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Nelson Mandela: A life in pictures
Nelson Mandela and his wife Winnie in this undated file picture.
Katie Roiphe may disdain blogs, but she was born to troll them. Exactly 20 years after erupting into the public consciousness with a piece that argued that hysterical feminists were unwisely legislating the brawny, intemperate sexual impulses of men and casting women as victims (with anti-rape activism, on campus), she’s back. In the same space, the Op-Ed page of the New York Times, Roiphe argued Sunday that, yes, hysterical feminists are unwisely trying to legislate the brawny, intemperate sexual impulses of men and casting women as victims (with sexual harassment laws, in the workplace).
“The Morning After” – the book that first rape-hysteria piece became – has given way to “Groundhog Day.”
Roiphe, of course, sometimes writes about other things. This year alone, she has written at least two 1,000-word columns about people mocking her. Just as it takes 20 years of repetition to polemicize away sexual violence, it takes at least two tries for Katie to indignantly convince us that her critics haven’t hurt her feelings.
But some things never change, including Roiphe’s blithe refusal, when it comes to making these claims, to look anywhere but her own navel and cocktail party circuit for evidence. (Sure, she has been on her share of campuses. But there’s no indication Roiphe has been in any other type of workplace.) Sunday’s piece is pegged to the accusations against Herman Cain. Even Roiphe sounds bored when she says, “After all these years, we are again debating the definition of unwanted sexual advances and parsing the question of whether a dirty joke in the office is a crime.”
We are? Last I checked, one of the two women with settlements from the National Restaurant Association hasn’t gone public with her story. Karen Kraushaar, who has, can’t legally divulge details, but has alleged that what Cain did was more serious than joke about his wife’s height, as he says he did. Roiphe complains that “sexual harassment includes both demanding sex in exchange for a job or a comment about someone’s dress.”
Let’s recap. Sharon Bialek says Cain groped her and shoved her head towards his crotch with the words, “You want a job, don’t you?” In other words, Herman Cain allegedly demanded sex in exchange for a job. No word on what he said about Bialek’s dress.
Roiphe also suggests workplace creativity might blossom if we removed legal safeguards that protect employees from bosses who exploit their power differentials. Maybe we can blame sexual harassment law for the fact that Cain allegedly used such a cliche.
It’s not clear what Roiphe’s excuse is, though. Back in 1993, in a devastating New Yorker review of Roiphe’s “Morning After,” Katha Pollitt wrote that the “message is one many people want to hear: sexual violence is anomalous, not endemic to American society, and appearances to the contrary can be explained away as a kind of mass hysteria, fomented by man-hating fanatics.” That message is clearly still resonant to the assigning editors of our nation’s large publications, since they keep paying her to repeat it — despite the rhetorical retreads, despite Roiphe’s reporting skills on the topic not having shown improvement since Pollitt first scolded her for not doing her homework. Meanwhile, even her colleague at Slate, where Roiphe has a column, finds her discussion of the issues wrongheaded, reductive and boring. “Is it really still contrarian to worry about the ‘capaciousness’ of the concept of sexual harassment, or the inherently amorphous nature of its definition? These are old arguments, made by defensive men and by women who prefer to sound, and maybe even are, confident that no environment is hostile to them,” asks KJ Dell’Antonia today.
Clearly, someone out there still finds this daring and brave. Luckily, what has changed in the last 20 years is that now we have blogs to tell Roiphe just how and why she is so wrong. In the same vein, there’s already a response to her demand that one show her “a smart, competent young professional woman who is utterly derailed by a verbal unwanted sexual advance or an inappropriate comment about her appearance, and I will show you a rare spotted owl”: The Spotted Owls Tumblr, formed Sunday night in response to Roiphe, will collect firsthand stories of harassment.
Irin Carmon is a staff writer for Salon. Follow her on Twitter at @irincarmon or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. More Irin Carmon.
Nelson Mandela and his wife Winnie in this undated file picture.
Mandela is accompanied by his former wife Winnie, moments after his release from prison February 11, 1990 after serving 27 years in jail. (Reuters)
In this February, 1990 photo, shortly after his release from 27 years in prison, Nelson Mandela, gives the black power salute to the 120,000 supporters packing Soccer City stadium in Soweto, near Johannesburg. (AP Photo)
Nelson Mandela showed his passport in February 19, 1990, shortly after his release from prison. The South African government authorized an application for himself and his wife Winnie - (Juda Ngwenya / Reuters)
In this July 27, 1991 photo, Cuban President Fidel Castro, and Nelson Mandela gesture during the celebration of the "Day of the Revolution" in Matanzas, Cuba. (AP Photo)
In this July 4, 1993 photo, President Bill Clinton and Nelson Mandela listen during Fourth of July ceremonies in Philadelphia during which Clinton presented the Philadelphia Liberty Medal to the African National Congress president and South African President F.W. de Klerk. (AP Photo/Greg Gibson)
President of the African National Congress Nelson Mandela acknowledges cheers from the crowd as he prepares to unveil the ANC's official election platform in 1994. (AP Photo/David Brauchli)
African National Congress (ANC) leader Nelson Mandela greeted residents of Mmabatho in March 1994, during a visit after the nominal homeland came under South African control following the ousting of the former President Lucas Mangope. (Reuters/Howard Burditt)
South African President Nelson Mandela smiles with actor Sidney Poitier at a press conference in Cape Town in 1996. Poitier played Mandela in the film "One Man, One Vote" (AP Photo / Sasa Kralj)
South African President Nelson Mandela waves to crowds as he sits next to Queen Elizabeth II in a an open carriage on the way to Buckingham Palace.(AP/Louisa Buller)
Chairman of the Constitutional Assembly Cyril Ramaphosa, left, holds up a copy of the country's constitution which was signed by President Nelson Mandela, in December 1996. (AP Photo / Adil Bradlow / POOL)
Nelson Mandela at a news conference in Johannesburg in February 2000. (AP Photo / Denis Farrell)
South African rugby captain Francois Pienaar, right, received the Rugby World Cup trophy from President Nelson Mandela also wearing a South African rugby shirt, after South Africa defeated New Zealand in the Rugby World Cup , in 1995. (AP Photo / Ross Setford)