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What is the Worst Thing Published in a Major National Newspaper Today?

[ 52 ] January 29, 2012 |

Fred Hiatt brings us a strong opening bid:

It also could have been possible that Witt wanted to preempt the inevitable investigation and humiliation. Whether the charge of “sexual assault,” whatever that is, was ever true is irrelevant to the immediate and substantively unfounded assault on Witt’s character.

[...]

Who knows what “assault” even means as used in this case? The definition of assault can range from “unwanted sexual advance” to rape as most understand it. As long as we’re making inferences based on anonymous allegations, an inquisition by any other name, we might just as readily conclude that this was no rape. The accuser first reported whatever happened to the university’s Politburo-sounding “Sexual Harassment and Assault Response & Education Center,” then later filed an informal complaint with the “University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct.” Why not just call it “The Torquemada Institute”?

A strong entry! Not easy for the Times to compete with! But not impossible — you can always get Caitlin Flanagan on the horn:

Hysteria is the most retrograde and non-womyn-empowering condition. It’s not supposed to happen anymore (we have Title IX!), but it won’t seem to go away. Both history and myth are filled with stories of girls exhibiting bizarre symptoms around the time of puberty — from Cassandra and her raving, to the girls of the Salem witch trials, to the girls whose households were believed to be the site of poltergeist hauntings, to cheerleaders in New York and North Carolina. Pubescent girls, it seems, are manifestly more likely to exhibit extreme and bizarre psychological symptoms than are teenage boys.

Yes, this article was written in 2012 and is complaining about apocryphal uses of the word “womyn” (although, alas, no apocryphal tales of bra-burning.) And, yes, it may be even worse than this might suggest.

Comments (52)

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  1. Fraser says:

    Flanagan scores again! Because nobody has ever reported peculiar behavior by teenage boys. Ever. In all history.

    • LKS says:

      History is full of teneage girls taking semi-automatic weapons to their school and killing a bunch of people.

      • Halloween Jack says:

        Hey now, don’t forget that one time that that girl murdered everyone at her prom with telekinesis! That was some bad shit, man!

    • Hogan says:

      Giles: Xander’s taken to teasing the less fortunate?

      Buffy: Uh-huh.

      Giles: And, uh, there’s a noticeable change in both clothing and demeanor?

      Buffy: Yes.

      Giles: And, well, otherwise, all his spare time’s spent lounging about with imbeciles?

      Buffy: It’s bad, isn’t it?

      Giles: It’s devastating. He’s turned into a sixteen-year-old boy. Of course, you’ll have to kill him.

    • c u n d gulag says:

      In all fairness, the only time you can get teen boys out of the bathroom, or their bedroom, is to eat, watch sports, or play computer games – which means they have to stop playing with something else for awhile.

    • DrDick says:

      Flanagan has obviously never know any teenage boys.

      • R Johnston says:

        I think she most likely “knew” a whole lot of teenage boys in her day, not that there’s anything wrong with that. There is, however, a lot wrong with projecting her religion induced feelings of guilt on girls everywhere.

  2. LoriK says:

    Caitlin Flanagan’s entire career can be summed up fairly effectively in 2 words: “citation needed”.

    • Funkhauser says:

      And her opus can be summarized with “You sluts!”

    • LKS says:

      C-Flan thinks that the solution to getting teenage girls to stop finding other outlets (witchcraft, cheerleading, etc) for their culturally-repressed sexuality is to keep suppressing and demonizing female sexuality.

      I’m surprised she hasn’t come out in favor of female genital mutilation.

      • Alison says:

        I think that might be too messy for the dainty likes of Mother Flanagan. Plus, it involves actual contact with women’s naughty bits, which is always, always bad.

        I’m sure she’d prefer sparkly pink chastity belts, sealed by combination lock, the code to which is passed in a new ritual from father to husband at the wedding reception.

