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Disagreement is Not Silencing

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Katie Roiphe’s Harper‘s cover story is here, and it is predictably awful. Its only value is the response pieces it has produced. Rebecca Traister:

No, the dynamic Roiphe is describing is not really about being muzzled; it’s about speaking publicly with the understanding that you will likely be challenged on what you say, and in some cases profanely, nastily, even disrespectfully. For the record, the dynamics of rudely stated, inflammatory public confrontation — always present in activist discourse, but made more widely visible and permanent by social media — are interesting and worthy of exploration. But that’s not the piece Roiphe has written. The piece that Roiphe has written is about “this feeling of not being able to speak,” which she recalls experiencing first during the blowback she sustained after publishing The Morning After, her polemic on campus date-rape activism back in the early 1990s. Roiphe writes in Harper’s of how she received death threats and was sometimes shouted down when she went to speak on college campuses.

Yet then, as now, Roiphe was more than “able to speak.” Her speech was in fact supported and amplified by powerful institutions: Her initial essay questioning the campus anti-rape movement was not only featured in The New York Times Magazine; Roiphe herself was on the cover. The Morning After was published by Little, Brown and reviewed as “courageous” in the New York Times.

[…]

In any case, the confusion between being publicly challenged and being forced into silence reminded me of one of the great, nuanced, searching essays of the #MeToo period, published in n+1 by Dayna Tortorici. In it, Tortorici writes of how she had come to notice men complaining that “they could not speak. And yet they were speaking …the right to free speech under the First Amendment had been recast in popular discourse as the right to free speech without consequence, without reaction.” What Roiphe is doing here is a tic of the powerful, the one that Tortorici has noted coming from men: mistaking the right to speech for the right to unquestioned authority. Roiphe’s friends may be whispering to her that they have qualms about #MeToo and are too scared to voice them without fear of angry retort. But that’s simply not the same as being unable to speak; it’s electing not to enter the fray, not to risk facing challenge or disagreement, not to start a fight they might not win.

I’ve said this before, but rare indeed is the anti-POLTICAL CORRECTNESS thinkpiece that doesn’t have Sarah Palin’s theory of the First Amendment as an essential background premise. Isolated, unrepresentative anecdotes — and sometimes merely hypothetical bad things — quickly devolve into points like “you should be able to write heavily-promoted books and articles about how the patriarchy is dead without anybody pointing out that your argument is wrong, sometimes unkindly or with swear words, on the internets.”

After you’ve Read the Whole Thing, Michelle Goldberg:

During the 2016 presidential campaign, I went to Donald Trump rallies in the Midwest, the South and on the East Coast. At all of them, I’d ask Trump fans what was bothering them about American life. By far the most common reply was: too much political correctness.

People kept complaining that they could no longer say what they really thought. I’d ask what they couldn’t say, but they usually wouldn’t answer. Then I’d ask who was stopping them, and they inevitably talked about being criticized for their political opinions on social media.

[…]

Faced with thousands of incensed Twitter users, you might feel it’s dangerous to say that #MeToo has gone overboard, but in the real world the men who still run things will congratulate you for your courage. Left-wing Twitter mobs are a great gift to the right, since they make defending the status quo seem transgressive and brave.

The idea that criticism of #MeToo has been suppressed will make sense…if you haven’t read any major publication since it started. And now matter how much public intellectuals with rare platforms like to pretend otherwise, being criticized isn’t being silenced.

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