Katie Roiphe wrote the book after an essay of hers was published in the New York Times Magazine. Her 1993 book is a recap of everything going on in the gender realm of elite campuses and how feminism had morphed into something weird. In what might sound like a familiar battle, Camille Paglia and Christina Hoff Sommers wrote positive reviews or remarks about the book while Katha Pollitt panned it. Wow, kids, the same ideological split happens today on a monthly basis between those three. Pollitt's crew won because they held the academic chairs. Their narrative is the dominant one. That is not all that will read like a report on today's campuses.
Silly political poseurs, consent laws, oversensitive progs, microaggressions (not named, but you'll recognize them), Take Back The Night vigils, fake rapes busted, the faulty 1 in 4 rape stat and victim culture are all discussed. The same phony garbage that we see on campuses today as hysteria was right there, just kept to private, more exclusive schools. Roiphe was a Harvard graduate who then went onto study at Princeton. She witnessed the poisoning at the source. She was explaining how the indoctrination was proceeding and how it would spread. She not only compares the themes of feminism from intent to corruption for political gain but explains the little losers that we now see speak in front of the UN or hold positions of power in the bureaucracy and media.
This book shows you that despite "right wing" wins in elections, the entire culture moved in a direction to absorb the worst of university feminism. The official right wing lost every step of the way. Roiphe is there, in 1993, explaining privilege, explaining the stupidity of consent rules for sex (seriously, the rules are 25 years old), and even fake rapes. The slide of sexual harassment as true blue harassment with job threats to defining it down to random comments not even said directly to you is a tragedy. She writes how a girl accused a student of rape and was eventually caught in the lie. The young woman built a narrative of victimhood for years at "Take Back The Night" vigils and women's groups. After years of lying, she had to apologize in the school paper. Jackie at UVa accused a frat of ritualistic gang rape that turned into a national story, was busted for the lie and still no apology. The cops cannot even properly close the case. No recourse for anyone involved. The UVa story shows how the Left has taken the campus hijinks and applied them to the national stage.
Roiphe does a nice job spotlighting archetypes that we now see today all around us. The male feminists using feminism as an omega way to get into girls' pants like Caveh Zahedi were already out there in the '80s. They were rare then so it worked in their attempts to get laid. The skilled political operators and female corporate opportunists are written in detail as people who mouth the party line, whatever it is at the moment, for their future career. To these careerists, feminism is the fad of the month to follow. The fake poor, disadvantaged girl who lives in luxury on 5th avenue is there, hating the patriarchy as it funds her education. The only thing that changed is your middle and lower middle class kids going to state schools and community college now act in this manner publicly... and in Tumblr's echo chamber. The system created an army of feminist infected zombies.
I personally loved her section on "Take Back the Night". Roiphe comments on the quasi-religious nature of it with the group rituals, the public confession, the forgiveness and acceptance. She also notes how after a while, all the stories sound the same. The exception starts to blur into one long story of "being confused... drinking... I liked him... I didn't know what I was doing... I felt violated". This section of the vigils and the ceremony is my favorite part of the book. There is an element of crying into the wind to mark one's existence that these nondescript speakers exhibit.
She points out the men who speak at those vigils. Men attended these vigils decades ago; the rot is deep. First, if you aren't a rape victim, just shut up. Second, you're a man, so sack up and not be such a supplicating wimp. The men actually take away from the big theme of sexual liberation suddenly creating some scary moments for women in the world, and women seeking something for group comfort. That is their shared misery and recovery. Compared to the whiners of today, rape was a bigger problem 25 years ago (look at any crime measure).
Then as now, students have no concept of the reality of rape numbers, and Roiphe does a nice job of skewering the hysteria. How much is real? How much is not? How many go to a women's seminar and get coached into thinking something was rape? Why are we allowing these professors to use blatant lies and misrepresentations to alter not just how students learn but how they process the world and interact with others for the rest of their lives? Professors love to push them to the vigils and protests though. Roiphe hits on the fact that modern feminism is just removing female agency and making them oversensitive Maid Marians. She saw it as a rehash of Victorian views of women or the 1950s social-educational film portrayals that feminists supposedly rejected in the '60s/'70s. As I ask "Take Back The Night" advocates, "why not arm all women if it's so dangerous".
Roiphe is sharp though to bring up victimhood. She was quick to see how victim culture was seeping into normal thought. Being a rape survivor made one a victim. It also politicized the person. Roiphe notes that the rape focus keeps a person engaged politically. Here we see how the Left then, and much more now, can keep one of the last sets of elastic voters (white women) securely in their camp: rape hysteria. Roiphe notes how the details to studies showing 1 in 4 women are raped reveal that over 70% of the "rapes" were the interviewer determining there had been a rape that the "victim" did not realize was rape. John Stossel did an expose on "20/20" about the rape hysteria of the '90s and was shouted off of Brown University's campus. I have friends who cited that "20/20" segment as why they did not apply to Brown (and they weren't gay).
