I recently had a Pap smear, and my ob/gyn brought up the HPV vaccine (which i’m too old to get). In the discussion, she offered a weird aside that stayed with me: “You have a right to be exposed.” It was merely a clause in a longer point about how all women are affected differently by it and have to be treated differently. But I’d never heard anything like that before.
For reasons I’ll get to in a second, it popped back into my head when I read Linda Hirshman’s regrettable inaugural post on Double X, the new Slate offshoot that’s a souped-up version of the fantabulous XX factor blog. We won’t be the first ones to lambaste Hirshman for her critique of Jezebel as unfeminist, and it won’t be the first time we’ve criticized this horrible lady (and horrible writer).
Who keeps giving this woman a platform? Every time I read her, I feel like she’s still in a room that’s been locked since the 60s, when freedom meant acknowledging that people had sex before marriage and tolerance meant admitting black people existed (this is the same writer who argued that feminism was too inclusive). Now, someone forced her to come out of her room, and she’s criticizing all these young ladies for ruining her vision. The first horrible thing you’ll notice is the same thing that jumped out at Jill over at Feministe and everyone else who read it: she criticizes one of Jezebel’s contributors for not reporting a rape when she was a teenager. I mean, my God. Since when did the way you respond to an attack when you’re 17 become a measure for other women to judge your feminist bona fides?
The primary problem, though, is that Hirshman engages in a circuitous game of Blame the Victim throughout her piece. She doesn’t even hide it very well.
But they are also a living demonstration of the chaotic possibilities the movement always contained. In its origins, women’s liberation meant lifting the restrictions of a sexist and ancient culture. From removing the barriers to women working to striking down the criminal laws against birth control and abortion, feminism was first and foremost a liberation movement. Liberation always included an element of sexual libertinism. It’s one of the few things that made it so appealing to men: easy sexual access to women’s bodies. (And to their stories about sex, which helps explain why 49 percent of Jezebel’s audience is men.)
But unregulated sexual life also exposes women to the strong men around them, and here, the most visible of the Jezebel writers reflect the risks of liberation.
She also calls out two of the contributors for being idiots when they were, actually, idiots. Hirshman isn’t just blaming the victims, she’s saying that liberated women have to be extra responsible now that all that liberating has taken place, because we might be victims.
Women can pretend they’re female chauvinist pigs, but it’s still women who are more sexually vulnerable to stronger men, due to the possibilities of physical abuse and pregnancy. These Jezebel writers are a symptom of the weaknesses in the model of perfect egalitarian sexual freedom; in fact, it’s the supposed concern with feminism that makes the site so problematic. How can Tracie, who posted this picture, criticize the men who go to Hooters? How can writers who justify not reporting rape criticize the military for not controlling…rape? It’s incoherent.
Yes, that’s right. Because men like to look at naked ladies, women shouldn’t be naked. I’d point out, here, that this pic is a parody. Oh. But maybe women don’t have a right to try to be funny.
There are two things to point out. One is that the conversation with Lizz Winstead she references is really old. Maybe Hirshman just now figured out YouTube, but really, time to move on. Secondly, guess what: sometimes women are fucking stupid. Women do stupid things. Women get too drunk and women might have unsafe sex. None of that is great. All of it is just the way the world is. Saying women or feminists have to be more protective of themselves because they’re some delicate fucking flower or they have to go back to chaperon land is some insulting shit I can’t countenance. Everyone should take better care of themselves, and that includes men. Yes, people should practice safe sex and sure, use the buddy system if you’re drinking too much. But no one can try to take away your place in the discussion because you don’t act the way they want you too, and no old-guard feminist can try to argue that women should be extra careful because some asshole might hurt them. It’s the asshole’s fault.
Now I know what my lady doctor meant. She meant she could counsel me to use condoms and she could treat me when needed, but she wasn’t going to criticize me if I contracted a virus. The virus is out there. I’m a free person and bad things happen to the most responsible as often as they happen to the least. You can’t judge a woman based on what happens to her. Women have a right to be exposed to the world.
In the end, that’s what I don’t think Hirshman gets. And I actually don’t think it’s because she’s from a former era of feminism, I think it’s because she’s not that smart. You can’t just say that women have a right to advancement and job promotion. Obviously, we do. But women have a right, at base, to take their chances in the world without special bumper lanes. For better or worse, regardless of the preconceptions or actual physical differences between women and men. Women have a right to be exposed to the world for success and for failure. And that’s a little scary and a little fantastic.
I also get a little angry. The piece isn’t thought-provoking or discussion-building or even, really, news. It’s just this lady’s chance to criticize and be offensive. No one should have let her make that public.
(Especially since there were clearly ulterior motives.)