Some Modern Feminists Describe Women as Weak Victorian Ninnies

Article excerpt

My grandmother lived in a world of manicures, hair salons, and no place to go in the mornings.

That felicitous first sentence is the fuse that lights Katie Roiphe's bombshell of a book in which she argues that a perversion of feminism is reviving stereotypes that constricted her grandmother's world.

In today's victimization sweepstakes, many prizes, including media attention and therapeutic preferences from government, go to those who succeed at being seen as vulnerable and suffering. So hell hath no fury like that directed against someone like Roiphe, who casts a cool eye on the claims and logic of some women who consider their victimhood compounded by any calm analysis of their claims. This Roiphe provides in "The Morning After: Sex, Fear and Feminism on Campus." It is giving some feminists the vapors.

Roiphe, 25, a Ph.D. candidate in English at Princeton, dissects the contemporary feminist obsession with sexual harassment and rape, both very broadly defined. Behind this obsession Roiphe detects the old image of woman as exquisitely delicate, "with her pure intentions and her wide eyes," constantly on the verge of victimization.

Into what Roiphe calls "the normal libidinous jostle of coeducation" has come gothic feminism. It portrays men as predators and women as prey - women who by nature are innocent, passive, manipulable and almost asexual and whose fragile composure crumbles at encountering male sexuality.

This feminism explains a feature of contemporary campus life, the "Take Back the Night" marches. At these rituals, "survivors" of sexual "violence," very broadly defined, "speak out" about their "voicelessness." They describe being "silenced" by a shadowy force with several names - "men" or, for the intellectually up-scale, "patriarchic hegemony" and "phallocentrism." As Roiphe notes, being "silenced" is an experience of the articulate, whose tone is often self-congratulatory: I survived victimization, so I am very brave. Participants in these marches-as-therapy, says Roiphe, are "more oversaturated with self-esteem than with cholesterol."

Today, when certified victim groups surely aggregate to at least 200 percent of the nation's population, one often-repeated statistic of suffering is that one in four college women is a victim of rape or attempted rape. One study that popularized that factoid has interesting flaws. …