The Lady Doctor and Linda Hirshman.

I recently had a Pap smear, and my ob/gyn brought up the HPV vaccine (which i’m too old to get). In the discussion, she offered a weird aside that stayed with me: “You have a right to be exposed.” It was merely a clause in a longer point about how all women are affected differently by it and have to be treated differently. But I’d never heard anything like that before.

For reasons I’ll get to in a second, it popped back into my head when I read Linda Hirshman’s regrettable inaugural post on Double X, the new Slate offshoot that’s a souped-up version of the fantabulous XX factor blog. We won’t be the first ones to lambaste Hirshman for her critique of Jezebel as unfeminist, and it won’t be the first time we’ve criticized this horrible lady  (and horrible writer).

Who keeps giving this woman a platform? Every time I read her, I feel like she’s still in a room that’s been locked since the 60s, when freedom meant acknowledging that people had sex before marriage and tolerance meant admitting black people existed (this is the same writer who argued that feminism was too inclusive). Now, someone forced her to come out of her room, and she’s criticizing all these young ladies for ruining her vision. The first horrible thing you’ll notice is the same thing that jumped out at Jill over at Feministe and everyone else who read it: she criticizes one of Jezebel’s contributors for not reporting a rape when she was a teenager. I mean, my God. Since when did the way you respond to an attack when you’re 17 become a measure for other women to judge your feminist bona fides?

The primary problem, though, is that Hirshman engages in a circuitous game of Blame the Victim throughout her piece. She doesn’t even hide it very well.

But they are also a living demonstration of the chaotic possibilities the movement always contained. In its origins, women’s liberation meant lifting the restrictions of a sexist and ancient culture. From removing the barriers to women working to striking down the criminal laws against birth control and abortion, feminism was first and foremost a liberation movement. Liberation always included an element of sexual libertinism. It’s one of the few things that made it so appealing to men: easy sexual access to women’s bodies. (And to their stories about sex, which helps explain why 49 percent of Jezebel’s audience is men.)

But unregulated sexual life also exposes women to the strong men around them, and here, the most visible of the Jezebel writers reflect the risks of liberation.

She also calls out two of the contributors for being idiots when they were, actually, idiots. Hirshman isn’t just blaming the victims, she’s saying that liberated women have to be extra responsible now that all that liberating has taken place, because we might be victims.

Women can pretend they’re female chauvinist pigs, but it’s still women who are more sexually vulnerable to stronger men, due to the possibilities of physical abuse and pregnancy. These Jezebel writers are a symptom of the weaknesses in the model of perfect egalitarian sexual freedom; in fact, it’s the supposed concern with feminism that makes the site so problematic. How can Tracie, who posted this picturecriticize the men who go to Hooters? How can writers who justify not reporting rape criticize the military for not controlling…rape? It’s incoherent.

Yes, that’s right. Because men like to look at naked ladies, women shouldn’t be naked. I’d point out, here, that this pic is a parody. Oh. But maybe women don’t have a right to try to be funny.

There are two things to point out. One is that the conversation with Lizz Winstead she references is really old. Maybe Hirshman just now figured out YouTube, but really, time to move on. Secondly, guess what: sometimes women are fucking stupid. Women do stupid things. Women get too drunk and women might have unsafe sex. None of that is great. All of it is just the way the world is. Saying women or feminists have to be more protective of themselves because they’re some delicate fucking flower or they have to go back to chaperon land is some insulting shit I can’t countenance. Everyone should take better care of themselves, and that includes men. Yes, people should practice safe sex and sure, use the buddy system if you’re drinking too much. But no one can try to take away your place in the discussion because you don’t act the way they want you too, and no old-guard feminist can try to argue that women should be extra careful because some asshole might hurt them. It’s the asshole’s fault.

Now I know what my lady doctor meant. She meant she could counsel me to use condoms and she could treat me when needed, but she wasn’t going to criticize me if I contracted a virus. The virus is out there. I’m a free person and bad things happen to the most responsible as often as they happen to the least. You can’t judge a woman based on what happens to her. Women have a right to be exposed to the world.

