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Sex, Fear, and Feminism on Campus

by Katie Roiphe

Pub Date: Sept. 22nd, 1993
ISBN: 0-316-75431-5
Publisher: Little, Brown

 A gifted young Princeton University graduate student, daughter of novelist Anne Roiphe, defies current campus-based feminist assumptions, questioning the phenomena of date rape, hate speech, ``Take Back the Night'' marches, and the basis for the popularity of feminist legal scholar Catharine MacKinnon (see above). At the heart of Roiphe's critique is a sense of betrayed promise: Growing up, she believed that feminism is ``something like a train you could catch and ride to someplace better''--a tool for freedom and not simply a matter of ``Take Back the Night marches and sexual harassment peer-counseling groups,'' of ``being angry about men,'' and of ``arguments and assertions that could not be made'' because they had been judged politically incorrect by feminists. (``You could not say that Alice Walker was a bad writer,'' for example, Roiphe says.) Drawing in detail on her own undergraduate academic and social experiences at Harvard, she argues persuasively that a sort of feminist orthodoxy accompanied by mass hysteria has sprung up on campus, in which incidents of date rape have been hallucinated or fabricated, common language has become grotesquely politicized, and the concept of ``sexual harassment'' has grown to be a bloated form of self-pity. In an especially interesting chapter on the lectures of Catharine MacKinnon, Roiphe tries to break through what she calls ``a closed belief system that is closer to religion than law''--failing to take into account, however, that the current beliefs that inform legal rulings are exactly what MacKinnon is aiming to change. Roiphe's perspective is limited but highly intelligent; and her most telling point is a well-documented dislike of a tendency in feminist rhetoric to place women back in the role of naive victim-- a role her mother's generation worked hard to overcome. A brilliant young contrarian voice, Ö la Mary McCarthy. (First serial to The New York Times Magazine)