Wednesday, February 25, 2004

When Wolf Whistles, the Cats Call...

By now, the Naomi Wolf-Harold Bloom sexual harassment story is all over the place. Here's the New York magazine article where Wolf makes her allegation that Bloom "did something banal, human, and destructive: He put his hand on a student's inner thigh, a student whom he was tasked with teaching and grading."

[The real relevation here, I think, is Wolf's hairstyle when she was a student at Yale in the 80s.]

As I've noted before, as much fun as the prospect of seeing Bloom squirm is, I can't see why on earth Wolf is bringing this up now, unless to drive the final nail into the coffin of early 1990s sexual politics.

Zoe Williams had a fine piece about this in The Guardian yesterday [read it]:

[The backlash against tardy allegations of sexual harassment/assault] almost always comes from other women, handily, if bizarrely uniting feminists, post-feminists, non-feminists and the undecided, in a single voice of unsisterly incandescence. Why should the response be so vehement? What is it about sex crimes, or charges thereof, which riles not men, defending each other in an old-boy stylie, but other women?

It's partly that the dangerous predator in question is often characterised not as an individual who behaved badly, but as a symptom of the rottenness at the core of all of society. For instance, Bloom's behaviour "devastated" Wolf's sense of "being valuable to Yale as a student rather than as a pawn of powerful men". Wolf depicts Bloom as the personification not just of an intellectual landscape (Yale), but of an entire gender ("powerful men"). In so doing, she styles herself as the binary opposite, the personification of her own gender, the eternal pawn or victim. And this is where, as someone who shares that gender, something rises in my throat - it really is debateable whether or not some drunk bloke putting his face quite near yours and his hand on your thigh, when you thought he'd come round to read poetry, undermines your value to an entire institution. In the barometer that runs from "misunderstanding" to "act of violence", it leans irrefutably towards the former. So, sure, object to it, at the time or many years afterwards, but not in the name of your gender. Not in the name of people who see no possibility of gender-parity in a world where women achieve victim status simply by being women. Not in my name - object to it in your own name...

Ultimately, sexual politics is the one thing that really dates feminism, that makes it "old school" and lets it down. Equal pay for equal work will never go out of fashion. But blanket assumptions of female victimhood and weakness, the inevitability of male exploitation, the drive to politicise every ambiguous physical gesture as if we're all working shoulder to shoulder against malevolent men - this is not feminism. To bundle it all together as such catches a lot of us who cannot agree, like dolphins in a tuna net. No wonder we thrash about so much.
[Okay, so that tuna metaphor is more than a little odd. Is Harold Bloom the helpless dolphin caught in the tuna net by accident? Tuna aside, I think she makes some good points.]


-- I note that there has been a big spike in visitors to this page yesterday and today. Welcome. Most of the visitors are searching for something like "Naomi Wolf Harold Bloom" in Google.

-- There are also a number of visitors headed this way from Frank Magazine's website, where some discussion of a piece I compiled about Toro Magazine is taking place.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You know Hillary Kael? I'm trying to reach her...

Does the word HOBY mean anything to you?