You Don’t Say
Re “Yes We Cant” [May 3/10]: Thanks to David Bromwich for his sly critique of words and phrases that he calls “shiny, slippery word-fruit that we pluck, eat, and send into the world without second thought.” I’ve been collecting my own stash, perhaps less highbrow but equally, I believe, frustrating. When college administrations claim “budget transparency,” I ache for the old days when honesty was valued. Those “robust conversations,” which pairs one of my verbal irritations with a Bromwich selection, propel me down the hall screaming and craving a complete and deeper consideration of the subject. I guess “authentic” folks are those people Holden Caulfield, who railed against “phonies,” would have praised. Or not. Then there’s that strategy which counsels us to “pivot” from the thornier path to one which will send us sliding into an easier and less objectionable struggle. And politicians with “no appetite” for a cause that might help the underdog in a situation might consider reflecting on their stinginess.
City College of San Francisco
Facts and Fairness
Re “Going Viral,” by Zoë Carpenter [May 3/10]: The Fairness Doctrine of the Federal Communications Commission appears to have helped rein in media misinformation. When a Democratic Congress tried to make it law in 1987, Ronald Reagan successfully vetoed the effort. I recognize its passage might not have affected cable news organizations, as it only applied to broadcast licenses, but the Fairness Doctrine could be reestablished today in such a manner as to apply to all sources of public information.
Re “We Should Shame Frequent Fliers,” by Rafia Zakaria [May 3/10]: Individual sacrifice is not the solution. If only more Americans traveled outside the country, I think we would have a better understanding of the world. Sadly, our society makes it difficult to rely on public transportation to travel extensively.
The Revolutionary Spirit
In his review and analysis of Judas and the Black Messiah [“A Collective Experience,” April 5/12], Stephen Kearse astutely observes that the members of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party are “often filmed surrounding [Fred] Hampton rather than interacting with him, as though they were his vassals, not his comrades.” I would add that members of the audience would not want to identify with the Hampton they see on-screen. A more accurate portrayal would have included the qualities of warmth, openness, humor, and charm that a good community organizer must possess to bring his neighbors into the struggle for justice.
santa monica, calif.
A Survivor Speaks
Katha Pollitt’s May 11 column echoes the rape-culture message that a man’s career is more important than the trauma of a victim who comes forward to share their story. Pollitt’s inspiration was Jean Kim, a Korean immigrant who recently came forward sharing her story of sexual harassment at the hands of New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, now a mayoral candidate.
It seems to be lost on Pollitt that pieces like hers are what keep victims silenced, holding the truth to themselves. With her column, Pollitt perpetuates the perfect victim narrative. A concept of the ideal victim, guidelines and boxes that victims like myself must contort into in order to be believed, appear credible to the general public and, perhaps, later a jury.
According to Pollitt’s unofficial rulebook for survivors, in October 2017, when I was kidnapped at gunpoint by my Lyft driver and gang-raped in a park, I did what survivors and victims are supposed to do. I reported it to the NYPD and had a rape kit done all within 60 hours of the assault. I also contacted the company and informed them of the incident. Yet no charges have been made; no one is in custody. This rulebook Pollitt and other abuse enablers carry in their back pocket set an impossible standard for victims. However, victims and survivors don’t need Pollitt or any other person who upholds rape culture to believe us, because they never will. Like most rape victims, I am both the only victim and witness to the heinous crime committed against me.
The truth is not flexible, I know that. Katha Pollitt, a supposed journalist, and feminist, clearly does not.
Katha Pollitt Replies
I don’t uphold rape culture. Specifically, I don’t believe that no means yes, that women ask for rape by their dress or drinking or anything else, that men have a right to sex, that rape is just “bad sex,” that women are manipulative temptresses or lie about rape to “get attention” or revenge, or that rape is trivial and a charge should not be allowed to derail a man’s career. That’s rape culture. I have defended many victims of rape who have not been given justice, and attacked many rapists who went unpunished. Just a few weeks ago I wrote a column about Blake Bailey, the Philip Roth biographer accused of two rapes and an attempted rape. I looked at the available information and took the side of the women. Anyone who knows my decades of writing on rape and violence against women will not recognize me in the description Alison Turkos gives.
Jean Kim, it’s worth noting, did not accuse Scott Stringer of rape. She accused him of unwelcome touching, aggressive propositioning, and implying, without actually saying, that he would promote her in local politics if she would sleep with him. That is bad, but it is not rape. It is not much like the terrible experience with Lyft that Turkos describes.
The point of my column was that Stringer was immediately dropped by many of his progressive endorsers, without much of an attempt to figure out what had happened 20 years ago. Why the rush? I do believe, and studies show, that the great majority of women are truthful about sexual violence and coercion, but I also believe in hearing from both sides, and taking time to make a careful, fair decision.