There is something unspoken but implied in the book about the consent laws and the push for all of these rules. It was a reaction to the sexual revolution suddenly placing women in grey areas where their physical weakness is a problem. Feminists would never want to admit that they happily dismantled a "patriarchal" system that was put in place for limiting grey areas and protecting individuals, found out anarchy was hell and dangerous, and now are manufacturing per their beliefs a new, rigid system of laws and rules to "protect" women. Yes, these women are miserable because they are free. There are also dangers that can happen when women get into rougher spots. Shucks, maybe there was a reason that a fence was put there. Maybe the he said-she said zone or drunken hooking up is going to place people in tough situations and leave mental scars for years. Contracts and consent vocalizations for sex? In the old days, those were called marriage vows.
There is something that negatively timestamps this book though, and that is HIV-AIDS. Roiphe writes how this affected people, and it is almost laughable in retrospect. Younger folks might not even realize it, but everyone was legitimately scared of HIV. The media and education racket browbeat us about HIV-AIDS. They told us lies, and even if we laughed off the risk, in the back of our minds, it scared us. HIV-AIDS was also a Trojan horse for pushing sex education in the classrooms. "Kids need to know so this disease is stopped!" Sure it was predominantly gays, and the risk for heteros was overblown, but the exponentially rising number of deaths was frightening in the late '80s/early '90s (50,000 American AIDS deaths in '94 and again in '95). I argue that HIV-AIDS caused a mini-slowdown of the entire Weimerica degeneracy train. Look at the illegitimacy birth numbers around that era. HIV-AIDS might have affected just enough folks on the margin to slow down the promiscuity and encourage condom use. It would not be a stretch to say the same could be said for the push back when Madonna and MTV took it a bit too far in that same time-frame (her image rehab comeback was late '94).
Pardon the Madonna and third wave feminism tangent...
You can see how Madonna and what she pushed was perfect for the emerging third wave feminists and the sex positive movement. HIV-AIDS really did wreck their attempts to screw women up earlier during the '80s intra-feminist sex wars. The anti-porn warriors like Andrea Dworkin and Catherine MacKinnon lost to the pro-sex types like Naomi Wolf and her ilk by 1990. I bet without HIV-AIDS, we'd have had the gay marriage/tranny/poly debates 10-15 years earlier. Madonna, whether in videos, songs or paparazzi life, was a weapon. Her Marlene Dietrich rip-off era of "Express Yourself-Vogue-Erotica" was Weimerica 15 years too early. Still, she was an effective tool for the sex positive feminists and the third wave. The third wave feminists were the hypocrites who were angry about Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill, but turned around and defended Bill Clinton. They created a narrative that Monica Lewinsky was using her sexiness (I cringed typing that) to get what she wanted at work. Lewinsky still isn't over what happened roughly 20 years ago; it did not work for her. It's a lie.
That does not absolve MacKinnon and her wing of feminism who took everything as "extreme" or "systemic" violence against women. Reading this book and subsequent looking into MacKinnon's background, I can see how a right wing leader could use MacKinnon effectively to push traditionalism, eradicate the free-for-all porn we have today and discard her when necessary. One smart future governor could recreate a MacKinnon type but switch her obsession with male violence against women to a return to traditional gender roles AND traditional family/religious control of marriage to comply with nature/Gnon and violence will decrease. Basically, argue for an exit from prog defined culture and social mores to protect women, femininity and feminine life.
MacKinnon's side lost, and I bet some of their loss was attributed to no pop culture visibility. Madonna was actually a great vessel for pushing the sexual liberation further. In the '80s/'90s, America had Kate Roiphe types looking at women's "liberation", HIV/AIDS, the rise of rape rates, and their divorced Silent-Boomer parents, thinking "WTF, this isn't what I was told it'd be, back to marriage/kids/home for me". The July 1989 Playboy (chart on page 70) even predicted this for the '90s as women would go back to a '50s route with a decade by decade comparison (with some comedic touches and multiple Trump references). There was some historical revisionism of the '60s/'70s, but that chart predicted the personality of "opt-out" women. HIV, corporatism and divorce had freaked out enough women to make home life look appealing, safe and preferable.
But... Madonna was there in pop culture to push whatever pro-sex meme the cultural tastemakers wanted on younger women (age 6-26). HIV-AIDS delayed that. Tanget on the tangent: Madonna was also "WASP acceptance of ethnic whites" played out in pop culture. She looked much better as a brunette but the blonde dye job was not just an aesthetic touch for marketing but a message that "yes, ethnic white girls with rocking bodies can be transformed into WASP looking babes for hot sex". Just review how many of her videos employed a juxtaposition of Madonna in a lower class ethnic white look and a made up Hollywood, "blonde bombshell" WASP-look.
The fear of HIV-AIDS disappeared almost as fast as it arrived, and this happened shortly after this book's release. Even my small town peers and I witnessed it, as the caution people had in 1992 was gone by 1998. I would mark the inflection point as when the media reported on the AIDS cocktail of drugs stopping the quick deaths (3 years from diagnosis to death) and the preventative measures the medical industry took with blood and fluids (protecting heteros from HIV-tainted homo fluids). Everybody went back to not caring.
