universe. The people from the districts are too cowed to rebel. Plus, the Hunger Games system is actually a combination of carrot and stick — well, lots of stick and a little carrot. If you win, you become a celebrity and a hero, and not only your family but your town reaps major economic benefits.

Then, there’s a discussion of Katniss that consists of a lot of statements of the obvious. She’s not reduced to her gender, she’s not sexualized or objectified, she shows sympathy and compassion for her family and friends. One of Sarkeesian’s pet ideas is that a truly feminist heroine has to challenge the “patriarchal value system” not only with regard to gender roles but also by prioritizing compassion, cooperation, and non-violent conflict resolution over competition, dominance, vengeance, and so on. So, for instance, she refuses to consider Mattie Ross in True Grit a feminist heroine, because among other things she doesn’t show enough emotion and doesn’t question the idea that death is appropriate retribution for her dad’s murderer.  I have to say that I find this idea deeply offensive. If a conservative wrote that a female character was a bad model of womanhood because she’s insufficiently emotional and too vengeful, he (or she) would rightly be excoriated as a sexist. So why is it okay for Sarkeesian to declare a female character to be a bad model of feminism because she’s too much “like a man”? I have no words for how obnoxious that is. Well, I do, but they’re the kind of words that would violate my own rules about civility in public discourse.

Katniss mostly meets Sarkeesian’s True Feminist test (whew!). Except that Sarkeesian manages to give her a passing grade by seriously misrepresenting the books. For instance, she asserts (at 3:56) that Katniss remains “troubled and disturbed at the idea of personally murdering another human being, even within the context of the death match.” Reeeally? Re-read the start of Chapter 18 of The Hunger Games, where Katniss kills the boy who has just mortally wounded her friend and ally, Rue.

The boy from District 1 dies before he can pull out the spear. My arrow drives deeply into the center of his neck. He falls to his knees and halves the brief remainder of his life by yanking out the arrow and drowning in his own blood. I’m reloaded, shifting my aim from side to side, while I shout at Rue, “Are there more? Are there more?”

Earlier, at the end of Chapter 11, Katniss is rather cold-bloodedly contemplating the murder of the girl who is camping out near her hiding place at night and is stupid enough to light a fire, which is likely to be spotted by the “career” tributes:

I lie smoldering in my bag for the next couple of hours, really thinking that if I can get out of this tree, I won’t have the least problem taking out my new neighbor. My instinct has been to flee, not fight. But obviously this person’s a hazard. Stupid people are dangerous.

(The careers get there first and kill the girl without spotting Katniss.)

In fact, at 5:55, Sarkeesian contradicts herself by noting (when discussing the ways in which Katniss is shown as traumatized by violence) that near the end, she aims an arrow at Peeta’s heart when she thinks he’s about to kill her.

And then there’s this:

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This is the same Katniss who counts the dead tributes at the end of each day, with no thought other than “The more of them die the more chance I have of staying alive”?  The only death (other than Rue’s) at which she feels sorrow is that of Thresh, because he cared about Rue and because he saved her (Kat’s) own life earlier, and then spared her:

Thresh dead. I should be happy, right? One less tribute to face. And a powerful one, too. But I’m not happy. All I can think about is Thresh letting me go, letting me run because of Rue, who died with that spear in her stomach…

And that’s just in the first book. By the third, Katniss actually demands, as a condition of cooperating with the rebels, the right to personally kill President Snow. And I know Sarkeesian had read all three books by the time she made her video, because one of her criticisms was that the love triangle took up too much room in the later books. (One of the few points on which I agree with her, but that’s hardly an insight of stunning originality; almost everyone I know thinks the love triangle was pointless and boring.)

Sarkeesian-Hunger Games 4

The inconsistency is, apparently, that Katniss is very distraught by Rue’s death, but “doesn’t even bat an eye” at that of “Foxface,” the girl who dies after stealing berries from Katniss and Peeta’s food supply that turn out to be poisonous:

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Are you kidding me?

First of all, while Foxface has cleverly stayed out of the action, she was hurting or trying to hurt Katniss and Peeta by stealing their food supplies.

Secondly, Katniss also remains unfazed by the deaths of several other tributes who haven’t hurt anyone. At first, I was going to say that Sarkeesian’s objection to Katniss’s lack of grief at Foxface’s death betrays her sexism, since Katniss also shows no grief at the murder of several harmless males (like the boy in Chapter 11 with whom she struggles for a backpack at the Cornucopia and who is killed right in front of her — she’s only repulsed by being splattered with his blood), but after re-reading the scene where the girl who lights the fire is killed, I had to conclude that Sarkeesian is not being sexist; she’s just being stupid.

