Sometimes, you just have to admire the sheer brass ovaries.
Look, I’ve been alive and paying attention over the last decade or so. If there were any feminists publicly questioning or criticizing the increasingly-fanatical direction their crusade was taking, I somehow missed them. If there were any critics of the simple-minded slogans of intersectionality who were granted a respectful hearing by our media class, I somehow missed them. The only people who dared speak up were publicly canceled, in the parlance of our times, while being slandered as misogynist rape apologists doing the bidding of their right-wing paymasters (man, those guys are behind everything). If there were any clear guidelines about how to distinguish credible accusations from scurrilous ones, they were never publicly articulated. Talk of “due process,” however tentative, was considered a “dog-whistle” of the patriarchy. Way back in 2014, Scott Alexander analyzed what was becoming an already-obvious compulsion among feminists to pick the absolute worst hills to die upon:
The enigma is complicated by the observation that it’s usually feminist activists who are most instrumental in taking these stories viral. It’s not some conspiracy of pro-rape journalists choosing the most dubious accusations in order to discredit public trust. It’s people specifically selecting these incidents as flagship cases for their campaign that rape victims need to be believed and trusted. So why are the most publicized cases so much more likely to be false than the almost-always-true average case?
What’s really amusing is that he probably thought “some conspiracy of pro-rape journalists” was such a perfect reductio ad absurdum that it might serve forever as a rhetorical guardrail, preventing anyone from plunging over the edge into lunacy. That guardrail only lasted, what, five and a half years before Ms. Faludi barreled through it in an eighteen-wheeler, all hopped up on the trucker’s speed of ideology and propaganda?
Now, like many aficionados of the human comedy, I have certainly enjoyed the recent spectacle of the scuttling of the good ship #MeToo in the name of political expediency. Your revolution is over, Faludi. Condolences. The broads will always lose. It’s like one of the Three Stooges with a bucket on his head; you can see it coming from far away, but it’s still funny to watch. In fact, I think I enjoy this reboot of the franchise even better than the original version starring Paula Jones, Juanita Broaddrick, and all those other ’90s stars.
But let’s be fair. Contrary to what some have claimed or implied, #MeToo was never a purely cynical exercise in political partisanship. After all, it did bring down a powerful Hollywood Democrat and a sitting Democratic senator. It just turns out that a presidential election is simply a bridge too far. No one is willing to chance losing to Trump again for the sake of principles. Suddenly, idealists see the attraction of lesser-evilism. If we were mature adults, we could talk about this. We could admit that part of the tragic nature of existence is the fact that we’re frequently forced by unchosen circumstances to sacrifice our principles to necessity. But we’re not mature adults, Linda Hirshman’s example to the contrary. We’d rather avoid the up-front pain of facing our compromises squarely and choose the no-money-down, balloon-payment option of investing far, far more time, effort, and pain into denying that there was ever a tragic conflict in the first place, let alone any chastening compromises. We’d rather descend into farce and blame an all-powerful cabal of our enemies for playing some incredibly disciplined long game to manipulate us into this situation so that we can pretend our moral virginity remains intact.
And for what? Who does this benefit? She and her comrades know full well what sort of message they were relentlessly pushing. Those “right-wingers,” real, honorary, and imagined, certainly remember. Absolutely no one is fooled by this, though some will find it useful to pretend to be fooled. And yet, some idealistic part of me is still shocked, no matter how often and predictably this happens, that people would rather go through more trouble to lie than to cut through all those tangled webs and just tell the truth. I can’t help but laugh at the irony that my own feeble idealism would survive after theirs had sold out.