It was a dramatic change to go from one's girlfriend asking how many people one had slept with and to list the names in 1995 to hearing weekend recap stories in 2000. Over Sunday meals in a dining hall, you heard tales that involved girls making out at parties to entertain men, threesomes, how a hook up asked you to spank her until she cried, your friend cheating on his girlfriend with a girl "but it was just a BJ, it doesn't count", or the normal, random hook ups you all enjoyed. No one ever mentioned HIV despite fearing it five years earlier. Even better for the prog media; they didn't have to use a 30-something Madonna to push memes when teenagers like Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera were available.
Roiphe does give a glimpse of 2015 in another zone: the ideological purity zone. She lays out how the politics had moved discussions away from discourse and challenging ideas to simply us vs. them arguments, if there was an argument at all. If you are Team Us, we support what you say since you support what we say. Hold the line! The Steinem-Paglia bit is interesting, and doubly so now that we know Gloria Steinem was a CIA asset. Roiphe was fearful this would lead to the closing of minds. She was right. What went on at Harvard and Princeton in seminars and discussion groups has now permeated not just gender issues, but all social issues. The Left has used this club to move every single social issue beyond reproach and discussion. The very things we need to discuss we are unable to discuss because the immediate accusations of racism, sexism, homophobia etc.
This ideological purity and feminist mind infection was something I witnessed within my first month on campus in '98. My writing seminar was assigned to read short stories, then write on them and discuss in class. Lydia Fakundiny was an old school feminist, but bit of the Italian sensualist at heart with fond memories of spending time with Nabokov. She assigned us "Patriotism". Half the class would read their 250 word reaction on it with Fakundiny leading discussion on Wednesday and the other half would read theirs on Friday. Two female sophomores (freshman were a majority of the class) read their essays with brash feminist anger, hating Mishima's work. It spooked us freshman. I laughed as they wore skin tight tops and tight black pants (one had a Playboy body with 1995 Angela Lansbury's face attached; we called her Medusa). I turned to a frosh who resembled Ben Stiller and said, "What the fuck are these chicks going on about?" He answered, "I'm rewriting mine." I said, "Let's go after them," and he agreed. Some shitlords are made, some are born. We did this throughout the semester and became good friends. Lydia Fakundiny challenged these sophomores, but you could tell the class was shaken. My friend and I expected pushback from all.
We were incorrect. On Friday's discussion, sure enough, several of the freshman women read their essays of crazy intense feminism. Anti-Japanese, anti-patriarchy, and all grrl power in little essay form. This was a 180 from the normal, young girl at uni that they had exhibited in the first month. By the third essay, it was comical. Even a mangina (this one) joined in. Fakundiny had realized what happened and started roping them in. Of course we got our shots in; my buddy wrote on the intense love that contrasted with normal representations of Asian cool in Western media, and that we Westerners should not judge an Asian value system. Stone faced silence from the feminists. I could barely contain my laughter.
I went in another direction and talked of loving the essay due to the language used and imagery. I called it hypnotic and remarked that the seppuku was eerily engaging due to Mishima's writing (true but I hammed it up as I read my essay)*. I got vocal support from a pretty Italian-American girl that I got to know much better, and several others suddenly remembered to discuss the writing not just the patriarchy. No big shocker the Italian is still very feminine and cute and now works at a fashion focused start up. The unfortunate thing is that due to the sides "taken" just because of one essay, every debate suddenly had teams set up. The only time it broke was when the Jews attacked each other after we read "Defender of the Faith" by Philip Roth (non-Jews just watched in amazement). For the rest of the semester, people shut down even when the other side was right due to a team mentality established by one discussion. As an incoming freshman, I had not expected this, but it was part of my education.
I am grateful for learning how to read under Lydia Fakundiny. I gave her a good review in 2001 when Cornell solicited feedback for her potential promotion. She is now dead, and even if she was an atheist and feminist, maybe in the afterlife that she did not believe in, she can hear this.
Despite being decades old and dated due to the HIV issue, I recommend this book. If just for this: it's an insider account of the prog hivemind. Because it is a betrayal of sorts, it was condemned by the likes of Katha Politt. If every feminist but two dislike it, it must strike at the heart of the gender problem. As always, the gender problem and issue is really for prog power, voter control, and voter cajoling. Roiphe predicted the future, and was punished for it because it revealed the prog poison on campuses. As far as Kate Roiphe, she went down a typical path for a cosmopolitan. Marriage, writing, divorce, single motherhood. It is a bit tragic to know that and read the woman in her youth, hoping for more and to break the confines that academic feminism was trying to place on her. She is (((Roiphe))), but she reads like a regular young woman that wants to think feminist but also feminine unlike the axe to grind feminists that are so common. The book is old but since every archetype and every little ritual she wrote on is present on campuses all over America, it would be a smart pick up and weekend read.
*I have near total recall and can list the fiction we read: The Swimmer, the two noted above, Sonny's Blues, Death of Ivan Ilyich, and several weeks discussing To The Lighthouse. An Indian kid I befriended indirectly busted a Jewish American Princess for cheating since he cited a published work that the girl submitted as her own. Fakundiny gave her a public tongue lashing and a 0 for that essay.