The rest of the seven-and-a-half-minute video is taken up by a discussion of how male heroes are typically portrayed as suffering no emotional repercussions from violence and how refreshing it is that Katniss struggles with such repercussions. But ironically, in trying to squeeze Katniss into her politically correct little box of Compassionate Feminist Hero, Sarkeesian totally dilutes one of the strongest themes of the trilogy: that being forced into a world of brutal violence does have a dehumanizing effect.

Is there a place for intelligent media criticism that focuses on gender issues? Sure thing. But the fact that Sarkeesian has emerged as the leading voice in such criticism right now ensures that it’s going to be propaganda, not analysis.

(P.S. I’m leaving the comments open, but any comments containing personal abuse of any kind will not be approved.)


Filed under culture, feminism, movies


Two days ago, Ezra Klein, the editor of, penned what may be the most repulsive article yet on the subject of affirmative consent laws. Klein’s argument in a nutshell: yes, these laws are overbroad and will probably result in innocent men being expelled from college over ambiguous charges. Which is good, because the college rape crisis is so terrible and the need to change the norms of sexual behavior is so urgent that this requires a brutal and ugly response. Or, as Joe Stalin was fond of saying, “When you chop wood, chips must fly.” That’s the Russian equivalent of “You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs.”

Toward the end, Klein writes:

Then there’s the true nightmare scenario: completely false accusations of rape by someone who did offer consent, but now wants to take it back. I don’t want to say these kinds of false accusations never happen, because they do happen, and they’re awful. But they happen very, very rarely.

I only just found out, from this column by James Taranto, that the link in this passage goes to my recent piece on Slate XX.

The whole point of which was to rebut the idea that false accusations of rape are so infinitesimally rare that they needn’t be a serious factor in deciding whether laws dealing with sexual assault are unfair to the accused.

I repeat.

I wrote a piece (extensively fact-checked, I might add) arguing that wrongful accusations of rape (either deliberately false or based on alcohol-impaired memory and mixed signals) are not quite as rare as anti-rape activists claim, and that we need to stop using their alleged rarity to justify undermining the presumption of innocence in sexual assault cases.

And Ezra Klein cites this very piece in an article that justifies, pretty much, throwing the presumption of innocence out the window.

Is there a word for having one’s writing hijacked to support (in an egregiously misleading way) the very point you are arguing against?

I suggest “voxjacking.”


Filed under feminism, gender issues

How not to respond to Women Against Feminism

Just to make it clear: I’m not a part of Women Against Feminism. I’m on the fence about whether the term “feminism” can be reclaimed, but that’s a question for another time. (In case you missed it: here’s my article on the subject.)

But some of the responses to WAF just make me roll my eyes.

Here’s an example:

First of all: a recurring theme on the Women Against Feminism site is that feminism fought important battles in the past, but those battles have been won and feminism has morphed into something counterproductive. Whether that view is right or wrong, to say that today’s fourth wave (or whichever wave it is) feminists are entitled to women’s allegiance because of the rights previous generation of feminists have won for women is, as my friend Brian Carnell has observed on Twitter, a bit like saying that blacks must be forever loyal to the Republican Party because it was instrumental in ending slavery.

Secondly: while it is certainly true that women pre-feminism generally faced far greater obstacles than men of the same class when it came to intellectual pursuits, the idea that women (at least in the West) were barred from expressing opinions and denied all voice is preposterous. Christine de Pizan wrote books, including ones that defended women against misogynist caricatures, all the way back in the 14th-15th Centuries. There were plenty of other women writers, including popular pamphleteers, whose work long predates anything like an organized feminist movement. In fact, if women had been denied the right to have and publish their opinions, how could (first-wave) feminism even have happened? Mary Wollstonecraft and Olympe de Gouges, two women who can probably be justly called feminist pioneers, both published their work at the end of the 18th Century. (Both, it should be noted, had written and published extensively on other subjects before turning to advocacy of women’s rights.) Feminists certainly did not make it possible for them to get published and reach large audiences.

It is true, however, that women authors–particularly ones who wrote on feminist topics–were often singled out for ridicule and disparagement. They could be mocked as ignorant and stupid, or derided as mere conduits for men’s ideas (because, after all, women couldn’t possibly have the brains to come up with intelligent arguments!), or slandered as immodest and unchaste…

… which is exactly what some feminists are now doing to Women Against Feminism.