    • davenoon says:

      Best I can gather, Flanagan’s citation for this article would have been the Wikipedia page on “Mass Hysteria.” Beyond that, she makes a bloody hash of it — the tell is her use of the term “hysteria” in the same breath as the term “diagnosis.” Hysteria, of course, no longer appears in the DSM, and its replacements — various dissociative disorders, conversion disorder, etc. — have fuck-all to do with Freud (and so her clever dig at those feminists who want to believe we’re in a fashionable “post-Freudian age” makes even less sense than anything else in the piece, which is really saying something.)

  3. Funkhauser says:

    Today we are all Yale quarterbacks.

    Fred Hiatt, champion for the underdog rightfully privileged.

  4. Daragh McDowell says:

    Parker’s article is pretty bad, but I’ll say one thing for the passage Scott highlights – ‘sexual assault’ IS a frustratingly vague catch all term that, IMHO, a) tends in practise to be an unhelpful euphemism that covers a lot of degrees of hostile and offensive sexual behaviour b) as a result allows people to write offensive crap as cited above without being tarred and feathered.

    • The Shaggy DA says:

      No, it’s really not. As I suspected, it took me under twenty seconds to find “sexual assault” in the Connecticut Penal Code. Sexual assault is a specifically defined crime with three different degrees of seriousness.
      Don’t compound Hiatt’s laziness with your own.

      • Daragh McDowell says:

        Sorry – not an American. I’m referring to the way it has entered common usage and the media. That’s why here (in Ireland) certain groups have started insisted on terms like ‘rape’, ‘torture’ and ‘sodomization’ when referring to the sexual abuse of children by the church, because terms like ‘assault’ and even ‘abuse’ have become effectively, euhemisms.

        Now we can argue that this SHOULDN’T have happened, but it has. Even if I recognise ‘sexual assault’ as a serious matter, the very fact that it has ‘three degrees of seriousness’ under the CT penal code is enough licence for knuckle-draggers and their op-ed page cheerleaders to start rolling their eyes. It may not be a pleasant reality, but its one I think we need to face.

        • The Shaggy DA says:

          My point is that reason the term has been watered down is because Hiatt and his ilk have played ignorant like this in order to make political points. They should get called out on it, otherwise they get away with it.

          Even giving him the benefit of the doubt, if you don’t know whether sexual assault has a specific meaning, look it up, especially if you’re going to publish your opinions.

          • Daragh McDowell says:

            I have a pretty sound definition of what sexual assault means DA. All I’ve said is that its tended towards being a euphemism in public discourse, which I think is a bad thing.

            • mpowell says:

              I think that your intentions are noble but I can’t agree with this exactly. People should stop calling rape sexual assault, that much is for certain. But sexual assault necessarily covers a broad class of misbehavior. We would need to develop new language to describe these kinds of things more precisely, and even then, I think it would be difficult to ascribe a rank ordering of awfulness to different forms of assault since a lot depends on the details. An additional problem is that early in a case, the details are likely not publicly known.

        • Hogan says:

          Don’t know about Ireland, but the US is some years past the genteel convention that rape should be described in polite company (like newspapers) as “assault” (e.g., “She was beaten about the head, pushed down the stairs, tied up and then assaulted”). If we’re going to limit rape to acts involving penetration, we need some term for sexual violence that doesn’t involve penetration, and “sexual assault” is what we’ve settled on for cases where we don’t know all the details. If we know the details, we can talk about the details. In this case we don’t know the details.

        • Hob says:

          Even if I recognise ‘sexual assault’ as a serious matter, the very fact that it has ‘three degrees of seriousness’ under the CT penal code is enough licence for knuckle-draggers and their op-ed page cheerleaders to start rolling their eyes

          Your concern is duly noted. Indeed, regular Americans can’t possibly be expected to take a crime seriously if it has some kind of high-falutin’ definition that talks about different degrees of seriousness.

          • Daragh McDowell says:

            Not what I was saying, not my point, and not interested in engaging with pointless snark.

