An online Philadelphia arts and culture site called Broad Street Review, which reviews local theater and music, isn’t typically a site on The Frisky’s radar. But a victim-blaming, thoroughly sexist “editors notebook” by its editor-in-chief, Dan Rottenberg, is too dumb to let pass without comment. The piece is all over the place, as far as the point it’s trying to make. But for you, Frisky readers, I will try to understand. And the basic thesis that I can glean from it is that Lara Logan, the CBS journalist, once displayed her comely cleavage while posing on a red carpet so, duh, of course she would have been sexually assaulted by a mob of men while reporting in Tahrir Square, Egypt. (FYI, I won’t be linking to the Broad Street Review “editors letter” because I don’t want to send it web traffic. The piece was clearly written to piss people off and get enraged readers to send it to their friends, who will go give the site more clicks. To that end, I’ve excerpted the most relevant parts below. If you really want to read the piece in full, you can go find it on your own.)
Rottenberg’s piece was illustrated with a picture of Lara Logan — blonde and beautiful, yes — posing at some event or another in a loose, cream-colored dress in which her cleavage is obvious. Tasteful (i.e. not J-Woww headed to Karma), but obvious. Logan’s an attractive women and she knows it. That’s womanhood. Yet underneath the picture of Logan is the punishing caption, “What message was the TV journaiist [sic] Lara Logan sending here?”
The caption alone is bad enough … but wait, there’s more.
The piece isn’t thorough enough to tell us whether Rottenberg is aware of the exact circumstances of Logan’s sexual assault; it seems to imply she sashays about in a miniskirt while shoving microphones in people’s faces. Rottenberg wrote:
” … having stumbled across a CBS publicity photo for Lara Logan, I can’t thinking that women also need to take sensible precautions before they’re victimized. … Yes, yes, I know: Each of us wears many personas. A woman journalist like Lara Logan should be able to celebrate herself as both a journalist and a woman, even a sexy woman. But the operative word in that sentence— should— is the sticky point.”
Oh come on now. The mob of Egyptian men, most likely backed by the government, who dragged Lara Logan away from her bodyguards by her hair, ripped her clothes off, and raped her with their hands for a hellishly long time were not looking at “CBS publicity photos” of her. They did not sexually assault Logan because of what she was wearing that day. They did not sexually assault her because of “sex.” They sexually assaulted her because of power. They sexually assaulted her because they were trying to hurt her. History has shown us sexual assault, whether of men or women, is used as a weapon of war. No journalist of Logan’s stature goes into any political uprising or war zone unaware or unconcerned with their safety. Yet the fair number of precautions that Logan and her CBS team did to protect themselves, such as traveling with bodyguards and interpreters, did not stop the angry mob this time. To imply she and her CBS team were unaware of the dangers — and especially to tie the dangers of that night in Tahrir Square back to some random dress she was wearing on some red carpet at some entirely different date — is totally ignorant.
And this paragraph? Tell me this is not satire:
“Don’t trust your male friends. Don’t go to a man’s home at night unless you’re prepared to have sex with him. Don’t disrobe in front of a male masseur. If you take a job as a masseuse, don’t be shocked if your male customers think you’re a prostitute. And if you want to be taken seriously as a journalist, don’t pose for pictures that emphasize your cleavage.”
Seriously, don’t trust your male friends? Men may assume you’re a prostitute at your non-prostitution-based job? You won’t be taken seriously as a journalist if you have boobs? Not only is this (also) ignorant and victim-blaming of women, but it’s pretty damn insulting to men. Attention, men! You can’t be trusted. You’ll rape us in your own homes. You can’t help but mistake us for prostitutes. You won’t take us seriously if we have nice breasts. Y’all are apparently a bunch of animals. (Actually, he does refer to men as “animals” later on in the piece. So there’s that.)
Rossenberg also chastises women’s “naivete” in the title of his piece and repeats this infantilizing insult (oh, you people don’t understand how the world really is!) again toward the end of it, when he suggests us women’s libbers are “naive” to think we can change those brutish manly men and their raw, power-abusing testosterone. Rottenberg wrote:
“Women today are technically free to do all sorts of things that were forbidden to their grandmothers, which is all well and good. But in practice, rape and the notion of sexual conquest persist for the same reason that warfare persists: because the human animal— especially the male animal— craves drama as much as food, shelter and clothing. Conquering an unwilling sex partner is about as much drama as a man can find without shooting a gun— and, of course, guns haven’t disappeared either.
Earth to liberated women: When you display legs, thighs or cleavage, some liberated men will see it as a sign that you feel good about yourself and your sexuality. But most men will see it as a sign that you want to get laid.”
“Conquering an unwilling sex partner?” Um, rapey much? I understand that sex and power are intertwined — believe me, I get it — but honestly, the use of the word “unwilling” in that sentence viscerally creeps me out, as does the comment that “most men will see [the way you dress] as a sign you want to get laid.” Um, I was sexually harassed before 9 a.m. this morning while displaying legs, thighs and cleavage. I was wearning a tiny sundress because it is 95 degrees outside. I didn’t want to get laid. I wanted to get a Frappucino. Your “signal” reading is off, Mr. Rottenberg.
Now. This may come as a surprise to you, I don’t actually disagree with all of Rottenberg’s piece. The one line I don’t dispute — as a concept, not within this piece specifically — is “I can’t [help] thinking that women also need to take sensible precautions before they’re victimized.” That was actually the entire thesis of Kate’s essay last week, “Why Being Drunk Is A Feminist Issue,” in which she suggested women not drink themselves/ourselves to unconsciousness because it makes us more vulnerable to rapists. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to suggest that a woman look out for herself and not consume so much alcohol or drugs that she can’t consent and/or kick someone in the nuts. To say “no”/push a guy away/get up and leave is to give a clear signal and I want a woman’s wits to be enough about her in order to give it.
Alas, there was never a dispute about whether or not Lara Logan “consented” to being dragged away by her hair by an angry mob of men. And it’s a slippery slope akin to greasing a fire pole with Land O’Lakes to suggest all displays of thighs and cleavage, or all pretty journalists who wear a dress that shows their cleavage, are sure signs she was “asking for it.”
The answer to solving abuses of power, like rape and sexual assault, is never “SCREEEEECH! Sluts be showing their titties!” The answer also isn’t “SCREEEEECCH! Entitled white ladies like us should be able to do whatever we want, anytime, ever!” These discussions need nuance.
And may Dan Rottenberg never get laid again.
[Broad Street Review]
Thanks to reader Holly Yokley for the link!