Filed under antifeminism, feminism, Uncategorized

Giving feminism a bad name, Chapter [insert astronomical number here]

So this morning, this showed up in my Twitter feed:


Out of morbid curiosity, I followed the link and found this article in the Jewish online magazine, The Tablet, which skewers “male critics” for giving lukewarm reviews to the new Disney feature, Frozen, and missing its feminist message.

To start with: I haven’t seen Frozen yet.  I’m really disappointed that Disney made a film very loosely based on Andersen’s wonderful story The Snow Queen, rather than an actual adaptation of the story (which has a courageous, active female protagonist, an awesome and terrifying female villain, and other great characters including a lady bandit chief and her bratty but good-hearted daughter).  One friend of mine thought it was great.  Another, a feminist who has a strong interest in female-driven stories, thought it was so-so.

If Frozen is getting mediocre press, that’s news to me: the film has a very impressive 89% “fresh” rating on (though some of the reviews counted as “good” are not quite as enthusiastic as Tablet author Marjorie Ingall, the magazine’s Life and Religion columnist, would prefer).  Plenty of male critics loved it: Time‘s Richard Corliss, for instance, or The Wall Street Journal‘s Joe Morgenstern (who concludes his review by calling one of the sisters, Elsa, “a heroine for our times”). And some female critics, such as Christy Lemire of, were every bit as lukewarm as the male critics Ingall castigates.  The Village Voice‘s Sherrilyn Connelly thought that in terms of its portrayal of female characters, Frozen is a step back from Brave; Ingall emphatically disagrees, which is fine.

What’s not fine is that (1) under the guise of feminism, Ingall has penned a disgustingly sexist and crass attack on male critics, a respectable online magazine published it, and some people are apparently loving it; and (2) Ingall seriously misrepresents both the overall tenor of the reviews and some of the actual critics she slams.

After cherry-picking a few “meh” reviews, Ingall writes:

All these critics are boys. This movie is an extraordinary, subversive story about sisterhood, and it is funny and surprising and weird, and they do not get it because they are writing with their penises.

Really, Ingall?  Really, Tablet?  “Boys”? “Writing with their penises”?  Good grief.  Imagine the reaction if a male writer derided “girl” critics who were insufficiently enthusiastic about some male-oriented movie and opined that “they do not get it because they are writing with their ovaries.”  (Yeah, okay, Rush Limbaugh says this kind of crap, which he rightly gets slammed for.  But I can’t imagine, say, Commentary or National Review Online publishing anything of the sort.)

Speaking of “not getting it,” I think Ingall actually misunderstood the meaning of a line that particularly incensed her in Stephen Holden’s New York Times review.  Holden wrote:

“Frozen,” for all its innovations, is not fundamentally revolutionary. Its animated characters are the same familiar, blank-faced, big-eyed storybook figures. But they are a little more psychologically complex than their Disney forerunners. Its princesses may gaze at a glass ceiling, but most are not ready to shatter it.

Ingall fumes:

Wait, what? It’s true, animated movies fall down spectacularly when it comes to body-image diversity. This is no exception. (My daughter Josie observed that the princesses’ eyes are wider than their arms, and I know of someone who dismissed the film as “Battle of the Snow Barbies.”) But how are they not shattering a glass ceiling? It’s a cartoon in which both of the leads are female, the love story is secondary to the tale of the sisters’ relationship, and oh yeah, audiences are flocking to see it in record numbers despite the tepid reviews.

Actually, I believe Holden is contrasting the film’s princesses, Elsa and Anna, to “their Disney forerunners.”  The last line in the paragraph Ingall quotes is rather clunkily written and confusing, but it sure looks to me like “Its princesses” refers to “Disney’s princesses,” not Elsa and Anna (“most” of two makes no sense).  I think Holden is saying that Frozen‘s princesses do shatter the “glass ceiling,” an interpretation supported by the fact that his next paragraph notes that this is the first Disney animated feature with a female director.

But back to Ingall for this snarky aside:

(I did laugh at the conservative New York Post’s response: “[Disney] too often panics at feminist pressure and orders up formulaically ‘strong, capable, smart’ girls.” Heaven forfend! Love those quote marks. Who’s really panicking here, monkeyboy?)