            • Hob says:

              Sorry you don’t see the point of my snark; I don’t see the point of your point, and I doubt I’m the only one. Rather than taking your ball and going home, perhaps you might unpack your reasoning a bit?

              It sure sounded to me as if you were saying that it’s somehow our responsibility to phrase laws in such a way that right-wing idiots cannot make fun of them. I don’t see how that is desirable or even possible.

    • LKS says:

      Are you suggesting that there’s some degree of sexual assault that’s okay?

      Sexual assault is hardly a “vague” term. It means what it means, namely non-consensual and aggressive physical contact of a sexual nature. Legally, there are degrees (rape is worse than fondling), but it’s still pretty clearly an assault.

      Remove the word “sexual” and ask yourself if you get equally soggy in the head when someone is accused of assaulting his neighbor over a fence dispute.

      • Daragh McDowell says:

        Are you suggesting that there’s some degree of sexual assault that’s okay?

        Absolutely not.

        Remove the word “sexual” and ask yourself if you get equally soggy in the head when someone is accused of assaulting his neighbor over a fence dispute.

        I’ve been (no joke) accused of ‘assaulting’ people by saying hi to them in the course of a previous job (direct-dialogue fundraiser.) If anything its the ‘assault’ part not the ‘sexual’ that I’ve got a problem with. See my reply above for more substantive thoughts.

  5. Angry Geometer says:

    to the girls of the Salem witch trials

    The Salem witch trials were OK because bitches be crazy?

    I’ve been through Hitler Was Actually A Liberal, Except For The Good Ideas He Had, The Empire in Star Wars Were Really the Good Guys, George Bailey is really the villain of It’s a Wonderful Life, etc. but that’s just fucking crackers.

    • DrDick says:

      Heaven forbid that we should ever address the upright and godly men who encouraged, empowered, and enabled these young women and then acted on their fantasies by executing 19 innocent men and women.

  6. Stag Party Palin says:

    girls exhibiting bizarre symptoms around the time of puberty — from Cassandra and her raving,

    Caitlin, you Ignorant Slut! You seem to have forgotten that Cassandra was given the gift of prophecy AND the curse of not being believed. IOW, you’re the one who’s raving, not Cassandra.

    In future intellectual dribblings we can anticipate hearing about Sisyphus and his Limp Wrists.

    • DocAmazing says:

      In future intellectual dribblings we can anticipate hearing about Sisyphus and his Limp Wrists.

      If that’s what gets her rocks off…

    • Richard Hershberger says:

      I also wonder about the characterization of Cassandra as pubescent. It’s been a few years since I studied this, but I don’t recall her being that young. Her twin brother Helenus participated fully in the fighting, including family infighting for Helen after Paris died. After losing that fight he, in a fit of pique, advised the Greeks on strategy. None of this is impossible for a young teenager, but neither is any of it likely.

  7. thebewilderness says:

    Willful ignorance or willful ignorance?
    So hard to decide.

    Can we really expect them to be truth vigilantes and act like words have meaning and definitions and stuff?
    Is it Gulf War Syndrome, or PTSD? Trauma response? Nah! It’s girls, it must be hysteria. Yanno? That whole Cassandra hysteria owning a uterus thingummy.
    “Struck by her beauty, Apollo provided her with the gift of prophecy, but when Cassandra refused Apollo’s romantic advances, he placed a curse ensuring that nobody would believe her warnings.”

    • Lurker says:

      Yep. An activist whos pressing for patriarchal sexual mores, like C-Flan, should actually give Cassandra as a role model for teenage girls. She was, after all, chaste.

      Or is it different when it’s a god that’s wooing you? Even if it is the Greek god Apollo, and therefore, for a Christian, a demon? Should the respect for authority overcome the wish for purity? Here is the true problem of C-Flan. ;-)

      And Apollo was actually better than most Greek gods. After all, when he was disappointed with Cassandra, he “only” cursed her. He did not try to rape her, like Zeus would have, and did not transfigure her into something else, like so many other Greek gods.

