Entry from February 22, 2011

Last week Nir Rosen was disgraced, sacked from his academic post at NYU and forced to make groveling apologies for suggesting, among other things, that reports of the sexual assault on the CBS News reporter Lara Logan which was the subject of my last post would make her into a celebrity. That Mr Rosen thought her new-found fame deplorable because he saw Ms Logan as a “war-monger” can hardly have ruffled any feathers among the bien pensant. Given the outcry against Mr Rosen, however, what are we to make of the silence that has greeted an op ed in The New York Times by Kim Barker which says exactly the same thing?

The article advertises its polemical purposes in its headline, “Why We Need Women in War Zones.” Ms Barker, now a reporter for the website ProPublica, tells of her own, less serious sexual assault in Pakistan in 2007, which she brushes off by saying that it helped her to get a story.

Thousands of men blocked the road, surrounding the S.U.V. of the chief justice of Pakistan, a national hero for standing up to military rule. As a correspondent for The Chicago Tribune, I knew I couldn’t just watch from behind a car window. I had to get out there. So, wearing a black headscarf and a loose, long-sleeved red tunic over jeans, I waded through the crowd and started taking notes: on the men throwing rose petals, on the men shouting that they would die for the chief justice, on the men sacrificing a goat. And then, almost predictably, someone grabbed my buttocks. I spun around and shouted, but then it happened again, and again, until finally I caught one offender’s hand and punched him in the face. The men kept grabbing. I kept punching. At a certain point — maybe because I was creating a scene — I was invited into the chief justice’s vehicle.

So that’s all right then. She can take it.”I saw this as just one of the realities of covering the news in Pakistan,” she writes, adding that she said nothing to anyone, especially her bosses at the Tribune for fear that they would think her weak and not send her on any more dangerous assignments. She knows other women reporters who have suffered worse and also said nothing, but Lara Logan “has broken that code of silence.” She then sets up a classic feminist straw man. “Several commentators have suggested that Ms. Logan was somehow at fault: because she’s pretty; because she decided to go into the crowd; because she’s a war junkie.”

I don’t think anyone can have said or even implied anything so foolish, but this appears to be the feminist reading of the merely prudential and common-sense suggestion that maybe it would be better not to send attractive young women into such dangerous situations. The politically correct point of view, I take it, is that any sort of realism about sexually risky behavior by women, whether it is ignoring Muslim sensitivities about what they regard as female immodesty or wearing provocative clothing in a biker bar or going up to Kobe Bryant’s hotel room in the middle of the night, is tantamount to saying of the rape victim that “she was asking for it.” No decent person denies that “no means no,” of course, but there are some situations in which you may know in advance that decent people will be few or absent, and where it is therefore entirely foreseeable that “no” will not mean anything. To disregard such elementary prudential considerations in the name of the unisex utopia is, as I have written before, what Shakespeare calls “hypocrisy against the devil.”

But the best bit of the piece comes at the end, after Ms Barker has written that continuing to send women into such dangerous situations is important and desirable, however regrettable the consequences to themselves, because they make better reporters of such presumptively women’s stories as honor killings and genital mutilation and war rapes. Presumably, like Sonia Sotomayor’s “wise Latina woman,” they are more empathetic. And, she goes on,

There is an added benefit [!]. Ms. Logan is a minor celebrity, one of the highest- profile women to acknowledge being sexually assaulted. Although she has reported from the front lines, the lesson she is now giving young women is probably her most profound: It’s not your fault. And there’s no shame in telling it like it is.

Ms Barker is, of course, a woman and is celebrating Ms Logan’s newfound celebrity as a “benefit”, while Mr Rosen is a man and disapproving of it as an encouragement to war. But other than that, is there any real difference between them?

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