What Ingall doesn’t say is that the New York Post review by Kyle Smith is actually highly positive (he gives the movie 3.5 stars out of 4, compared to 3 out of 5 from gender traitor Elizabeth Weitzmann in the rival, and liberal, tabloid The Daily News).  Also, Smith is — in this case, unmistakably — contrasting Frozen‘s Elsa, whom he calls “intriguingly nuanced” and “cool,” to the “formulaically ‘strong, capable, smart'” girls from other Disney films.

Oh, and just to remind you: Frozen did not get “tepid reviews.”

To recap:

This is a year in which female-driven movies (Catching Fire, Frozen, Gravity) have done amazingly well with audiences and with critics.

And out of this, a feminist writer manages to get a male-bashing whinefest about slights to women and girls (or to feminism) at the hands of beastly men.

Imaginary slights, I should add.

And then feminists complain that feminism gets a bad press.


Filed under feminism, gender issues, journalism

The date-rape debate redux

Yes, I know that this blog has been gathering dust for a while, and I’ve kept meaning to come back to it.  I don’t know if I’m back on a regular basis (too much else on my plate right now), but I will try to blog at least part-time.

And I’ll start off with a follow-up to my recent Boston Globe column (April 14) on the new sexual misconduct policy at Duke University.  An excerpt:

The policy, introduced last fall but recently challenged by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, co-founded by Boston attorney Harvey Silverglate, targets “sexual misconduct’’ — everything from improper touching to forced sex. Some of the examples given in the text of the policy, such as groping an unwilling woman’s breasts, are clearly sexual offenses not just under university regulations but under the law.

But the policy’s far-reaching definition of sex without “affirmative consent’’ covers much more. Unlike the notorious Antioch College rules of the 1990s that required verbal consent to every new level of intimacy, Duke’s policy recognizes non-verbal expressions of consent. However, it stresses that “consent may not be inferred from silence [or] passivity’’ — even in an ongoing sexual relationship.

What’s more, consent can be invalidated by various circumstances — not just obvious ones such as being threatened or unconscious, but also being intoxicated to any degree, or “psychologically pressured,’’ or “coerced.’’ The latter is an extremely broad term, particularly since the policy warns that “real or perceived power differentials . . . may create an unintentional atmosphere of coercion.’’ As FIRE has noted, a popular varsity athlete may face a presumption of coercion in any relationship with a fellow student.

Meanwhile, women, the default victims in the Duke policy, are presumed passive and weak-minded: Goddess forbid they should take more than minimal responsibility for refusing unwanted sex. In one of the policy’s hypothetical scenarios, a woman tells her long-term boyfriend she’s not in the mood, but then “is silent’’ in response to his continued non-forcible advances; if he takes this as consent and they have sex, that is “sexual misconduct.’’ Why she doesn’t tell him to stop remains a mystery.

The man’s behavior may be inconsiderate. However, adult college students have no more of a right to be protected from such ordinary pressures in relationships than, say, from being cajoled into buying expensive gifts for their significant other.

On April 20, I received an email from my occasional sparring partner Barry, a.k.a. Ampersand, of Alas, a Blog.  Sayeth Barry (posted here with his kind permission): Continue reading


Filed under academia, feminism, rape, sexuality, women

My latest on (oh no!) Sarah Palin

She’s not the savior of conservatives.

And she’s not nearly as much a victim of the “liberal media” as her defenders make her out to be (at least if we’re talking about the mainstream media; there has been some incredible nastiness on left-wing blogs, though at least no one that I know of tried to claim that she left a trail of bodies in her wake).  About the mockery of her religion: yes, it was suggested with no real evidence that she believes the dinosaurs lived 5,000 years ago (it’s actually unknown whether she’s a creationist or not; she does support the teaching of both “intelligent design” and evolution in public schools).  However, I do think she got off rather easy on her connection to a witch-hunting African pastor (I suspect for two reasons: one, bringing up a wacko pastor connection would have inevitably called up the ghost of Jeremiah Wright; two, it might have seemed somewhat un-PC to make too much fun of a crazy pastor from Africa and his looney medieval beliefs).

Is it possible that in a few years Palin will reinvent herself as a brilliant candidate?  Perhaps; F. Scott Fitzgerald notwithstanding, there are second acts in American life.  But it would have to be one hell of a second act.  And if it is, I’ll gladly eat my words.  As I said in the article, and in other venues, I think there is definitely a place and a need for a conservative/libertarian/individualist feminsm that embraces female strength, femininity, family, and small government — and for the kind of female leadership Palin could have provided if she had lived up to her billing.


Filed under feminism, Sarah Palin, U.S. politics, women