  8. Erik Loomis says:

    I think I have to vote for Hiatt based on the Torquemada reference.

    • Jeffrey Kramer says:

      It’s literally sophomoric. If you were ever on debate team you remember having learned (in second-year at the latest) how to “refudiate” your opponent’s proposal by, A) placing it in some general category (in this case, “inquiring about disapproved conduct”) and then, B) assimilating it to the most universally detested item in that category (in this case, “The Inquisition! The Witch Trials!”).

      (The reverse of this coin was, if you found yourself tasked with defending the indefensible, to deflect your opponent’s objections by characterizing them as impossibly impractical, high-minded, idealistic… you know, faggy. Thus, if you were defending the Vietnam War, and your opponent raised the My Lai massacre, the approved response was “you can’t expect soldiers to be Boy Scouts.”)

  9. Pubescent girls, it seems, are manifestly more likely to exhibit extreme and bizarre psychological symptoms than are teenage boys.

    Although this is admittedly anecdotal evidence, based on my seven years teaching high school I would argue that the opposite is more likely. And I am not saying that the boys are more likely to have some troubles going on, only that they are more likely to exhibit the symptoms. At least in the classroom.

    • DrDick says:

      Based on my own prior experience as an adolescent boy and later father of one, I would have to agree.

    • Aaron says:

      I don’t remember anybody in my high school demonstrating symptoms akin to those described in Flanagan’s article, male or female, let alone a case of such symptoms spreading to other teens.

      “Let’s take an irrelevant story from mythology involving one woman, an anecdote from the 1600′s, and two isolated incidents involving cheerleaders and… how can you deny it? History (or as Flanagan might spell it, hystery) is full of… two or three examples of this phenomenon!”

      How can we save our girls?

      Mass psychogenic illness is an interesting phenomenon, and it would be interesting to read an actual analysis of the phenomenon based on documented cases. It is interesting that spontaneous fainting tends to occur in cultures in which it is expected, and to affect men and women along those cultural norms. But even if we are so charitable to Flanagan to pretend that she has “connected the dots” and for some reason teenage girls are more susceptible than boys to psychogenic illness, the examples are nonetheless rare and isolated and thus cannot be generalized to adolescent girls as a whole.

      (“Roughly 0.000000001% of teenage girls are affected, therefore this is a serious problem reflecting how girls are being traumatized by ‘corrosive cultural forces’, even in cultures that are completely isolated from the forces I’m implying to be a cause of the problem.”)

  10. R Johnston says:

    Caitlin Flanagan is, of course, engaged in the traditional wingnut exercise of projection. She’s crazier and far more likely to exhibit extreme and bizarre psychological symptoms than are any men she’s ever met and she projects her personal failings onto all women.

    • DrDick says:

      Indeed. She clearly routinely has repeated bouts of hysterical delusion, particularly every time she writes a column.

      • DocAmazing says:

        From Wikipedia”
        In the Western world, until the seventeenth century, hysteria referred to a medical condition thought to be particular to women and caused by disturbances of the uterus
        …and in the twenty-first century, Ms. Flanagan has resurrected that definition.

  11. Fraser says:

    Her vision of teenage girls who are just all a-twitter and nervous because they’re like feeling S-E-X feelings and terribly, terribly afraid they have to leave mommy and daddy forever and face that scary sexual world bears no relation to any woman I knew in college.

  12. [...] Scott Lemieux, today’s New York Times has an outrageously dumb piece by the irrepressible Caitlin Flanagan: [...]

  13. Jeffrey Kramer says:

    I’m not sure which is the more likely scenario:

    1) in twenty years the right will be asserting that it was the liberals who were the real sexists, because “Look at the stuff that The Liberal Washington Post and New York Times published!” (cf. “look at how the Democrats in Mississippi voted in 1964!”), or

    2) in twenty years we’ll be living in the Republic of Gilead.

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