Last week, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch decided to stop carrying George Will’s column after Media Matters for America and the National Organization for Women furiously objected to his piece on the federal government’s disregard—justified by dubious statistics—of due process for students accused of sexual assault.
Earlier this month, the Chicago Sun-Times took down a piece by Kevin Williamson of National Review on the transgender actor who had just appeared on the cover of Time. His premise fit inside the headline, “Laverne Cox is Not a Woman.”
There are two possibilities. 1) The editors at those papers failed to detect all the hatey awfulness in those articles before publication, and should resign in shame. 2) They found the articles reasonable, even provocative, but abandoned their commitments to free speech when the pressure got too great.
Consider the cases.
Will was arguing a point that ought to be inarguable: Colleges have no business arbitrating accusations of sexual assault, and certainly not according to a “preponderance of the evidence” standard pushed by the Department of Education. The proper venue is court; the proper standard, “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
He did some arithmetic to show that two of the key statistics used by the Obama administration are mathematically incompatible: if one in five women is sexually assaulted while in college, then it can’t also be true that only 12 percent of assaults are reported.
The Campus Sexual Assault study cited by the administration employs, by its own admission, “an expanded definition of sexual assault,” which leads, of course, to expansive numbers. For example, “incapacitated sexual assaults” made up two-thirds of the assault tally, but the definition was so broad that almost any incident involving alcohol and touching without explicit consent could be counted as assault.
Not surprisingly, the women surveyed saw things differently. While the researchers decided that 78 percent of all “incapacitated assault victims” had been raped, only 25 percent of the women in that category considered the incident they reported to be rape.
Heather MacDonald traced the origin of these expansive definitions in City Journal a few years ago:
During the 1980s, feminist researchers committed to the rape-culture theory had discovered that asking women directly if they had been raped yielded disappointing results—very few women said that they had been. So Ms. commissioned University of Arizona public health professor Mary Koss to develop a different way of measuring the prevalence of rape. Rather than asking female students about rape per se, Koss asked them if they had experienced actions that she then classified as rape. Koss’s method produced (a) 25 percent rate, which Ms. then published.
The problem with this, MacDonald writes, is that it “depends on ignoring women’s own interpretations of their experiences—supposedly the most grievous sin in the feminist political code.”
Koss, incidentally, agrees with Will that the Campus Sexual Assault Study “is not the soundest data (the White House) could use.”
As for the claims of a campus rape epidemic that the study supposedly demonstrates, one of its own authors cites “data to document the fact that college women experience violent victimization at a lower rate than women of the same age who do not attend college, which refutes the idea that women in college are at increased risk of being victimized.”
Are they also “trivializing” rape, as the Post-Dispatch editor accused Will of doing? Or are they simply demurring from exaggerations and shaky claims?
That sin of ignoring women’s interpretations of their own experiences is what led the Sun-Times to pull Williamson’s column. Williamson had nothing unkind to say about Cox, but he does think sex is a fixed matter, however unsettled one’s impressions of it may be.
Williamson’s use of masculine pronouns for Cox incited wrath and abuse, not to mention scolding for his defiance of GLAAD guidelines. But it’s impossible to take those guidelines seriously. Here’s GLAAD’s definition of sex: “At birth, infants are assigned a sex based on a combination of bodily characteristics including: chromosomes, hormones, internal reproductive organs, and genitals.”
Sure: My daughter was mostly one way, so we just rounded up and called her a girl.
Slate went hard after Williamson, publishing back-to-back hit pieces. The first, by Mark Joseph Stern, was a soggy bit of illogic, where he seriously tried to prove that “Williamson’s real aim is to prove that Laverne Cox is not human.”
He really thought he was onto something there. The only thing I can figure is that he was trying to remember his formal logic and slipped into a categorical error:
Major premise: All women are human beings.
Minor premise: Laverne Cox is not a woman.
Conclusion: Laverne Cox is not a human being.
Once you ditch the constraints of valid and invalid logic, then the assumptions can be combined into whatever truth you wish, like a grad school aptitude test with no wrong answers. Some men are women. Not all men are men. If some men are women, then all women are women.
If some men are not men, then all women are not women. Wait, maybe not that one. That almost sounds judgmental, as if somebody’s preference could actually be invalid.
Stern’s obliviousness leads him to indignantly charge Williamson with presenting Cox as “disordered”—and he’s right, in the most literal, ontological sense of the word. A male who believes himself to be of the order female is disordered.
A day later, Slate published another piece arguing that Williamson’s claims about the categories of male and female were based “on a 3-year-old’s understanding of science.”
“But some people are real doctors,” Jillian Keenan wrote. “So when Williamson’s article provoked outrage from the transgender community and its allies, I called some experts. When it comes to sex, is it true that biology is simple? That answer, resoundingly, was no.”
Keenan goes on to argue that a “binary understanding of sex” is “empirically wrong,” and that intersex conditions are common. Only the experts aren’t the doctors she promised. Instead, she quotes a former social worker from San Francisco, and then goes on and on about the claims of “science.” One professor, whose work in Papua New Guinea she alludes to, advocates a fluid, non-judgmental understanding of sexuality. He’s so open, in fact, that in 1994 he gave an interview to the now-defunct pro-pedophilia journal Paidika, saying, “the category ‘child’ is a rhetorical device for inflaming what is really an irrational set of attitudes against [pedophilia].”
The name of that journal alludes to a time and place when pederasty was celebrated and idealized. That time could come again. As the pedophiles say, there’s no "rational" reason to uphold these arbitrary restrictions and prohibitions, these inarticulate moral sentiments that are just a vestige of superstition.
I expect those who question the wisdom of sex reassignment surgery will be shouted down soon, and the voices of reaction after them, as we work our way through the LGBTQ? acronym, adding more letters and symbols as we go.
I suppose the last taboo will be the idea that there was ever anything to recommend any of the other taboos.
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