In the end, that’s what I don’t think Hirshman gets. And I actually don’t think it’s because she’s from a former era of feminism, I think it’s because she’s not that smart. You can’t just say that women have a right to advancement and job promotion. Obviously, we do. But women have a right, at base, to take their chances in the world without special bumper lanes. For better or worse, regardless of the preconceptions or actual physical differences between women and men. Women have a right to be exposed to the world for success and for failure.  And that’s a little scary and a little fantastic.

I also get a little angry. The piece isn’t thought-provoking or discussion-building or even, really, news. It’s just this lady’s chance to criticize and be offensive. No one should have let her make that public.

(Especially since there were clearly ulterior motives.)


9 thoughts on “The Lady Doctor and Linda Hirshman.

  1. ladyfresshh May 14, 2009 at 1:47 pm Reply

    This reminds me of the dangerous book for boys and daring book for girls…thanks for reminding me of my right to be dangerous. We do seem to get extra flack for risky behavior.

  2. shani-o May 14, 2009 at 2:23 pm Reply

    But unregulated sexual life also exposes women to the strong men around them

    This made me so mad. Like, blind with rage. I actually had to stop reading for a second.

    I’m not going to blog in your comments, but suffice it to say, that, right there, is the same old boilerplate, misogynist bull; the only twist is that a woman is saying it. And the fact that the editors at XX posted it makes me very hesitant to support the site.

  3. Winslowalrob May 16, 2009 at 10:34 am Reply

    Hirshman is a salty-ass putz.

    Slate punted XX from the beginning. Also I find the idea of separate websites for feminists (and blacks, hello the Root) to be kind of suspect.

  4. blackink May 16, 2009 at 4:37 pm Reply


    I was really struck by the idea that Hirshman thinks that being a good feminist – or an anti-Jezite, I suppose – might have anything to do with protection from “repulsive sexual partners, pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, even rape?”

    Hilzoy summed up the case against this pretty damn well, too: “neither freedom nor power protects you against those things? Because even if you’re the strongest, bestest feminist ever, you can still get pregnant, or be raped? Because feminism does not confer magical superpowers or complete invulnerability? Is there something here I’m missing?”

    Not at all.

    And yeah, like winslowalrob, it’s interesting that Slate feels a need to create a separate Web site rather than offer more comprehensive, diverse coverage. But it’s not really a surprise.

    • Winslowalrob May 16, 2009 at 8:18 pm Reply

      You mean a website CAN pay attention to issues of race and gender without subcontracting it to another site? Thats CRAZY…

      I remember when I was TAing last year for a gen-ed history class and I integrated a lot of this stuff into our discussions pretty seamlessly, but I am a ninja. Unlike Slate.

  5. bitchphd May 17, 2009 at 8:19 pm Reply

    Not only do women have a right to be stupid, but the fact is that back in the pre-liberation days, it’s not exactly like we were safe.

    I’ll take being able to run my *own* risks over being forced to run someone else’s any day of the week, thanks.

  6. bitchphd May 17, 2009 at 8:23 pm Reply

    (Also, Quadmoniker, your ob/gyn sounds like a keeper.)

  7. G.D. May 17, 2009 at 10:11 pm Reply

    What annoys me so much about Hirshman’s critiques isn’t just the shitty arguments that she makes, but that they are often ad hominem attacks against people who have taken issue with her work in the past. A few weeks ago, she did hilzoy — the universally beloved blogger over at Obsidian Wings — really, really dirty by blowing up her spot and putting her real name and employer all over the Internet. This time it’s Megan and the women over at Jezebel, who have specifically called bullshit on Hirshman’s views on domestic violence.

    Hirshman’s work consists mainly of hit jobs masquerading as serious entries about feminist thought.

  8. […] DoubleX, Slate’s new sister spinoff that got off to a bit of a rocky start, is now a podcast, too. Emily Bazelon, one of DoubleX’s founding editors, is the host, and […]

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